How to Cook Your Christmas Goose

A Christmas Carol, a story about something or other in which a roast goose makes an appearance

Geese used to be no big deal. When Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol, I believe he meant to mock the Cratchit family’s excitement as they sat down to the scrawny goose at the center of their holiday meal:

Such a bustle ensued that you might have thought a goose the rarest of all birds; a feathered phenomenon, to which a black swan was a matter of course — and in truth it was something very like it in that house… Bob took Tiny Tim beside him in a tiny corner at the table; the two young Cratchits set chairs for everybody, not forgetting themselves, and mounting guard upon their posts, crammed spoons into their mouths, lest they should shriek for goose before their turn came to be helped. At last the dishes were set on, and grace was said. It was succeeded by a breathless pause, as Mrs Cratchit, looking slowly all along the carving-knife, prepared to plunge it in the breast; but when she did, and when the long expected gush of stuffing issued forth, one murmur of delight arose all round the board, and even Tiny Tim, excited by the two young Cratchits, beat on the table with the handle of his knife, and feebly cried Hurrah!

Whatever the size of their goose, those enthusiastic Cratchits had me salivating for goose! I don’t know when turkeys took over the market, but geese used to be THE THING for a holiday meal. Okay, maybe a hundred years ago I would have written off the goose, and thanked the New World for providing a superior bird, the turkey. But today – the turkeys you can get in the store don’t have much flavor, though you could lose a knife in that breast. It’s not impossible to find a heritage breed – I’ve seen them at P.C.C. But if you’re going to go old school, why not go REALLY old school? Why not cook up a Christmas goose?

Guess what's in my cooler?

TODAY’S PEST, YESTERDAY’S SYMBOL OF HOPE

In cities we tend to think of geese as a nuisance bird. The USDA killed a large number of them in Seattle a few years ago, a move that angered a lot of animal rights activists. I have a cousin who actually makes his living chasing geese with dogs. It’s easy to forget, when approached by aggressive geese in a public park in the middle of winter, that geese are at heart, migratory birds.

It used to be geese were always coming and going, crossing the sky in their V-shaped formations. For that reason, people once associated geese with seasonal change. Northern Europeans ritually consumed them around the fall equinox. Geese eaten on that date symbolized a descent into winter, much as Persephone of Greek mythology descended temporarily into the underworld. But the bargain Persephone made not only accounted for the injustice that is winter – it also promised spring. And so for many Northern Europeans, a goose eaten in midwinter – especially around the solstice – would have symbolized hope, the distant dream of spring.

WHERE TO GET YOUR GOOSE

Brad Andonian, like most the farmers we love, isn’t perfect, but he grows a fine goose. Brad’s geese are raised on his farm in Toledo, Washington. They live on pasture, which Brad doesn’t spray. Their supplemental grains come from just down the road from his farm. If they were organic grains, we’d be ecstatic. They’re not. But I figure with all that pasture, Brad’s birds are going to be way better, and way better for us, than most turkeys I can find in the store. And because geese haven’t been bred for large-scale feedlot production, they’ve retained most of their foraging instincts. They’ll get more from pasture than a modern broad-breasted turkey.

Buying one of Brad’s geese will make you feel like the poor clerk Bob Cratchit from A Christmas Carol – they can cost over $100. In my family, we can’t really afford birds like that. But when you look at the finances, it ain’t as bad as it seems. The way I figure it, we’ve stopped buying chickens of any kind all year long, eating only the hens and roosters we cull from our flock and the flocks of our friends. So maybe we can afford to spring for a big, expensive bird once a year. Think of Tiny Tim.

Two Poultry Sellers: A dead Italian on the left, Brad Andonian on the right

If you order goose from Brad, he’ll kill them, dress them and bring them in a cooler to one of his two luxury carpet stores (Bellevue or Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood).

A BEEFY SORT OF BIRD

Geese are fattier than chickens or turkeys. I could not believe the amount of fat that rendered out of my cooked goose. (Incidentally, goose fat is highly prized in the kitchen – try frying potatoes with it). And whereas turkey will give you a large, white breast for grandma and dark thighs for the adventurous uncle, geese are all dark meat, all the time. The flavor is stronger and richly colored – sometimes almost like beef, but still the texture of a bird.

my roasted goose

Once I received my goose from Brad, I set it in brine for eight hours (1 c salt, 1/4 c sugar, smashed garlic cloves and enough water to cover my bird), rinsed it (as sugar on the surface can cause the skin to blacken), then let it dry out in the fridge under a towel overnight. I took Brad’s advice and did not pierce the skin to drain fat as advised in many goose recipes. I also roasted the bird upside down, to help keep the temperature down on the breast, which tends to overcook on any kind of bird. It took between two and three hours at 350 (I blasted the bird at 400 for a few minutes in the beginning) to cook the bird. You know it’s done by poking it in the thigh – if the juices run clear, rather than red, it’s done. When you pull the goose out, turn it over and poke it deep in the breast, just to make sure the breast juices run equally clear. If not, cook breast side up a few minutes more.

