Why It Works
- Dry-brining the goose ensures that the meat remains especially moist and juicy. The added baking powder also helps it develop extra-crisp skin.
- Pricking goose skin and blanching bird in boiling water before roasting helps to render the large volume of fat.
- Roasting the goose breast-side down first and then rotating it partway through helps the meat to cook evenly.
It's Christmas Eve, 2010, and we're cooking a goose. Or at least, that's the plan—right now it feels more like surgery than cooking. Step one of our Cook's Illustrated recipe says, "Use tweezers or small pliers to remove any remaining quills from the goose," but I'm starting to suspect that we're plucking something else, some vestigial remnant of the quill, because the recipe doesn't say anything about the process potentially taking days—or there being a remaining quill in virtually every pore.
But there are plenty of tweezers to go around, so all four of us—myself and my boyfriend, Josh, his mother and sister—are clustered beneath a bright overhead light, a team of post-mortem beauticians. Occasionally someone emits a self-satisfied ah hah! and waves around an especially long...quill? A follicle? I'm mystified.
It's only my second Christmas with Josh's family but I already feel at home. Their roomy bungalow in Takoma Park, Maryland, seems custom-made for comfort—cushy couches and deep armchairs, lots of soft throws and plump pillows. I pause and step away from the goose, wiping greasy hands on my jeans, and let my surroundings swim back into focus.
Over the kitchen countertop, I can gaze out at the living room, where the Christmas tree lights are set to twinkle mode behind a heavy armor of glinting orbs and hand-crafted ornaments. I'm pretty sure Bing Crosby's "Silent Night" has played at least twice, and the album, I realize, has probably been cycling on repeat for hours.
I don't mind, though. Christmas, I've decided, is a grand old time. Josh's dad, Ray, has already taught me how to artfully arrange tinsel and fashion replacement ornament hooks from paper clips. I've played carols at the piano and deposited presents at the foot of the tree under the cover of night. I've plowed through Advent calendar chocolates and eaten actual chestnuts, roasted over a real, live open fire. But the goose is bound to be this year's crowning achievement.
I love the way it sounds, Christmas goose, so I say it out loud every chance I get. I even have a tuneless little ditty, a chant, that goes a goose, a goose, a Christmas goose, and I've been wandering around humming it under my breath for days in anticipation. On Christmas Eve, on the phone with my grandmother, we exchange Hanukkah wishes before I mention it casually, in passing, and then, unable to help myself, once again, emphatically, "A Christmas goose!"
She grunts, skeptical. "I don't know from goose. What does it taste like?"
"I'm positive it will taste like a flurry of snow and jingling sleigh bells and the collected works of Charles Dickens"
"Like a cross between duck and turkey," I venture, unsure. But secretly I'm positive it will taste like a flurry of snow and jingling sleigh bells and the collected works of Charles Dickens. Every Christmas fantasy I've ever had—and, as a voracious Jewish consumer of antiquated British fiction and films, I've had plenty—certainly seems to promise as much. It is, after all, a goose and this, this, is Christmas.
Or at least, this is our Christmas—an affair so irreverent that it has the curious habit of veering into the opposite extreme, as cloyingly fairytale as it gets without spraying the windowpanes with fake frost and inflating a giant Santa on the lawn. At the Scannell-Szapiro household (if you can't tell by the last names alone), Christmas is something of a mixed-faith affair. Actually, scrap that: Given that Ray's the only gentile in our group of five, it's pretty damn Jew-y.
I'm chopping apples and onions for stuffing when Miriam, the curly-haired matriarch who's leading our foray into goosedom, confesses that she used to find the sight of a Christmas tree "nauseating." I laugh—it seems impossible, given that this is the woman who bought our goose in the first place, who is spearheading all our efforts. "But it was just so important to Ray," she adds.
Ray is a lapsed Irish–Puerto Rican Catholic with a soft spot for tradition; to compromise, Josh and his younger sister were raised with a "holiday tree" studded with stars of David and topped with a porcelain angel, a sort of religious halfway house between their Jewish upbringing and their paternal cultural heritage. It's only in the last decade that Miriam has gradually come around and the family has finally started calling it a Christmas tree instead.
Which is a nice thing, considering just how much Ray loves Christmas. I mean really loves it, and it's infectious. He's the kind of guy who grew up with midnight mass and an elaborate, hand-crafted crèche in the basement of his split-level home in Long Island. Left to his own devices, I suspect he'd play nothing but carols year-round. He insists on visiting the National Christmas Tree each winter, and he's a real hard-ass when it comes to proper tinsel and ornament distribution. But while Christmas in Takoma Park may have started for Ray, these days it's for the rest of us, too.
Then again, Ray's not a cook, and he's certainly never had a Christmas goose. None of us have.
Which is how, as we wrap up the plucking, it becomes increasingly clear that this goose is a flight of Christmas spirit–induced fancy—we have absolutely no idea what we've gotten ourselves into.
