- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Goose is the bird of choice for the holiday table in many parts of Great Britain and Europe. In Austria, Northern Italy and Slovenia, it is as beloved as our Thanksgiving turkey. But especially in Germany, goose reigns supreme.

According to a German saying, “A good roast goose is a good gift of God.” Germans are known to complain that the trouble with a goose is that there is too much for one person and not enough for two.

Americans are not as familiar with goose, and I, for one, had never cooked one until last year. I consulted cookbooks, the Internet and magazines for the best method, and none of them seemed to agree. So I fashioned my own plan and, to confirm my conclusions, called a German friend, Chris. Yes, she said, that’s how her mother did it. When she signed off, I was relieved and kitchen-ready.

The result? The goose was crisp-skinned, golden brown and delicious. I surrounded it with classic side dishes of tart red cabbage with apples, glazed chestnuts for garnish, roasted vegetables and wild rice. If you want to try your hand at goose this holiday season, here are some pointers: Goose is not as meaty as turkey. One 11-pound goose will serve 6 to 8 persons. Because goose is not in great demand, it is pricey. The more side dishes you have, the further it will go.

Even though the 15-minutes-a-pound poultry roasting rule worked for Grandma, today’s cooks should rely on a thermometer. My unstuffed 9-pound goose was done in 2 hours.

Audition your roasting pan the day before you plan to cook. Geese are long in the body. I used an All-Clad roaster, but another inch of goose, and it would have fit only in my blue speckled oval roaster.

Use a V-shaped roasting rack to hold it. Because of the conformation of the backbone, geese don’t lie flat but seem to tilt to one side or the other.

When it’s time to turn the goose, use gripper-fingered rubber or silicone gloves. Buy a new pair if you need them. Tongs will tear the skin.

Add water to the roasting pan to a depth of 1/2 inch before you begin. This prevents dripping fat from spitting and spattering as it hits a dry pan, which will cause smoking and may even set off your smoke alarm.

Basting is unnecessary. A goose is a self-baster if ever there were one. Prick the skin front and back with the tip of a sharp knife, especially in the fatty areas. As the fat accumulates in the roasting pan, draw it off without moving the pan.

Holding a medium-sized saucepan in one hand and a bulb baster in the other, siphon off the fat (top layer of liquid), squirting it into the saucepan. You don’t want to move the roasting pan back and forth, sloshing grease and water over the oven and maybe even yourself.

Although the dark meat (there is no white) is lean, my 9-pound bird gave off 3 cups of clear fat. I’m saving it, too. I’ll fry potatoes in some and freeze the rest to make duck confit for cassoulet for New Year’s Day.

Goose can be difficult to find. Ask your grocer or butcher, or maybe even ask at a farmers market. Be sure to order at least a week in advance. Sizes run 8 to 11 pounds. If you buy a frozen goose, defrost it slowly for several days in your refrigerator.

Holiday roast goose

1 9- to 11-pound young goose, thawed, if frozen (see note)

1 small onion, peeled and quartered

1 small apple, cored and quartered

Several sprigs Italian parsley

Several sprigs fresh sage leaves

2 teaspoons dried marjoram

2 teaspoons dried thyme

Salt and pepper

Remove excess fat and skin from main body cavity and neck cavity. Neatly trim off the long neck flap. Cut off the wing tips with poultry shears. Remove giblets and save, along with wings tips, for another use, if desired. Wash goose under cold running water and pat it thoroughly dry inside and out with paper towels. Pierce goose with the tip of a sharp knife, especially where fat is the thickest on the legs and lower breast. Place onion, apple, parsley and sage in body cavity. Rub bird inside and out with marjoram, thyme and salt and pepper to taste.

Tie the legs together loosely with kitchen string to hold shape. (Some butchers leave a strip of skin so the legs can be tucked in and held in place.) Position oven rack in bottom third of oven and preheat to 425 degrees. Place goose, breast side down, on rack set in large, shallow roasting pan. Add enough water to the pan to reach a depth of ½ inch. This keeps dripping fat from spitting, spattering and smoking. Roast the goose for 30 minutes.

Carefully turn goose breast-side-up and roast for 20 minutes. As the fat accumulates in the pan, draw it off with a bulb baster or large kitchen spoon and, if you like, save it for another use. Basting the goose is unnecessary.

Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue cooking for 1½ to 2 hours, for a total of about 15 to 20 minutes per pound. Roast until meat thermometer inserted into thickest part of thigh registers 165 degrees and juices run clear when thigh is pierced with the tip of a small, sharp knife. The juice that runs out should be pale yellow; if it is tinged with pink, roast the goose another 5 to 10 minutes and check again.

Transfer goose to platter to rest for 20 minutes. Discard kitchen string, if using, and apples, onions and herbs from cavity of goose. Tent loosely with foil to keep warm. Reserve pan juices for gravy, if desired. Serves 6 to 8.

Note: Neck, heart, gizzard and wing tips can be reserved for stock.

Red cabbage with apples

2 to 2½ pound head red cabbage

2/3 cup red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons salt

2 tablespoons goose fat or bacon drippings

2 medium cooking apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1/8-inch wedges

½ cup finely chopped onion

1 whole onion, peeled and pierced with 1 whole clove, optional

½ bay leaf

3 tablespoons dry red wine

3 tablespoons red currant jelly

Bring 4½ cups water to a boil. Wash the head of cabbage under cold running water, remove the tough outer leaves and cut the cabbage into quarters. To shred the cabbage, cut out the core and slice the quarters crosswise into 1/8-inch wide strips.

Drop cabbage into a large mixing bowl, sprinkle with vinegar, sugar and salt, then toss the shreds to coat evenly with the mixture.

In a heavy 4- or 5-quart casserole or Dutch oven, melt the goose fat or bacon drippings over moderate heat. Add the apples and chopped onion and cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes, or until the apples are lightly browned. Add cabbage, the whole onion with clove, if using, and the bay leaf; stir thoroughly and pour in 4 cups boiling water.

Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally, and reduce heat to its lowest possible point. Cover and simmer for 1½ to 2 hours, or until the cabbage is tender. Check from time to time to make sure cabbage is moist. If it seems dry, add a tablespoon or so of boiling water. If there is too much liquid, turn up the heat to evaporate it quickly. When the cabbage is done, there should be almost no liquid left in the pan.

Just before serving, remove whole onion and bay leaf and stir in wine and currant jelly. Taste for seasoning. Transfer contents of casserole to a heated platter or bowl and serve. Makes 8 servings. — or more if there are many dishes.

Chestnuts for garnish

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 cups cooked chestnuts or a 14-ounce jar

3 tablespoons heavy whipping cream

4 teaspoons honey

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add chestnuts and cook until heated through, 2 to 3 minutes. Add cream and honey and cook, stirring occasionally, until sauce is thick and chestnuts are glazed, 4 to 5 minutes. Cover skillet and keep warm over lowest heat.

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