 

20 Responses to How to Cook Your Christmas Goose

  1. Love your style. Looks and sounds like a real holiday treat. Thanks for sharing, but how was it?!?!

    • Joshua McNichols

      The meat quality was great. I used a simple treatment here, just to see what cooking a goose was like in its essence. Next time I would prepare a more complex sauce, or pair it with side dishes that played off the flavor of the meat. Not because the meat needed it, but because it’s nice to have something to provide a contrast with the meat.

  2. A hundred bucks per goose!!!!!??!!!?? So, golden eggs, right?

  3. Joshua McNichols

    Yeah, pure gold. I consider a bird like this a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I bought his rabbit too once, for twenty bucks a pop. They were great, but pricey. Luckily Brad is one of those people who will teach you how to slaughter your own if you cannot afford, like me, to cook his meats regularly. That generosity of spirit tempers any criticism I might have for what he needs to charge to raise meat this way.

  4. It was pleasant to run into you buying a bird from Brad! Thank you for the review, we might buy a goose for next year’s holiday.

  5. Annette Cottrell

    One thing to note – rather than check the color of the juices which generally means you have way overcooked your $100 bird, take it to 165F and then tent it for 20 minutes. The juices will be pink. Pastured birds cannot stand to be overcooked, they will poof into the Christmas Vacation turkey before you know it. Also stuffing it with something traditional like prunes and apples will help keep the breasts from overcooking. I’ll be sharing my own Christmas goose recipe in the next week.

    • Joshua McNichols

      Do you cook yours breast down?

    • Can you share it a little sooner?? I’m making mine for Christmas!! Do you brine?? thanks in advance!

    • Where exactly are you inserting the probe??

      • Joshua McNichols

        I suggest inserting the probe in the thigh meat, about an inch in. The trick is slowing the breast down so it doesn’t dry out. You want the breast to get to 170 and the thigh to get to 180. And you want to take it out before it’s done – up to 10 degrees before it’s done, as the heat will redistribute throughout the bird for 10 minutes after removal from the oven. I believe this problem is exasperated by stuffing, which takes even longer to reach full temperature – this can result in an overcooked bird easily. Maybe it’s less of a problem in a goose, which is smaller – I don’t know. One solution is to take the stuffing out halfway through and finish it separately in a casserole dish.

        I heard one author suggest recently that he cools the breasts with ice packs before cooking, to retard them. I haven’t tried that one yet.

        Generally brining is recommended for lean meats. Geese are so fatty, I think this is one bird where you could get away without brining. I’d love to hear about your results.

        • Annette Cottrell

          Actually Joshua poultry only needs to get to 165. If you take it above that it will be way overcooked and dry. 165 is the temperature required to kill poultry-based pathogens.

  6. Annette Cottrell

    I don’t because then the breast doesn’t come out pretty. I cover the breast with foil until the end. The presentation is always about breasts, isn’t it?

  7. This blog was a timely find as I just purchased two pastured geese from a sustainable farmer! I am so excited to try them!

  8. Annette Cottrell

    Danna the breast is definitely the best part – I’ve toyed with the idea of just cooking the breasts and turning the legs into rillettes or sausage as well. There is a lot of tendon/cartilage in the legs for the amount of meat and if you cook it whole you risk overcooking the breasts before the thighs are done.

    Let us know how you decide to cook your goose and how it comes out!

    • Annette Cottrell

      Next week when I’ve had a chance I’m doing a new blog post. I cooked a goose from Brad for Christmas and I broke the rule about not overcooking. It not only came out delicious but the thigh was the best part (although the breast was good too.) The whole thing was outstanding so disregard my previous comments! Of course the prunes and wine reduction probably didn’t hurt it but I think it would have been great on it’s own. I started it on the roaster rack chest down then flipped it over halfway and filled the bottom of the roaster pan with big sliced potatoes so they cooked in it’s fat. Stupendous.

  9. Annette Cottrell

    Linking in to my post from last Christmas: http://www.sustainableeats.com/2010/11/29/the-cratchits-christmas-goose/

    This was part of the Dickens of a Christmas blog hop from last year.

  10. I’ve always wanted to try goose. It sounds a lot like duck, what with the dark meat and all that fat to render. How do you think the flavor compares?

  11. Joy it is a lot like duck – much fattier though. Think of the increase in fat from chicken to duck then that much of an increase once again from duck to goose. The breast is the best part, just like with duck and the legs are a lot of work for not so much meat so perhaps not worth the risk of overcooking the breast just to get that thigh done so that you can present a whole pretty bird on the platter. I think I’ll be cooking removing the legs and thighs and cooking them separately this year to avoid that problem. The flavor is very similar to duck – very dark and intense.

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