Instructed to remove the wishbone, I spend a good 30 minutes watching tutorials on YouTube before daring to pick up a knife myself, groping and slicing blindly at the neck cavity before emerging with my prize. Then the recipe tells us to prick the goose all over with trussing needles and lower it into a pot of boiling water, first one end and then the other. It's so slippery that we almost drop it, both times. A wave of scalding liquid, glinting with fat, slops over the side of the pot, narrowly missing Miriam's feet.
"The goose is out to get us," I say, resentfully. We slip it into the fridge, exchange hugs, and stalk off to bed.
The next day, though, spirits are once again high. After resting in the fridge overnight, the goose has, I've decided, shed its antagonistic inclinations; presents have been opened and a heavy breakfast of cheesy eggs and bacon consumed. So we pick up where we left off, pressing our stuffing—a sticky mix of apples, onions, bread, and sherry-soaked prunes—into the body of the bird before sewing it shut.
Sidestepping scraps of wrapping paper and ribbon, I take a sip of wine and check the time: 5 p.m. We tuck the goose into the oven, relieved, and set a timer. Dinner, we announce, will be ready in a few hours. Little do we know that the real struggle is just beginning: Nobody warned us about the fat.
In the first hour of cooking, rendered fat has practically flooded the roasting pan. We scramble with paper towels and turkey basters, sopping and siphoning to manage the onslaught. By the time we've transferred the bird to a cutting board a few hours later, our faces are all flushed. I'm so stupefied by the volume of fat that I've measured it out: nearly two whole cups. Even so, we haven't rendered enough; when we go to carve the goose, we have to take turns because, in a matter of minutes, we're greased to the elbows, the shoulders, fat is everywhere.
This is not the God bless us, every one goose of Dickens. Instead, the bird, golden brown and crisp-skinned, threatens to slip and slide its way right off the counter, a last-ditch escape attempt. And when we've finally, finally scraped all the meat off the 11-pound beast, we realize it isn't actually done, so the mangled pieces get tossed in a casserole dish and returned to the oven. The hacked-apart carcass, abandoned on the counter in a puddle of red-streaked juices and grease, looks ancient and otherworldly, a Jurassic murder scene.
It's such a process that when we ultimately sit down to eat, it's 11 p.m., and everyone's frazzled, disillusioned. All except Ray, that is, who doesn't much care for cooking and has spent the evening reading and relaxing by the fire, a glass of wine in hand, more Crosby on the stereo. His work is done: After all, he is the reason we're observing Christmas in the first place.
But then we take our first bites and gradually, one by one, we perk up. The meat is all dark and moist and incredibly, stunningly rich. It is like a cross between turkey and duck after all, but it's the pairing of the tangy-sweet, fruit-heavy stuffing and silky, savory gravy that really makes it shine. The skin's so fatty it tastes like cracklings, and I surreptitiously snatch another piece from the serving plate. After a few bites of fat-drenched stuffing, though, that feeling of decadence slides into excess—everything's so saturated that in a moment, I'm stuffed. The leftovers last us all week.
Since that fateful night, we've learned a lot about making Christmas goose. This year—our fifth—it'll be labor-intensive but, hopefully, smooth sailing. It's routine now, plotted out, busy but not hard. We've tweaked our recipe here and there—now we dry-brine the bird for extra moisture; add tomato paste to the gravy stock for a darker, more savory intensity; and incorporate chestnuts into the stuffing for an earthy-nutty element that balances the fruity sweetness. We've learned there's no real plucking required (those "quills" do indeed seem to be vestigial and just dissolve in the oven), and I can remove that wishbone blindfolded.
The goose renders all its fat these days, and we know to siphon it off partway through. We've even started cooking the stuffing in a casserole dish to keep some of that richness in check. When we sit down to eat, it'll be a reasonable hour, and we'll cackle together as we recall the ghosts of geese past—the time we accidentally used cherry-flavored prunes or the year we left bits of boney goose neck in the gravy.
As we clear the dishes, we'll pick at scraps of stuffing and meat, stomachs bursting but never quite done with that precious little goose. Which is why, later this week, we'll gather around the kitchen counter once more for yet another newfound tradition, grating potatoes and onions for a belated Hanukkah feast of goose-fat latkes. A goose, a goose, a Chrismukkah goose, I'll chant, as we fry each pancake golden-brown and crisp. This time, it'll be Ray's turn to celebrate a different faith. He'll light the menorah, and together we'll start to sing the Hanukkah blessing.
1 whole goose (10-12 pounds; 4.5-5.5kg), neck, giblets, wing tips, and wishbone removed and reserved (see notes)
1/2 cup (2.5 ounces; 70g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt or 6 tablespoons (3 ounces; 85g) Morton's kosher salt, plus more to taste
2 tablespoons (24g) baking powder
1 1/2 cups (355ml) homemade chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth
1 packet (2 1/2 teaspoons; 7g) unflavored gelatin (only if using store-bought chicken broth; see notes)
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
2 ribs celery, diced
1 tablespoon (15ml) tomato paste
2 cups (475ml) dry red wine
8 large sprigs parsley
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons (16g) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (120ml) Amontillado sherry
Freshly ground black pepper
Using kitchen shears, trim excess skin from the goose's neck. Use shears or fingers to remove bundles of pale, lumpy fat from the cavity. Reserve 3 tablespoons solid fat, plus an additional 1/3 cup if making prune and apple stuffing. Pat reserved fat dry, chill, then mince.
