- Food & Drink
The life cycle of a goose, from cute walking yellow duster to serial killer-eyed beak snapper to pork-stuffed joint of juicy meat, is not one I’ve observed before. Until this year, geese barely featured in my life. As a meat, it’s the kind of thing that appears in glossy magazines in November as an alternative to turkey – an alternative my family grimly ignores. As an animal, I’ve mostly backed away from them while trying to feed the ducks. Geese, in my experience, are best dealt with by heading in the opposite direction.
But then I started working at Stepney City Farm, and a pack of primrose yellow goslings were part of the farmyard scene. They’d skitter out of the barn like a gaggle of lively feather dusters and wander over the fields, picking them clean and growing up to be just as terrifying as their wild, duck pond relations.
A casual conversation with Nicola from The Ginger Pig in the summer turned geese from a background hiss to a culinary obsession. We decided to cook the farm’s geese for Michaelmas. A 5-course meal celebrating ancient rural traditions served in a factory in Hackney – what could be simpler?
The first 3 courses were the goosey ones (pudding and cheese deemed to be best left ungoosed). The first course was goose rillettes aka potted goose aka the best way to eat goose and I’ll fight anyone who says otherwise. Making rillettes is a slow process. You start by giving the goose a thorough salt scrub and then let it sit in its brine while you contemplate stage 2.
The day before the lunch Joe (my volunteer chef and the only reason anything got cooked at all on the day) and I slung the goose into a pot with some stock veg and let it simmer itself off the bone.
I spent an hour on Sunday morning happily up to my elbows in soft, cooked goose, pulling the meat from the skin and shredding it into fine, fine ribbons. If I could’ve spent all day picking at bones and squidging fat against my fingers, I would have counted it a very happy day.
The rillettes were served with sourdough from E5 Bakehouse and butter blended with herbs from the farm. The next course was my second favourite: braised gizzard, neck and wing with butter beans, bay and garlic. It was a loose version of a recipe from Elisabeth Luard’s European Peasant Cookery.
Joe ruined a knife hacking the neck and wings into chunks. We simmered the offal slowly with fat bacon, onions, tomatoes, herbs and red wine. Grisly to eat – the plates came back with plenty of strangely shaped bits of bone on them, but all those bits of bone has been sucked dry.
The main course was an easy(ish) to slice roast ballotine of goose. The bones had been whipped out and replaced with minced pork, potatoes, apple, lemon and nutmeg. A multicoloured mix of beetroot, golden beetroot and rainbow chard put up a good show of support, along with an insanely rich white sauce made with goose fat, flour, goose stock and white wine. It was not for the faint / weak hearted.
Summer pudding and Wildes Cheeses followed, along with beers. Many, many happy beers. From having only a glancing interest to being smeared in goose innards, my knowledge of the beast is now a lot keener. Cooking with Nicola and Joe was a joyous experience, and waving off diners flushed with food and enthusiasm for the farm left a happy grin on my face.
Still having turkey for Christmas, though.
1 goose, jointed (ours was around 4.5kg)
The leaves from a large handful of fresh thyme sprigs
2 onions, roughly chopped
2 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
A large handful of celery leaves or 2 stalks celery, chopped
Bay, thyme and parsley – a fistful of these mixed herbs
A few black peppercorns
Goose fat – 450g should do it
1 Place the jointed goose in a large dish or bowl. Mix the thyme with a very big handful of sea salt and rub that into the goose, making sure it all gets a good scour. Cover and chill in the fridge overnight.
2 Wipe the salt off the goose. Place the goose in a large pan with the onions, carrots, celery leaves or stalks, the herbs and peppercorns. Cover with cold water and place over a medium heat. Put a lid on the pan and bring it to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for a few hours – 2–3 hours should do it. The goose should be just clinging to the bones before you turn off the heat.
3 Leave the goose and stock in the pan to cool for an hour or so, then lift the goose out of the stock and transfer to a big tub / bowl. Put the stock into a separate bowl and store both in the fridge overnight.
4 In the morning, pick over the goose. Separate the meat from the skin, bones and unidentifiable nobbly bits. The meat should shred easily in your hands. This will take a while, but it is fun. I recommend having something good on the radio to listen to as you do it.
5 Taste the meat. It will probably be well seasoned from the salt in stage one. Now take the stock from the fridge. On the top there should be a layer of salty goose fat. This goose fat will be no use for the rillettes but great for roasting potatoes in, so carefully lift it off the jelly stock that is sitting below it and set aside. There should be a good amount of jelly stock left. Taste it to see how salty it is. You may be able to use some of it in the rillettes. But if it is very salty, then discard it and make up 400ml fresh vegetable stock.
6 Stir in the stock, a tablespoon full, at a time until the rillettes are damp but not too wet and loose. You’ll need somewhere between 200ml and 400ml. Melt the fresh goose fat and stir that in, tablespoon by tablespoon, until the rillettes have a rich, creamy texture. How much you need will depend on your goose. Around 200g will probably be enough.
7 Spoon the rillettes into a clean, sterilised jar (or jars) and pour the remaining liquid goose fat over the top. Cover, seal and store in the fridge for ages.