Yes, I love to eat turkey, a duck is delicious, roast beef is mighty fine and there’s nothing like a well-glazed ham — but “back in the day” when I was cooking Christmas dinners, my family’s yearly feast always centered on the humble goose. I’m not sure where or how the tradition started, I expect it was a result of an English lit’ overload, but everyone really seemed to enjoy the unusual fowl as a welcome, once-a-year treat. Rich and calorific, the goose delivered not that much meat to the bone, but the meat that was there was delectable beyond belief, the skin was always crisp and golden brown and there was lots of room inside for mounds of stuffing. Anyway, as your Christmas gift, I present you with a couple of “inspirational” Christmas readings and the recipe that evolved over the years, for cooking and stuffing a 12 pound goose.
The first reading is by William McGonagall, 1825-1902, often cited as “the worst poet in British history.”
The Christmas Goose
Mr. Smiggs was a gentleman,
And he lived in London town;
His wife she was a good kind soul,
And seldom known to frown.
‘Twas on Christmas eve,
And Smiggs and his wife lay cosy in bed,
When the thought of buying a goose
Came into his head.
So the next morning,
Just as the sun rose,
He jump’d out of bed,
And he donn’d his clothes,
Saying, “Peggy, my dear.
You need not frown,
For I’ll buy you the best goose
In all London town.”
So away to the poultry shop he goes,
And bought the goose, as he did propose,
And for it he paid one crown,
The finest, he thought, in London town.
When Smiggs bought the goose
He suspected no harm,
But a naughty boy stole it
From under his arm.
Then Smiggs, he cried, “Stop thief!
Come back with my goose!”
But the naughty boy laughed at him
And gave him much abuse.
But a policeman captur’d the naughty boy,
And gave the goose to Smiggs,
And said he was greatly bother’d
By a set of juvenile prigs.
So the naughty boy was put in prison
For stealing the goose,
And got ten days confinement
Before he got loose.
So Smiggs ran home to his dear Peggy,
Saying, “Hurry, and get this fat goose ready,
That I have bought for one crown;
So, my darling, you need not frown.”
“Dear Mr. Smiggs, I will not frown:
I’m sure ’tis cheap for one crown,
Especially at Christmas time —
Oh! Mr. Smiggs, it’s really fine.”
“Peggy, it is Christmas time,
So let us drive dull care away,
For we have got a Christmas goose,
So cook it well, I pray.
No matter how the poor are clothed,
Or if they starve at home,
We’ll drink our wine and eat out goose,
Aye, and pick it to the bone.”
And you all know where this comes from:
“Such a bustle ensued that you might have thought a goose the rarest of all birds; a feathered phenomenon, to which a black swan was a matter of course — and in truth it was something very like it in that house. Mrs Cratchit made the gravy (ready beforehand in a little saucepan) hissing hot; Master Peter mashed the potatoes with incredible vigour; Miss Belinda sweetened up the apple-sauce; Martha dusted the hot plates; Bob took Tiny Tim beside him in a tiny corner at the table; the two young Cratchits set chairs for everybody, not forgetting themselves, and mounting guard upon their posts, crammed spoons into their mouths, lest they should shriek for goose before their turn came to be helped. At last the dishes were set on, and grace was said. It was succeeded by a breathless pause, as Mrs Cratchit, looking slowly all along the carving-knife, prepared to plunge it in the breast; but when she did, and when the long expected gush of stuffing issued forth, one murmur of delight arose all round the board, and even Tiny Tim, excited by the two young Cratchits, beat on the table with the handle of his knife, and feebly cried Hurrah!
There never was such a goose. Bob said he didn’t believe there ever was such a goose cooked. Its tenderness and flavour, size and cheapness, were the themes of universal admiration. Eked out by apple-sauce and mashed potatoes, it was a sufficient dinner for the whole family; indeed, as Mrs Cratchit said with great delight (surveying one small atom of a bone upon the dish), they hadn’t ate it all at last. Yet every one had had enough, and the youngest Cratchits in particular, were steeped in sage and onion to the eyebrows. But now, the plates being changed by Miss Belinda, Mrs Cratchit left the room alone — too nervous to bear witnesses — to take the pudding up and bring it in.”
