Cook your Goose
Whether it’s roast, stir-fry, broil or bake, we’ve got a few secrets for the perfect bird
By Barbara Rodriguez
Here’s the thing about cooking your goose: It’s easier than you think. And if you don’t feel like taking a whole goose to table, you can sauté the breast now and freeze the legs for later. But don’t save the liver for later. Sautéed in butter or with bacon, it’s a real treat and a great appetizer — you can even add it to venison liver, sauté and puree with a little bread, for a wild pate. Goose can be prepared like any game bird or diced along with dove, duck, pheasant and quail for an amazing mixed stir-fry. Many folks swear by smoking — a tried-and-true method that guarantees the most flavor and the best texture. But whether you roast, stir-fry, stew, broil or bake, the key is not to overcook; as with duck, a dry goose loses flavor and texture. Quick cooking serves game birds well and wrapping in bacon or pancetta (unsmoked bacon) makes for flavorful crisp and brown outsides and moist and pink insides. Medium rare is your best bet; although a few aficionados go for rare birds, it’s not for the faint of heart.
For hunters, however, the culinary arts really begin in the field, not in the kitchen.
Here are some pre-cooking tips:
A large goose is great for the bag, but not so great on the plate. Geese can live up to 25 years and an old bird is a tough bird. Forget Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol; smaller, younger geese make better table trophies.
Field dressing is key to getting the body heat down quickly — the innards are a hot pocket, and the feathers hold the heat in. Draw the bird as soon as possible. And if you plan on eating the heart, gizzard and liver (a real treat) get them on ice as soon as possible. Keeping an undrawn bird in your jacket pocket isn’t good for the goose or out on a date, either. Draw promptly or ice promptly — or better yet, do both.
I don’t think anyone enjoys plucking geese, but it’s easier when the bird is warm. (Easier said than done in the heat of the hunt, I know.) If you are going to hang or refrigerator-age your goose for a few days, leave plucking for after. There are as many plucking methods as there are hunters, but the way I was taught is as simple and classic as it is tedious: finger pluck in the direction the feathers grow. Pinfeathers are forever a pain. You can save them for after the hunt, but tweezing is preferable to torching, which often leaves stubble or singes the meat.
Many bird hunters only keep breast meat, but geese have meaty, tasty legs (skin them if you’re going to stew or bake them).
Shot is never a tasty side dish. Look for shot holes when you are plucking your goose, and use tweezers or a small knife to dig out the shot.
If you want to skin your goose (I like the gamey flavor the skin and fat contribute in the cooking, but many don’t), wrap it in freezer wrap as soon as you can, and know that you will need to add some fat back in (bacon wraps work wonders) if you plan on grilling or sautéing the meat.
There is no rule of thumb for hanging game birds. It’s really a matter of taste — and what the neighbors (or your spouse) will tolerate. In Europe they still hang the birds, unplucked and undrawn, by the neck, outside, till they fall. This is a bit extreme for Texas — or anyone who doesn’t live with a court jester. I prefer to age a drawn, unplucked bird for about five days in the refrigerator (bottom rack, way back). If the weather is cool, two days of hanging a drawn, unplucked bird outside (45-50 degrees is optimal) is about right. If it’s too cold outside, use the fridge — freezing and thawing is a no-go. A few days in the fridge or ice chest definitely improves flavor. I prefer to pluck a bird immediately, but when I get lazy I’m happy to know it’s okay to freeze a bird whole, undrawn and unplucked for up to a year — again, preferably someplace out of sight. If you field dress the bird (pluck and draw), the simplest way to freeze it is to place the meat in a freezer container or large freezer bag, fill with water, seal and store. But don’t put the meat in water till you have access to a freezer. And unless you have a memory like a steel trap, do label it with the date and contents.
A little-known fact: goose loves cheese. It’s oh-so bon appetite, I know, but an antique Gruyére or aged parmesan is a delicious flavor complement to goose in a casserole or even melted atop a goose breast (which, if you can take the razzing you’re sure to get, can be diced and added to a Caesar salad).
You can prepare these over a campfire, on a grill, or in a sauté pan at home. Serve with baked or sautéed yams and a side salad of field greens or spinach with pine nuts and dried cranberry for an elegant holiday meal.
