I cooked a goose for Christmas, and it was delicious, but Jesus (so to speak), it was a lot of work.
The superlative butchers at Golden Gate Meat Company in San Francisco managed to get hold of a few dozen geese from Grimaud Farms--air-chilled (hence no water weight added, as is customary with most other poultry) and never frozen: beautiful birds. Early on the morning after I'd brought home my ten-pounder, I woke up remembering a recent experience with a duck that I had cut up in order to braise the legs, roast the breasts rare, and make a nice stock from the back and other scraps; and I thought, Well, that would be a dandy way to deal with the goose. I also remembered, however, that the anatomy of that duck had been sufficiently different from that of birds I was more familiar with that I had really been digging around and doing some damage to its lovely dark flesh. Moreover, the connective tissue holding the joints together had been extremely hard to slice through. Now I was looking at a critter five times bigger, with pretty much the same anatomy, and tendons probably five times tougher.
And so I'm thinking, Time to call the guys at Golden Gate. Sure enough, they'd be glad to cut it up for me. Therefore, as sheets of rain slashed across the Embarcadero and the Bay at high tide splashed against the piers, I made my way through a gray eight a.m. Sunday to the Ferry Building to find Golden Gate--Closed Sundays? Naw! Who had I been talking to, then? I banged on the steel gate, hollered through it. I could see a guy mopping inside, but he didn't look up. I banged, I hollered. Finally he saw me and disappeared into the back. Soon appeared one of the butchers I recognized--the one, in fact, who had answered the phone. Padlocks click, in I goes, a discussion of the surgery ensues. Ten minutes later, one bag contains drumsticks, thighs, and first joints of wings with a knob of breast meat attached to each; another has the whole breast, un-split; and a third the carcass, wing tips, neck, giblets, heart, and liver--all but the last the makings of my stock. With Christmas Eve dinner not till the next night, I could make stock that day and let the fat rise in the fridge overnight. Also I could do my braise.
I thought I would brown the meat and bones on top of the stove. Not a good idea. First of all it took six frying pans, all six burners. Second, despite my assiduous drying, the fat-spatter was unbelievable. Goose napalm. So, a five-hundred oven. Lotta spattering there too, of course, but at least it was contained. Also in the oven I browned onions (skin on), carrots, and celery; together, for both the braise and the stock. I poured off the rendered fat--yeow--more than three cups.
I gave the stock a two-hour head start so I could use some of it in the braise. I managed to fit the meat into two large cast-iron skillets, then wedged in the now-caramelized vegetables, added some stock, thyme, and bay, discovered that my back-yard parsley was dead, and poured half a bottle of Loire (unoaked) chardonnay into each pan. Up to a simmer, and into a three-hundred oven. Wearing this great little timer around my neck, I could "remember" to check on everything once an hour. Barely bubbling, just right.
After four hours, the goose drumsticks were still so hard I could have cracked somebody's skull with one. After five, they were merely inedibly tough. Good thing this was the day before.
Finally, after six and a half hours and several addings of water, they began to soften, and that was enough for the day. I put the meat in a bowl in the refrigerator and added the braising liquid to the stock pot. By now the carcass was breaking apart, which was good--more gelatin in the stock, more unctuosity in the sauce to come. I fished out all the big stuff and smushed it hard in the strainer to squeeze out whatever juice I could, then strained the rest, again smushing anything smushable to a paste. All the solids could now go to compost and the beautiful, though very greasy, stock to the fridge.
Christmas Eve morning, the fat having nicely congealed, I scraped it off the top of the stock. What lay beneath was a sparkling-clear consommé. Beauty, thy name is stock! It did need to reduce by about half. No problem. That done, I put the goose in a bit of it and put that again in a 300 oven. After an hour and a half or so, the meat was falling off the bone; I took that out and kept it warm.
When the oven reached 450, I roasted the breast to an internal temperature of 145. The skin was tight and crisp, the meat bright blood-red.
I took a quart or so of the stock to reduce further for a sauce. I julienned an orange peel, blanched it, and added that. I just happened to have three kinds of oranges on hand--a regular
navel, a Cara Cara, which has flesh sort of grapefruity-pink, and a
Clementine. I cut out "filets" from the first two and just sectioned
the third because it comes apart so nicely, and set those aside. The juice left over I added to the sauce, followed by a wee tad of butter for viscosity and what the hell. I completely forgot to chop, cook, and add the liver.
After resting it for forty minutes, I carved the breast meat off the bone and sliced it crosswise into thin medallions.
Braised meat went on one end of the platter, rare breast on the other. I chucked the little orange quarter-moons here and there
It was very, very good. But once, I think, will have been enough.