At the Beginning There Was…
If you google for goose recipes in Russian, most of them will have the Panikovsky’s goose speech (see below) mentioned at least in part. Talk to Russian speaking people of my generation about cooking or eating goose, and immediately they recite it by heart, smiling. I am no different.
Вы не знаете, что такое гусь! Ах, как я люблю эту птицу! Это дивная жирная птица, честное, благородное слово. Гусь! Бендер! Крылышко! Шейка! Ножка! Вы знаете, Бендер, как я ловлю гуся? Я убиваю его как тореадор, – одним ударом! Это опера, когда я иду на гуся! «Кармен»!
— «Золотой телёнок», 1931, Илья Ильф и Евгений Петров
You don’t have any idea what a real goose is! Oh, my, how I love this bird. It’s a wondrous fat bird, noble word of honor! A goose! Bender! The tender wing! The slim neck! The juicy thigh! Do you know how I catch a goose, Bender? I kill it like a toreador, with a single blow. It’s an opera when I go out for a goose! Carmen!
— The Little Golden Calf, 1931, by Ilʹi︠a︡ Ilʹf, Evgeniĭ Petrov
“You don’t have any idea what a real goose is!”
As a child, I’ve been only reading about Christmas goose in books. For some reason, our family avoided cooking geese and ducks. When I turned 19, I decided it’s time to check the truth and roast a goose for Christmas. According to classic literature, it supposed to be fairly doable for a novice. It was a cold winter evening, a hungry family, and a tiny Soviet gas oven in a tiny Soviet kitchen (similar to the one on this picture). My mom often complained the oven was “made of tin” because it didn’t keep the heat. Soviet home cooks invented a cheap and easy improvement by placing a deep tray filled with rock salt on the bottom of the oven, where the gas heating elements were. Our oven was “improved” the same way. I am mentioning it so you would understand the magnitude of the disaster when more than a pint of goose fat escaped right there. It happened way before the goose was ready to eat. That day I learned what a real goose is — hours to cook and a lot of fat. The idea of roasting a goose again terrified me for almost 30 years until I felt brave enough to try it again.
“Oh, my, how I love this bird.”
I have a vivid memory how it happened last Thanksgiving. A picture of a beautifully roasted duck on Facebook and a few sentences describing simple and logical steps worked like a charm! The problem was, when I went to a store, all ducks available were frozen. But there was a ready-to-cook gorgeous goose. I recalculated timing for a larger bird, and it was a success! For my first goose (on the picture below), I didn’t buy a proper roasting pan with a rack and used whatever was available in my pantry.
Oh dear! It was almost forgotten, the taste of real poultry I couldn’t find anymore in chicken or turkey (unless they are rare heritage/heirloom breeds)! Last season we enjoyed roasted goose at least once every two weeks for as long as geese were available.
“It’s a wondrous fat bird, noble word of honor!”
With every roasted goose, you can collect 2 to 3 pints of fat. Strain it into a clean glass jar with a lid and keep frozen or refrigerated. It is one of my favorite cooking fats!
“A goose! Bender! The tender wing! The slim neck! The juicy thigh!”
While roasting a goose is easy, to carve the bird artfully and elegantly in front of the guests is somewhat challenging for an amateur. I completely destroyed my first goose — started with its thighs, something went wrong, gave up, and carved the rest brutally, cursing. Preparing for the next goose, I decided to watch instructional videos. Here is my fav (for the accent and overusing the word “fantastic”) — How to carve a goose (Waitrose). Eventually, I got better.
By the way, forget about the tender wing. Panikovsky, apparently, had an urge to lie about something. The tips and the second joints of the wings are cut off. They are reserved for stock.
“Do you know how I catch a goose, Bender?”
For most of us, there is no need to chase a goose before cooking it. What’s the catch? The catch is to choose your roasting pan wisely!
The cheapest solution is to use a large disposable foil roasting pan. It has disadvantages, though. You still need to add a roasting rack. Now, imagine the time when you need to remove it from the oven with its heavy load and filled with hot fat. Then there are moderately priced or expensive roasting pans. Besides being enormous for storage in your pantry, some of them also have a weakness — a rack sliding inside the pan. Feel free to choose any design but the one with a sliding rack. For your safety, it should stay still. A deep stable pan with a stable roasting rack is a catch.
“I kill it like a toreador, with a single blow.”
Start with the highest temperature your oven can produce, 450-475F. This is your kill in one heat, pardon my pun. After the first 15-20 minutes, reduce the temperature to 300-325F and let the goose peacefully cook low-n-slow for another 3-3.5 hours. That’s all you need to know about roasting a goose.
Before writing this recipe, I went to see what other prominent cooks have to say about roasting goose and found many steps I didn’t pay attention to. The geese I’ve got were clean, properly plucked. I didn’t prick the skin or blanch it with boiling water. I didn’t baste the birds while cooking because their skin was generously fatty. I suppose my ignorance was a bliss. Inspect your goose and prep it as needed using your common sense.
“It’s an opera when I go out for a goose! Carmen!”
Just like Bizet’s Carmen, a goose has it all: a memorable juicy meat and a haunting golden skin, a terrific variety of textures and flavors, a romance with highs and lows of heat, and a painful tragedy of the amount of fat. Let’s see the numbers. The goose in the picture above is 10 lb, 16″ long. On average, depending on the size, a goose is $65-$75. Carefully carved portions of one goose feed 6 to 8 people. You collect 2-3 pints of fat for cooking. Reserved wing parts, the neck, and the carcass of the goose make 2-3 quarts of stock.