Good for the Goose

I think at this point in my life I have heard every reason for someone not to like geese. Tastes like liver. To tough. “Gamey” for whatever the heck that means. Tastes like duck. Only good for jerky. The list goes on and on. The bad part with geese, in many ways, is that I totally understand what they are talking about!

Let’s do a little thought experiment here for a second. Imagine a cow, it is born and raised on some idyllic little pond watching six out of ten of its fellow birth mates get murdered in short order. Then when it gets cold must migrate 2,000-3,000 miles with its parents. Migrating, as we all know, is not easy. Then have that cow-bird do that same trip multiple times over multiple years. Do you think that cow will be delicious? Tender? Lacking in flavor? No.

Why? Well because it had to work for a living. The red meat most Americans eat from the store is about 18 months old at slaughter. That basically a teenager in cow years. So, we shoot some 7 year old banded goose in a farmer’s field and want it to cut like grocery store steak? We don’t want it to have flavor, because the beef that we are used to doesn’t have that type of flavor. Want to know what happens to old cows? Sausage, that’s what. You grind up old dairy cows because they are not good for steaks.

Understanding that geese/ ducks/ deer/ turkeys or whatever are not domesticated and have had to make a living in the wild affects how the game should be cooked. Eighteen month old cow, slightly overcooked in a stir fry – delicious. Five year old goose? Toss the pot? Nah, add some gravy, get the hot sauce… Knowing is half the battle and knowing is what makes cooking them fun.        

Geese need love to be good. Show that love in the kitchen with how you prepare them. Recipes for corned goose (think corned beef), goose sausage and goose confit are all great ways to tackle the “off” flavor issue.

If you are bound and determined to grill a goose breast I might recommend a few things. First – brine the meat. This will give it flavor inside the meat and extra moisture. Second, grill to 115 degrees and not any further. Third, let the meat rest. When it reaches the ideal temperature remove it from the grill and stare at it for five minutes or so. Fourth, slice it thin. Five, change the expectation and understand it will not taste like beef.

I remember standing in six inches of snow watching a man “breast out” a goose. He grabbed it by the feet, stood on its wings and pulled. After some ripping noises, a bunch of swearing, the comment “this works easier on ducks”, he had removed the breasts rest of the bird. He then grabbed the feet and tossed them in the trash. I was appalled. It was just plain wasteful. We shook hands after the hunt and the man walked into his house. I dug the legs out of his trash, tossed them in the back of my truck and ate better for it.

Again, I do understand why most hunters find goose legs hard to eat. If roasted whole the legs are chewy and full of tendons. No better than dog food for the most part. If goose legs are fried up like chicken they are nearly inedible. The problem with those styles of cooking is that they do not allow for enough time to break down the meat. What goose legs cooking requires most of all is time (and love). It takes a while to break down the connective tissue, count on at least four hours.

Most times I get past this toughness by cooking my goose legs “confit” style. To confit something is to slow cook it in oil and spices. Then you let the meat chill completely covered in oil creating a protective layer of fat. Confit is an old school Egyptian preservation method for duck – that works great on goose too. The reason that this cooking and preservation method works is because salt creates a hostile environment for microorganisms. Cooking the meat in the hot oil also kills most microbes. Top that off with a layer of microbe-inhibiting fat covering the meat and you can keep confit for up to six months in your cellar or fridge.

It was created for keeping meat in a time before refrigeration. To confit something you need to follow three basic steps. Cure the meat in salt, brown the meat then poach it in oil. Below is the basic method of cooking any type of meat confit style.

Step #1 –

Clean the meat very well after the harvest. Then I will pat the meat dry with a paper towel while looking for any extra feathers, arrowheads, shot, or undesirable blood clots that need removed.

Step #2 –

1/8 cup kosher salt

1 tablespoon cracked black pepper

1 tablespoon garlic powder

Mix the above per pound of meat.

Toss the meat with the salt mix and place in a gallon sized Ziploc bag. I make sure to pour off any juice that accumulates. After 24 hours I will rinse the goose off and pat it dry.

Step #3

Brown the goose meat in a couple of tablespoons of hot oil.

Step #4

The next step is the hardest. Not technically hard but emotionally. The smells from the cooking goose will tempt you. Ignore the temptations and let it cook. If you snack on it through the whole cooking process it will not be the same!

After the meat is brown it needs to be poached in oil. Below is a list of ingredients for the oil poaching.

1 cup rendered bacon fat (if you have it, if not two sticks of butter)

Canola Oil – enough to barley cover the meat

8 cloves of garlic

16 ea black pepper corns

2 ea bay leaf

2 ea sprig of rosemary

4 ea sprigs of thyme

10 ea sage leafs

Pack the browned goose into the bottom of a home style cake pan. Then place on top of the goose the garlic, pepper corns, bay leafs, rosemary, thyme and sage leafs. Add the bacon fat and then pour enough canola oil to cover the meat. Tightly wrap the whole mess in tin foil and place it on a cookie sheet. Then put the goose in a 350 oven for two hours then turn the oven down to the “keep warm” setting. Let it cook for two more hours. Then turn off the oven and let the meat cool for one hour.

Next remove the pan from the oven and let cool. Then get some latex gloves. Remove the meat from the bone and transfer it into clean and sanitized mason jars. Fill to within 1 inch of the lid. Reheat, gently, the poaching oil. Pour it over the top of the meat, make sure no part of the meat is exposed. If meat is exposed it can turn faster than it should. Cool the jars in the refrigerator and when totally cooled cap and store them in the back of the fridge. The confit can keep for up to six months.

Keep the oil from batch to batch of confit, it gains more and more flavor over time.

To eat remove the metal lid and microwave the jar for a minute or so. Just enough time to melt the fat but not heat up the meat. Then remove the amount you would like to eat and make sure to recover the meat in oil.

I use confit meat in a variety of ways. I have made pizzas, pastas, pot stickers, tacos and many other dishes from confit meat. I have even used this method for all sorts of animals, like jackrabbits, rockchucks and ducks.  In all confit is a great way to keep your freezer free of odds and ends and it tastes great too.

Goose Leg Confit with Roasted Brussel Sprouts and Gnocchi

1 tablespoon confit oil

½ lb. Brussel sprouts, cut in half

2 goose legs, confit (see above)

1 clove garlic, crushed

½ cup cream

¼ cup chicken stock

Shredded parmesan

Salt and pepper

12 ounces Prepared Gnocchi (or make your own, lots of good recipes out on the interwebs…)

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Heat a 12-inch sauté pan on medium. Add 1 tablespoon of the confit oil to the pan. Add the Brussel sprouts to the pan, cut side down. Let cook for 3 minutes. Or until the sprouts have browned on the cut side. Flip the sprouts over. Next add two goose legs worth of confit meat, about 10 ounces, to the pan. Place pan in the oven and let cook for 10 minutes.

Carefully remove the pan from the oven, place on a burner set to medium. Add the garlic clove to the pan. Let the garlic get fragrant. Next add the cream and chicken stock. Bring all to a boil. Reduce heat and let cook for 3 minutes. Next add the prepared gnocchi. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with shredded parmesan.

Serve hot.

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