- Apple cider vinegar to cover (marinade)
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 goose breast
- 6-8 slices of fatty bacon
- 3 cloves garlic (optional)
- Splash of dry white wine (optional)
Pound or butterfly goose breast into thick slices/steaks (about 1/4 inch thick). Marinating the meat in a good quality apple cider vinegar for 2-3 hours (refrigerated) adds a lot to the flavor and tenderness.
Wrap the goose steaks with bacon strips and skewer. Place slivers of garlic between the bacon and the goose steak if you like extra zip.
Melt 1 tablespoon butter and 1-2 tablespoons olive oil in a hot skillet and add goose steaks. Fry quickly, turning frequently, until bacon is beginning to crisp and goose is browned. Meat should be rare to medium rare at this point. If you like it medium or well done, add a splash of white wine and cover to finish off stovetop or wrap in foil and bake at 350 about 3-5 minutes (or wrap in foil and hold in skillet on top of campfire) until it’s done to your taste.
- 2 tablespoons virgin olive oil
- 2 large goose breasts or a mix of breast
- and thigh meat, cubed
- 1 large yellow onion, chopped
- 2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 tablespoon pancetta, chopped fine
- 3-4 large Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cubed
- 5 carrots, diced
- 1 parsnip or turnip, topped, peeled and cubed
- 6 stalks celery, chopped
- 1 leek, white portion only, sliced into thin rings
- 1 teaspoon dried marjoram
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 5-6 cups beef broth
- 2 teaspoons brown sugar
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
This is a great campfire stew. Prepare and seal the veggies, except for potatoes, in two large zipper-lock bags at home (garlic, onion, leek and half the celery in one; carrots, turnip/parsnip, and the other half of celery in the other). Put the olive oil and pancetta in a small jar or plastic container. Mix the sugar, salt, pepper and dried spices in a separate baggie. Take along 3-4 cans of broth. For best results, peel and cube your potatoes at camp. Refrigerated, prepped veggies will only hold a day or two; so if you’re not feeling optimistic about your first night’s feast, pack along some stew meat for this recipe. You can substitute vegetables of your choice and if you’re feeling adventurous, add a dash of chile flakes.
In a large stew pot, heat the oil. Sauté the pancetta, garlic, onion, leek and chopped celery until the onion is translucent — do not brown.
Stir in the cubed goose and cook over medium low heat until the meat is browned on all sides. Stir often.
Add the marjoram, cumin, broth and sugar and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 1 hour, adding broth as needed to keep vegetables covered.
Add the potatoes, carrots, parsnip and celery. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Return to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 40 minutes or until vegetables are tender.
Goose in Mushroom Sauce
- 5-pound goose
- 1-2 stalks celery, minced
- 1 medium Vidalia or sweet onion, chopped
- 1 large carrot, sliced into thin wheels
- 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 1 cup of white mushroom caps, cleaned
- and sliced or 1 large Portobello cap, cleaned and sliced or a mixture of both
- 1 cup sour cream
- 4 tablespoons flour
- 1-2 teaspoons salt
- 2 teaspoons herbs d’provençe or 1 teaspoon each:
- dried rosemary, lavender, marjoram
- 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1-2 tablespoons pancetta or olive oil for browning
- Olive oil, salt and pepper to season to taste
Wash the goose inside and out and pat dry. Remove and reserve neck and wings. Rub the inside and outside of goose with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
Place the goose on a rack in a shallow baking pan and bake uncovered at 325 degrees for 45 minutes or until browned.
While the goose is in the oven, simmer the giblets, neck and wings with 1 clove crushed garlic in enough water to cover.
Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a skillet, then stir the vegetables into the hot oil until they just begin to brown, then stir in the mushrooms and cook for 45 seconds.
Next, stir 2 tablespoons flour into strained liquid from giblets (or 1 cup chicken stock). Add herbs and salt. Stir reserved 2 tablespoons flour into sour cream and blend into the stock mixture. Pour over vegetable mixture and blend gently.
Remove the goose from the shallow pan and place into a roasting pan. Pour mushroom sauce over goose, cover and roast 2 hours, basting once or twice, or until tender.
If you’re mad for mushrooms, make a second batch sautéed in butter and white wine with a few ribbons of fresh tarragon and serve at table.