Using a trussing needle or paring knife, prick goose skin at 1/2-inch intervals all over, front and back, being sure to pierce the skin but not poke holes in the meat. Pay special attention to particularly fatty areas, such as beneath wings and around thighs.
Fill a large stock pot by two-thirds with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Wearing clean rubber kitchen gloves, grasp the legs of the goose and lower it into the water, neck end first, submerging it halfway. Keep submerged for 1 minute. Lift goose, allowing excess water to drain back into pot, then transfer to a work surface. Grasp wings and submerge other half of goose, tail end first, in boiling water and keep submerged 1 minute longer. Lift goose, allowing excess water to drain back into pot, then transfer goose to work surface. Pat dry with paper towels inside and out.
In a medium bowl, mix kosher salt and baking powder together. Generously and evenly sprinkle salt mixture all over goose skin; use just enough of the salt mixture to coat thoroughly. (You will most likely not need all of the salt, and in some cases, less than half will be sufficient, depending on the size of your bird and your salt preference.) Transfer goose to a rack set in roasting pan and refrigerate uncovered for 12-24 hours.
If using store-bought chicken broth, pour into a microwave-safe medium bowl and sprinkle gelatin in an even layer on surface. Let stand 5 minutes; microwave in 1 minute intervals, whisking each time, until gelatin is dissolved. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, heat the 3 tablespoons reserved minced fat over medium heat until the fat renders and forms small browned bits, about 3 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high and add goose neck, wing tips, wishbone, and all giblets (except liver) and sauté until dark brown, 8-10 minutes.
Add onions, carrots, and celery to saucepan, and cook, stirring, until vegetables begin to brown, about 10 minutes. Stir in tomato paste and cook for 1 minute. Add red wine, scraping up any brown bits on bottom of saucepan. Add chicken broth, parsley, thyme, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, partially cover, and cook at a bare simmer for 2 hours. If necessary, add additional stock or water to keep ingredients covered. Set a fine mesh strainer over a 4-cup measuring cup and strain stock, pressing down on solids with a ladle or spoon to extract all liquid. Reserve and finely chop heart and gizzard; dispose of all other solids. Skim fat off top of stock and, if necessary, add additional chicken stock or water to make 2 full cups. Stock can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
Set oven rack to lowest position and preheat to 325°F. Remove goose from refrigerator and place breast side down in a V-rack set in a roasting pan (we often recommend roasting on a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet, but the goose renders too much fat for this to be a safe option). Transfer goose to oven and roast for 1 1/2 hours. Remove from oven and carefully transfer V-rack with goose to a work surface. Carefully spoon or pour off all but a few tablespoons of the rendered fat in the roasting pan into a heat-safe bowl or container, being careful to leave behind any browned bits. Reserve rendered fat. Return V-rack with goose to the roasting pan and, using two wooden spoons inserted into neck and body cavities, to carefully rotate goose breast side up. Return goose to the oven and roast until skin is puffed up around breast bone and tops of thighs, and skin is browned, 1 to 1 1/2 hours longer. Remove from oven.
Raise oven temperature to 400°F and transfer V-rack with goose to a rimmed baking sheet. Return to goose to oven until skin is fully browned and crisp, about 15 minutes longer. Remove from oven and let stand, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, transfer newly accumulated rendered fat from roasting pan to reserved fat. Do not wash roasting pan.
In a medium saucepan, bring reserved goose stock to a simmer. Heat roasting pan on 2 burners over low heat. Add sherry and, using a wooden spoon, scrape up any brown bits on the bottom. Bring sherry to a boil and let boil for 30 seconds. Scrape contents of roasting pan into saucepan with goose stock. Add reserved chopped gizzard and heart to saucepan. Continue simmering for 5 minutes.
Finely chop reserved goose liver. In a clean medium saucepan, stir together 2 tablespoons of reserved rendered goose fat with flour over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until aromatic and light brown, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. (Remaining goose fat can be refrigerated or frozen and used for cooking and frying.) Pour hot goose stock into flour mixture and whisk to combine. Simmer on low heat until gravy is slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Add goose liver and simmer for 1 minute longer. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Carve goose and serve with gravy.
To remove wingtips, cut through at the joint. For guidance on removing the goose's wishbone, you can view the method for removing it from a turkey—the process is virtually identical. If you're uncomfortable doing these steps yourself, you can ask your butcher to do so.
We recommend adding unflavored gelatin to store-bought broth to give it more body.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 6 to 8|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 75g||96%|
|Saturated Fat 23g||117%|
|Total Carbohydrate 6g||2%|
|Dietary Fiber 1g||2%|
|Total Sugars 1g|
|Vitamin C 2mg||9%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|