And here’s my recipe for goose, gravy and stuffing. Have a dickens of a Christmas!
Roast Goose with Sausage, Fennel and Currant Stuffing and Wild Mushroom Port Gravy
adapted from a recipe in Gourmet magazine, December, 1989
6 cups cubed Italian bread
1 lb sweet Italian sausage(casing discarded, meat chopped up)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 tsp minced garlic
1 1/2 cups finely chopped onion
2 cups thinly sliced fennel
1 tsp dried sage
1 tsp dried thyme
3 cups chopped mushrooms
2/3 cup currants, soaked in boiling water to cover for 5 minutes, then drained
1/2 cup minced Italian parsley
1/2 pound chestnuts, shelled, peeled and chopped (see below)
To Shell and Peel Chestnuts:
Cut an X in the round side of each chestnut. Spread the chestnuts in one layer in a jelly roll pan, add1/4 cup water and bake in a pre-heated 450 F. oven for 10 minutes. Remove the chestnuts, shell and peel while still warm.
Method for Stuffing:
1) Toast the bread cubes (10 minutes) until dry. Let cool. Put in bowl.
2) Cook sausage meat until no longer pink, transfer with slotted spoon to bowl with bread cubes, pour out all but 1 tablespoon fat in the skillet.
3) Add one tablespoon olive oil to skillet, cook garlic, onion, fennel, sage and thyme and salt and pepper, to taste, over moderate heat, stirring for 10 minutes. Transfer mixture to bowl.
4) Cook mushrooms in skillet in remaining 2 tablespoons of oil, stirring until almost all of the liquid they give off has evaporated. Stir in chestnuts, currants and parsley, salt and pepper to taste.
The stuffing may be made 1 day in advance and kept covered and chilled. (Do not stuff the bird in advance.)
1 12 lb goose, loose fat discarded, neck and liver reserved for another use, giblets chopped coarsely
1 carrot, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 onion chopped,
Rinse the goose inside and out, pat dry, season with salt and pepper. Stuff goose in neck and body cavity. If any stuffing is left over, it may be cooked in a separate buttered baking dish during the last half hour.
Truss the goose, put it breast side up in a deep baking pan. Scatter the chopped carrot, celery, onion and giblets in the bottom of the baking pan.
Roast in a preheated 425 F. oven for 30 minutes.
Reduce heat to 325 F., pour 1 cup boiling water over the goose (carefully, it will splatter) and roast the goose, basting it with the pan juices for 2 to 2 1/2 hours more or until the juices run clear when the fleshy part of the thigh is pricked with a skewer. (A thermometer inserted in the thigh should say 175 F.) You will have to keep removing fat from the pan with a basting bulb.
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
3/4 cup dried Porcini mushrooms
1 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup tawny port
1/3 cup all purpose flour
During last half hour of goose cooking time pour 1/2 cup of the broth over the mushrooms. Let sit for 1/2 hour, then drain the liquid, rinse the porcini and chop fine. Remove vegetables from roasting pan, drain off fat, add wine and port and deglaze the roasting pan over moderately high heat. Boil until the mixture is reduced by half.
Combine 1/4 cup of the leftover goose fat and flour in a separate saucepan and cook the roux, whisking, for about 3 minutes. Add the rest of the broth, the wine mixture and the porcini, whisking for 3 minutes until thickened. Add salt and pepper to taste and simmer for 2 more minutes before transferring to a heated sauceboat.
This is quite a production, but, after all, it is Christmas. I have used frozen geese from the supermarket and have also tried fresh geese — Denninger’s has fresh geese from Mennonite farms in the Kitchener area. I really didn’t notice much difference in flavour, but I only eat the bird once a year, so am not exactly a “goose connaisseur.” A 12 lb bird should feed 8 people, but there will be no leftovers. There will be a lot of fat to remove and if you want to keep it, it needs to be refrigerated right away. Many recipes suggest using the fat to cook potatoes and other vegetables — just as you might use bacon fat. I usually just throw it out.
You probably should have fruit salad and cottage cheese for supper on Boxing Day. Just sayin’…