While turkey is most commonly associated with British Christmas dinner, the bird wasn’t introduced until the 16th century, with Henry VIII the first British monarch to have enjoyed turkey on Christmas Day, having been recommended as a health conscious alternative. If there’s any day to avoid being abstemious, however, it’s Christmas. Christmas isn’t a time for health foods, it’s for indulgence. Save the diets for January. Until Henry VIII became a culinary influencer, however, goose was far more popular, while the rich generally enjoyed peacock or swan (both unavailable today).
Turkey has remained popular over the past 500 years, but families are also turning to alternative meats for Christmas. Alongside beef, duck and three-bird roasts (the culinary equivalent to Frankenstein’s monster), goose is becoming celebrated once more, but it’s not nearly popular enough.
Not only does goose have far more flavour than turkey, it’s much harder to overcook and it’s appropriately decadent. Still fairly expensive, however, it’s also fattier than turkey, which frightens so many home cooks, but with the right preparation the fat works to the goose’s advantage.
Realistically, an entire roast goose will probably be greasy and less than remarkable, but with some very simple butchery, it’s absolutely sensational. This recipe also uses the entire bird, with none of it going to waste. The legs are removed and cooked slowly, like a confit, which can be done in advance, with the legs simply reheated before serving. The breasts, on the other hand, are started in a frying pan over low heat, to render some of the fat, then finished in the oven and – crucially – served pink. If the liver is kept in, that’s also perfect in stuffing, while the neck and additional bones will contribute to an absolutely outstanding gravy.
Following these tips it’s still not too late to impress guests with a perfectly cooked goose: the most perfect Christmas dinner centrepiece, best served with all the trimmings, red cabbage, and a tart apple sauce.
- 1 goose approx. 4-5kg
- 10 cloves garlic peeled
- 10 black peppercorns
- 6 cloves
- 1 orange or clementine rind only
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 cinnamon stick
- Pre-heat the oven to 160C/ gas mark 3.
- Remove the legs from the goose by pulling away from the bone and cutting in half at the joint. Remove the wings and reserve for gravy.
- Use a sharp knife to cut any fat and skin from the back of the goose. Place this fat in a tight-fitting oven tray with the goose legs, plus the garlic, peppercorns, orange rind, cloves, bay leaves, and cinnamon stick.
- If the goose has giblets, reserve the liver and use for making stuffing. The rest can be used in the gravy, but beware the heart may make it a little too bitter.
- If the neck is still attached, cut it off as close to the main body as possible. Using a heavy knife, remove the backbone from the goose, so you’re left with just the breasts on the bone (like a turkey crown).
- Chop the backbone into smaller pieces and reserve for the gravy, and place any excess fat into the tray with the goose legs.
- Place the legs in the oven and cook for 2 ½ – 3 hours, basting every so often until the meat is soft and just coming away from the bone. Once cooked, drain off the fat and reserve for roast potatoes or for another recipe. (The legs can also be cooked in advance and stored in their fat, in the fridge, then reheated for 25-30 minutes before serving.)
- Season the goose breasts and place in a cold, oven-proof frying pan, skin-side down. Cook on a low heat for 5-10 minutes, until most of the fat renders out (reserve this for roast potatoes or another recipe).
- Increase the heat to medium-high and continue to cook until the skin starts to colour and become golden. Gently turn over and cook for another few minutes before transferring to the oven and turning the heat up to 200C/Gas 6. Cook for 25-30 minutes, or until the breasts are perfectly pink.
- Remove the pan from the oven and allow the breasts to rest for at least 20 minutes.
- Thinly slice the breasts and roughly carve the legs, then serve with gravy and your favourite trimmings.