We always have a roast goose for Christmas dinner, and sometimes go mad and have another one on New Year’s Eve. Goose isn’t as popular in the U.S. as it is in England (where I’m from), perhaps because people think it’s fatty and tricky to cook. It’s true that you’ll get an ocean of fat (a good thing — more on that in a minute), but preparing a goose is not difficult, and it’s a real treat if you like rich, deeply flavorful meat.
A fresh goose is usually 10 to 12 pounds — any bigger will be tough — and not as meaty as a turkey. A 12-pound one will feed about eight people. You can blanch the goose before roasting it, which helps make the skin crispy. But you have to let it dry for a day in the refrigerator afterward, so I’ve dispensed with that step in recent years and haven’t noticed much difference. Here’s a simple cooking method:
Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Let the goose come to room temperature. Pull the loose fat from the cavity and save it to render, then rinse the bird inside and out, and pat it dry. Sprinkle the cavity with salt and pepper. Fold the flap of neck skin under the body and fasten it with a small skewer or a toothpick. Add stuffing — you can make one using the liver, and fruity ones work well, too — or just add chunks of carrots, celery, onions and herbs. Tie the legs with kitchen twine, season the outside with salt and pepper, then prick the skin all over with a fork or the tip of a sharp knife, taking care not to pierce the meat. Place the goose, breast side up, on a rack in a roasting pan. Roast for half an hour, then reduce the temperature to 325 degrees and continue roasting for another couple of hours until the goose is deep golden brown, and a thermometer inserted into the breast registers 180 degrees.
To make stock for gravy, sauté the giblets (not the liver) in a little goose fat until they’re browned. Deglaze with a good splash of balsamic vinegar, add water, carrots, onions, celery, a bay leaf, a few black peppercorns, and a sprig or two of parsley. Simmer for 90 minutes. Strain the stock. When the goose is cooked, remove it from the roasting pan and let it rest for 15 minutes. Pour off the remaining fat, and place the roasting pan over moderate heat. Pour in the stock, stirring to get all the browned bits off the bottom. Stir in butter to thicken the gravy, if you wish.
OK, the fat. There will be a lot. Using a bulb baster, carefully remove it from the roasting pan every 30 minutes as the goose cooks, and strain it through a fine sieve into jars. Specialty shops sell this silky substance for about a buck an ounce — it’s a fabulous bonus. It’s less saturated than butter, and high in the good, monounsaturated fats that lower your cholesterol and make your heart healthy. It has a high burning point, so you can use it for frying, or to make a roux for gumbo, or in cassoulet, or for the world’s tastiest roast potatoes and root vegetables. It keeps for months in the fridge, and just about forever in the freezer. Long after the goose is but a delicious memory, that fat will be making other dinners memorable.