We had a goose for Christmas dinner. A wild goose. A goose that arrived to the house, tucked under my husband Peter’s arm. The first goose of the season, his reward for standing in icy cold water in his waders for hours, watching for wild Canadian geese visiting Maryland’s Eastern Shore to fly over and down.
If you’re a vegetarian, you’ll want to stop reading here. But if you enjoy, like I do, to occasionally partake in a meal that includes a portion of excellent meat—this blog is for you.
Unlike a farm raised goose, a wild goose is extremely lean. The meat when cooked to a temperature of 170 degrees is dense and grayish red. While naysayers dismissively describe the taste as gamey, thereby implying the flavor is strong, I disagree. The meat is flavorful, and when prepared correctly, an excellent change from boring farm raised poultry.
The process of getting this goose ready for our dinner table was a two-day affair. Anxious to return mid-day on Christmas Eve with his bounty, my husband did not have the bird professionally cleaned. Thus it was his job to remove the feathers and gut the interior. I began searching for instructional videos on my computer and learned that the best and easiest way to pluck feathers is to do it when the goose has just been killed, in the field while the body is warm and you’re waiting to get another shot.
Many hunters, particularly in America as when compared to the United Kingdom take two shortcuts. One is to skin the goose and thereby not have to worry about plucking feathers and errant quills. The other shortcut is to cut out only the breast, which contains the majority of the meat. A few incisions with a sharp fillet knife can extract two fine meat fillets.
This season, due to a reduced population in Maryland, hunters are limited to one goose per day. We agreed we would roast the whole goose. If you have a skinless bird, the recommendation is to cover it with strips of bacon to keep it moist. We had no bacon and no desire to go shopping, thus we were definitely keeping the skin.
At home, Peter pulled out the feathers. Some quill stumps were left behind, and the next step is to singe the bird with a blow torch while hanging it over a garbage can. We didn’t have a blow torch. Peter used the flame from the gas burner on the range. The result was less than perfect. However, we decided to go forward with the next step, which is multiple cold water washings and rubbing the inside and outside with salt.
We put the goose in the refrigerator, to cook the following day. I read many recipes online and decided to create my own. First I squeezed fresh lime juice all over the skin. Second, I placed inside the cavity; four large cloves of garlic, fresh rosemary, several pieces of carrot and two quarters of a large onion. I set the goose, breast side up on a roasting rack set inside a large pan, pieced the skin with a large fork and I spread carrot shavings and thin pieces of celery over the breast and legs. I cooked the bird slowly at 325 degrees and basted it with a chicken, onion, carrot broth every thirty minutes.
The result was a Christmas dinner feast for two! In the Chesapeake Bay spirit, I made oyster dressing—something I hadn’t had since childhood. The oyster dressing, homemade cranberry sauce and string beans all made a nice counterpoint to the wild goose meat and the plate looked festive with a touch of red and green. Video calls with our three children around the globe and a long walk with our dog Chloe to burn off the calories from all those Christmas cookies, rounded up our December 25th activities. And now I’ve got to start researching more recipes for the leftovers. I’m considering: Wild Goose Tacos, Goose and Ginger Stir Fry, Goose Curry, and Goose, Pear and Pecan salad. Stay safe and keep vigilant. We’ve made it through the first 10 months of this global pandemic but we still have more months to go.