Unlike the Christmas Turkey that has grown in popularity since the industrial revolution, geese are native to the British Isles and have been an integral part of our Christmas ideology for centuries. It was the dawning of the Victorian era that cemented goose as the ultimate festive centerpiece. However long after Dickens wrote of its tantalising flavour in 'A Christmas Carol', goose still remains the traditional meat of choice for many.
September 29th or 'Michaelmas' was the traditional day for eating goose in Britain. The day of St Michael and All Angels or 'Michaelmas' was celebrated as a holy day throughout the United Kingdom and Europe until the 18th century.
During the Middle Ages, Michaelmas became a great religious feast and many popular traditions grew up around the day. Coinciding with the end of harvest, the feast was celebrated with a traditional well-fattened Michaelmas goose fed on the stubble fields after harvest.
Geese were historically reared on mixed farms fed on pasture during the spring and summer and then fattened in the autumn on grain and stubble ready for Christmas. We still rear them this way today.
It's easy to see why some of us choose a goose, there is no better smell than the scent of its rich meat roasting in the oven. The flavour of the meat is indulgent and quite extraordinary, there really is nothing that compares. Earthy, rounded, sweet and savory all at the same time. The generosity of fat continues to give like a present tucked behind the Christmas tree, providing you with a magical ingredient for many roast potatoes to come.
Buying your goose
It is imperative to check the size of your oven and roasting dish. Geese are much longer than any other bird, they demand a large oven and greedily take over most of the cooking space.
We recommend about two portions per kilo. Our smallest bird at 4.5kg will feed around 8-9 guests. However bear in mind Christmas is a gluttonous time, and the goose is so delicious, allow yourself half a kilo extra to keep guests sated.
Making the gravy
This can be made a day ahead to reduce the tasks on Christmas day and give the flavours a chance to meld and intensify.
Take an onion, red or shallot is preferable, a chopped carrot, a stick of celery, the goose giblets (minus the liver - this can go to the chef or the dog for a treat), chicken or duck wings, or a poultry carcass, three bay leaves a handful of peppercorns, a pinch of juniper berries and 1.5litres of water. Bring to the boil and then leave to simmer for an hour. Strain, season and set aside.
Pour in a little fat (not too much, about a tablespoon, as the gravy will become greasy) and some of the cooking juices sat at the bottom of the pan.
Booze and fruit can be added to this base to layer up the festive flavours.
Choosing a stuffing
The carcass can take an array of stuffings. The most harmonious is that of rich fruit, plenty of herbs and a small amount of acidity to cut through the fat. Think lemon or orange zest, diced quince or sharp apple. Sweet apricots, prunes or hedgerow berries. Fatty bacon, breadcrumbs, oats, and barley to help to bind the stuffing. Sage and onion are a must. Onions compliment the sweet meat. Sage with its forest-like pine-notes seems a fitting addition. Try our tried and tested family recipe for Prune & Apple Stuffing.
Preparing the bird
If you can, remove your goose from the fridge the night before. This allows the goose to arrive at room temperature. It also gives the skin time to dry off. If you want to create crispy skin with yielding meat, it is imperative the bird is dry.
Take the goose and pierce the fattiest parts of the underside of the bird. You are aiming to pierce just the skin and fat, without puncturing the flesh. Give the parsons nose a thorough pierce, however, leave the breast intact.
Season the cavity and then fill generously, without overpacking, your choice of stuffing. Season the legs and breast with sea salt and a light twist of black pepper.
Place the bird on a rack and then place the whole thing into a roasting tin. The rack is in place to allow the fat to render in the pan, without stewing the bird. (halfway through cooking you can add roast potatoes into the fat-filled pan)
Roasting the goose
Preheat your oven to 200C. (This may vary according to your oven).
Crisp the skin for 20 minutes and then turn down to 180C.
Cook the goose for approximately 20 minutes per kilo.
You should have on hand a sheet of tinfoil, if the skin starts to brown too much, lightly cover the goose with the foil, making sure you then remove the foil for the last ten minutes of cooking, to re-crisp the skin.
The best indication that your bird is cooked is when it’s easy to shake hands with it. Grab a tea towel or an oven glove and gently twist the drumstick to the side. As soon as it ‘gives’ this is the best indication the bird is cooked. You can also put a skewer into the thickest part of the thigh, the juices should run just slightly pink.
Remove from the oven and allow to rest uncovered somewhere warm for around 30 minutes.
Whilst this is happening, drain the fat from the potatoes (please do not throw this fat away, it is simply heaven on earth) and place them back in the oven to allow them to become wonderfully crispy. Be sure to save the fat from the goose, it’ll store well in the fridge and make plenty of delicious dishes for months to come.
Using the leftovers
The only downside to cooking a goose, is the leftovers are rarely as good as the main event. The protein of the meat tightens as it cools and so becomes rather tough once the heat is lost. Over the years I have found the most rewarding way to treat the leftovers is to intensely crisp them.
Using the leftover fat and citrus flavours, shred the goose and stir-fry on a high heat. Serve over crunchy winter salad with pearls of juicy pomegranate, crushed hazelnuts, segments of orange or grapefruit and a sharp dressing.