Every once in a while, I buy myself a goose. Goose meat is good — it tastes like duck. Goose bones make a fine stock; goose liver, a fine pâté. But I buy the goose for the fat, which is pure gold.
Geese aren’t easy to find because there aren’t a lot of farmers who raise them. If you are thinking of raising geese commercially, you might want to connect with Suzanne Podhaizer (farmtotableconsulting.com). She used to raise geese for sale and to cook at her Montpelier, Vermont, restaurant, Salt. But like many young farmers who don’t own land, her circumstances changed, and the farm went out of business. Now, she has a consulting business, working on farm to table issues with both farmers and chefs. I was lucky to buy one of the last of the geese she had in her freezer.
The goose I bought was pasture-raised, offered supplemental organic feed, and slaughtered at the age of 5 months (raised from May to October), with a dressed weight of about 8 pounds. I paid $8 a pound — or $64 for my goose. That’s considerably more than I would pay for a pasture-raised organic chicken, which are generally about $6 per pound.
Podhaizer noted that the geese she raised on pasture with conventional feed supplements were larger — and cost less ($5.50 per pound). The difference in the feed was the presence of soy in the non-organic feed. (The difference wasn’t just size. My organically raised bird yielded about half the rendered goose fat of a supermarket goose I bought last year.)
Those of us who were raised on Dicken’s novels have visions of roasted geese dancing in our heads — especially at this time of year. I find it's almost impossible to roast a goose so that all the parts of the goose are equally cooked and tender. You can improve on the roasting process by removing the backbone and flattening the breastbone in a process called spatchcocking or butterflying.
You’ll need a sharpened cleaver and a certain amount of strength to cut through the rib bones to free the backbone, but it is doable if you have average strength. Better still is first spatchcocking, then separating the leg quarters from the breast. The breast can be roasted, but the legs are better braised. Braising — long, slow moist heat cooking — is more likely to tenderize the meat, which tends to be stringy and quite tough when roasted.
A benefit of spatchcocking is getting access to even more fat to render. From my 8-pound bird, I freed about 9 ounces of fat by reaching into the rear end of the goose and pulling out great gobs of fat. But when the bird was spatchcocked, I found another 7 ounces of fat. (And after I roasted the breast, I was able to pour off another 1 cup of fat, for a total of 5 cups of indescribably delicious cooking fat.)
To render goose fat (duck fat, chicken fat, suet, or lard – the process is the same), I cut the fat up into a small dice. I put it in a pan with water to cover the bottom of the pot and place the pot over low heat. The water is to prevent the fat from scorching before it melts — the water will boil off as the fat renders. As the fat renders, you will see unmelted pieces of light-colored fat and darker solid pieces of meat or skin.
Once you see there are almost no pieces of unmelted fat, remove the pan from the heat. Don’t be greedy and wait till the solids start browning; better to remove the fat from the heat early, then to remove it too late and have fat that tastes burnt.
Strain the rendered fat to remove the solid bits. I set a large, wide-mouth canning funnel in a wide-mouth canning jar. Then I set a metal mesh strainer lined with a coffee filter in the canning funnel, then drain the hot fat. The fat is a light golden color at this stage, but will turn a pale yellow when chilled and solid.
What is the fat good for? It is a good all-purpose cooking fat that adds a luxurious, silken savoriness to everything it comes in contact with, especially vegetables. It has a smoke point of 375 degrees F, which means you can use it for deep-frying or high-temperature. When sautéing in goose (or duck) fat or slicking vegetables or potatoes in melted fat for roasting, use less fat than you normally do oil. Poultry fat tends to stay on the surface and be less absorbed than oils; this has the advantage of browning foods more quickly and evenly. If your food cooked in poultry fat seems greasy, you used too much fat.
Melt a few tablespoons and toss vegetables you are going to roast with the melted goose (or duck) fat instead of using olive or another oil. Or give the same treatment to potatoes you are going to roast. You will notice the flavor difference. Or when you are going to sauté kale or another winter green, replace the oil you usually use with goose fat.
But now you have a goose to cook. Braise the goose legs in your favorite braising liquid, such as a Chinese red-cooking (soy sauce) braise, a flavored broth, or wine. Simmer in the liquid, turning occasionally, for about 2 hours, until the meat reaches at least 185 degrees Fahrenheit on an instant-read thermometer.
Meanwhile, take the breast, rinse it and pat dry. Poke the skin all over with the tip of a sharp knife to encourage the fat to render out. Generously sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Place the goose breast, skin side down in a large cast-iron skillet and sear over high heat until nicely browned. Turn skin side up, transfer to the oven and roast the breast until it reads about 140 degrees (in several spots). Then slice.
Serve both the roasted meat and braised meat with white rice and steamed greens, passing the braising liquid on the side. This is no Dickensian goose but it is my favorite way to cook goose. And the braising liquid can be saved and reused—with chicken, duck, pork, anything really.
Here's my red-cooking braising liquid, adapted from my book The Backyard Homestead Book of Kitchen Know-How (available in the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Store).
Red-Cooking Braising Liquid
- 1 cup soy sauce
- 1/2 cup Chinese rice wine or sake
- 1/3 cup honey, maple syrup, or brown sugar
- 1 Tbsp Chinese five-spice powder
- 6 cloves garlic
- 6 thin ginger root slices
- 1 orange or tangerine peel
- Combine the water, soy sauce, rice wine, honey, five-spice powder, garlic, ginger, and orange peel in a large Dutch oven.
- Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and let simmer for 5 minutes.
- Then add your goose, duck, chicken, pork (red-cooked pork belly was Chairman Mao's favorite dish), beef, chicken gizzards, tofu and simmer until tender, 1 to 2 hours, depending on the meat and the size of the pieces.
Andrea Chesman has written more than 20 cookbooks, including The Pickled Pantry, Recipes from the Root Cellar, Serving Up the Harvest, and The Backyard Homestead Book of Kitchen Know-How. She teaches and does cooking demonstrations and classes at fairs, festivals, book events, and garden shows across the United States. She lives in Ripton, Vermont. Read all of Andrea's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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