For lo these many years I had wanted desperately to cook a goose for Christmas dinner.
I had read up on it, and had even assisted in the cooking of a goose previously. But however excited I was to prepare and cook this truly traditional British Christmas bird, with all its delightfully Dickensian connotations, I was a tad unprepared for all the distinctly Dickensian imprecations that would follow. Roasting a goose, you see, is not at all as simple as roasting a chicken or a turkey. There may not be any brining involved- and there’s certainly no basting- and nor do you have to turn the bird over, or adjust temperatures, or slap a butter-soaked muslin cloth over it. But boy is there preparation, not to mention much more frequent trips to the oven than basting would incur.
To begin with, once you’ve got your goose home you have to remove any excess fat from the body cavity. Now I was lucky, in as much as I’d ordered my goose from an excellent supplier and so the goose arrived with that fat pre-bagged for me. Can I just say it was a real big bag? A much larger bag than the one that held the giblets, in fact. And the thing with a goose is, that big bag of mushy white stuff is- as far as fat goes- merely the icing on the cake.
When you remove the goose from its wrapping, the first thing you notice is just how much fat there is larding pretty much the entire body. Well they’re water fowl, so of course that’s necessary for them, poor dears. But all that fat has to render out as you cook the goose, and that’s what creates the yuletide yuckies, as well as the previous eve’s prep.
So in the midst of all the stirring and the rolling and the kneading and the baking (and the flour), I had to spend a bit of time repeatedly stabbing the goose all over with a skewer. This creates holes in the skin that allow all that fat to seep out as it roasts. Then, with the goose placed on a rack over a tin, I had to douse it in boiling water. This shrinks the skin, opening up those holes, and also dehydrates the skin a tad, so that once you’ve finished the final pre-roasting process, you should have the perfect makings of deliciously crispy goose skin. And that final bit of the process? Well various sources indicated that I should leave the goose “somewhere draughty”, or “by an open window for several hours” to ensure the skin was fully dried. Now while you might well believe that all homes in the UK are “draughty” or that winter here is the optimum time to leave windows open, you’d be quite wrong. The windows in my flat all seal quite nicely, thank you, and when they’re open a Force 4 gale sweeps through the joint.
So round about one am I found myself blow-drying a goose. It was quite a nostalgic experience, given that it’s been at least a decade since I’ve had enough hairs on my head to require anything more than a quick muss with a towel. But there I stood, gently wafting the blow dryer back and forth across the goose until I was sure there was no residual dampness on that skin. I was momentarily tempted to ask the poor bird if it had any plans for the weekend.
Come Christmas Day, it was time to stuff and roast. I must add at this point that one of the great advantages of cooking a goose is that, relative to the bird’s size, the body cavity is enormous. This means two things:
- that you can fit enough stuffing into the cavity to feed everyone without resorting to a secondary tray in the oven, and
- that it doesn’t in fact affect the bird’s roasting time. You don’t have to keep the bird in the oven just to cook the stuffing through, which has always been one of the great disadvantages with a large turkey or chicken. You just keep that bird cooking at a nice steady temperature until your goose is cooked.
But then, instead of visiting the oven occasionally to give the bird a quick baste, you have to visit the oven every 15 minutes or so to perform a far more tricky procedure.
You have to remove the fat that has rendered off the bird and into the tray before it spills out of the tray and turns your oven into the kind of inferno that would set Irwin Allen’s heart tingling. And let me tell you, that is a process. You take the tray out of the oven. Your remove the goose and rack to a safe location. You tip that hot liquid fat into a second equally safe repository. You then return the rack with the goose on it to the tray and return the tray to the oven. It’s not a complicated process; just one that, if you’re like me (and I refer you once again to my borderline dyspraxic state), can become rather fraught. There can be the odd spillage which, if gone unnoticed, can cause future problems.
So while some of you may recall the worrying amounts of liquid my frozen “self-basting” turkey produced at Thanksgiving, it was nothing compared to this. Truthfully, the only comparison I can come up with is that early video game where babies were being tossed from a burning building and you had to catch them before they broke. And Christmas Day is just not the day to let a baby break.
But you know, I got through it, and having that pre-rendered goose fat to hand when it came to roasting the potatoes was heavenly. The frequent trips to empty the roasting tray did cause me to par-boil the first batch of potatoes to the point of near enough mush, so a second batch had to be par-boiled on the fly, but all came good in the end (I have since learned to par-steam, not boil the potatoes. Makes for a more malleable spud) and Christmas Dinner was complete. I’d happily roast a goose again, though perhaps next time I’d be wearing a full-on fire retardant outfit whilst doing so.
I just wish I had thought to clean the oven afterwards.