Roast turkey is the most popular holiday roast in America. After all, these big birds are native to North America and Mexico. In the rest of the world, however, roast goose is more traditional on holiday tables. The Egyptians, Vikings, Greeks, Romans, and eventually the French, Germans, and British all served roast goose during end-of-year harvests and winter solstice celebrations. Even in Charles Dickens’ classic holiday story, A Christmas Carol, Bob Cratchit, Tiny Tim, and the rest of the Cratchit family celebrate Christmas with a feast of roast goose.
For a grand feast this holiday, try grill roasting a whole goose instead of a turkey. You can find goose at farmers’ markets and well-stocked grocery stores. Most domesticated geese are descended from the European Graylag or the Asian Swan goose. Embden and Toulouse are the two most popular breeds, both of which yield dark, flavorful meat. Geese don’t take kindly to confinement, so even domesticated geese are raised free-range and eat mostly grass, although some may be finished with a little grain to fatten them up.
Goose has a slightly lower meat-to-carcass ratio than turkey, but goose has more flavor. It’s also much fattier. Migratory water birds like geese evolved to store large amounts of fat under their skin as insulation from cold water and for fuel during long-distance flights. To keep the skin from staying flabby during roasting, it’s important to render the excess fat. Just prick the skin all over to give the fat some escape routes and cook the bird slowly so the copious amount of fat has time to melt and drip away. A mature 15 pound goose can render a quart or more of golden fat! Goose fat makes a fantastic fat for frying potatoes and other vegetables. Once it’s rendered, save the goose fat and freeze it for later. Keep in mind that goose fat liquefies at a lower temperature than duck fat (about 111°F vs. 126°F for duck fat).
For this recipe, look for a young goose (less than 10 pounds). Young birds have more tender meat and not quite as much fat to get rid of. Even so, this dish balances the natural fattiness of goose with an acidic stuffing of cured sauerkraut, which in turn benefits from the infusion of the goose drippings it receives during roasting. The goose is boned out so it trusses easily, and that makes it easier carve at the table (see below for boning directions). The leg bones are left in, so it still makes a nice presentation on the holiday table. Normally, we don’t truss big birds like turkey, but it makes sense with goose that’s had its thigh bones removed.
Place the bird, backbone up, on a work surface. Make a slit through the skin running straight down the center of the backbone. If you are right-handed, start boning the left side of the goose first. (Left-handed? Start on the right side.) Using short strokes, work your knife just under the skin, separating the meat from the bone all the way down the length of the backbone. As you are cutting, you should feel bone against one side of the knife at all times.
After the meat is disengaged from the backbone, move your knife over the outside of the rib cage. Continue to cut the meat from the rib cage in the same way that you disengaged it from the backbone. Stop when you reach the place where the leg joins the hip at one end of the goose, and where the wing joins the shoulder at the other end. If you pull the limbs up toward the backbone (in the opposite direction of the way they naturally move), the joints will pop out of their sockets. Cut through the tendons holding the joints in place, and the leg and wing will separate from the carcass.
In order to get the wing to disengage from the carcass, you will have to cut around the end of the wishbone and the thick bone that attaches the wing to the breast. In order to get the leg to disengage, cut around the hip bone and slit the membrane surrounding the internal cavity. The leg and wing will now fall away from the carcass.
To separate the breast from the carcass, continue to cut around the rib cage, still using short strokes and making sure that you feel bone against the knife. Eventually you will get to the sternum (a large, flat bone that forms the arc of the breast). Scrape the meat from the sternum, stopping at its edge.
Turn the bird around and bone the other side in the same way. The bird will now be attached only along the edge of the sternum. Holding the carcass with one hand, and with the sharp edge of the knife angled toward the bone, make small slits down the edge of sternum as you lift the carcass away from the meat. Be careful to avoid cutting through the skin, which lies right against bone along the sternum.
This recipe is reprinted with permission from Fire It Up: 400 Recipes for Grilling Everything by Andrew Schloss and David Joachim. This book is full of recipes for grilling unusual meats like goat, bison, elk, venison, goose, and ostrich.
Serve with: a merlot.
Published On: 12/5/2017 Last Modified: 3/26/2021
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