No Turkey Required
Cook a Christmas goose for your holiday dinner
By Kyle Wintersteen
THE PAIR OF GEESE flew almost oddly low over the water on that calm, bright February morning. They had a long way to go to reach our spread, but they were coming. The pressure to bag one was immense. Not just because it was the last day of a challenging, bizarrely warm season in which I'd shot nary a Potomac River goose, but because of the deal I'd struck with my wife. She wanted a goose dinner for Valentine's Day. If I came home empty-handed, I'd have to take her to a stuffy Washington D.C. restaurant surrounded by people I disliked and menu prices I disliked even more.
Hunters — even waterfowlers — find it odd when I tell them that my wife's favorite meal is a plain old Canada goose seared medium rare. Perhaps that speaks to how underrated geese are on the table.
It was not always so. As the holidays approach, let us remember that not long ago a roasted Christmas goose represented the family's blessings during the past year. That is, until 1843 when Ebeneezer Scrooge sent a turkey to the Cratchit family in Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," thereby popularizing a new holiday custom.
I contend that the Christmas goose remains the superior choice, in terms of flavor certainly, but also because it is rooted in history and religious tradition, not just a ghost story some British guy made up. Geese were an important symbol in ancient mythology — Egyptians considered them sacred — and a popular holiday dish long before the dawn of Christianity. Migrating flocks arrived, as if by magic or divine guidance, at precisely the right moment for Celts, Romans, Greeks, Germanic tribes and others to celebrate the winter solstice and pray for a healthy harvest in the year to come. It was also no doubt convenient for ancient peoples to dine on the fattened, newly arriving birds in that pre-refrigeration age.
Over the course of several hundred years, paganism was largely replaced by Judaism and Christianity, but dining on geese remained a symbol of celebration and thanks giving. A roast goose became the traditional dish of both Hanukkah and Christmas Day.
The goose was simply too delicious and convenient to be replaced, and for Christians, its migratory nature was symbolic. In the Christian faith, Christ was sent as a mysterious gift from God to save the world: Geese arrive each winter from the northern skies, as if a divine gift of sustenance.
And what a gift! Few things make me feel more fortunate than a brace of Canadas in the freezer. I like to slow roast the legs in a crockpot until they can be pulled into tender strips, and then I add a little Sweet Baby Ray's barbecue sauce, give it a stir, and leave it on low heat. Meanwhile, I grill a few onions until they're good and caramelized. Put the barbecued goose on a potato bun, sprinkle on a few onions and you'd swear you're a king.
Of course, my favorite goose meal — the one I serve up on Christmas Day — involves searing a pair of goose breasts in a hot pan, slicing them thinly against the grain and serving with a side of horseradish sauce.
It's a wonderfully simple meal that doesn't require any sort of culinary expertise, and wow! What eating! It might even get you out of buying a fancy dinner.
For as two geese pitched to our blocks late last season, and my buddy, Eric Lipp, and I stood and shot them both, I fulfilled my end of the bargain with my wife. Our Valentine's meal of wild goose was one we could both enjoy. And a dinner I can't wait to savor again as we celebrate Christmas.
Kyle Wintersteen serves up holiday goose in State College, Pa.
Goose in a Skillet
- 2 large or 4 small (lesser/cackler) skinless goose breasts
- Horseradish sauce
- 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 tablespoon ground pepper
Whisk the olive oil, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, salt, and pepper in a bowl large enough for the goose breasts. Add the meat and ensure each gets a good coat of marinade. Cover and place in the refrigerator, stirring occasionally to ensure the marinade does not congeal. Marinate for at least two hours, ideally six to eight hours.
Place a cast-iron skillet over high heat. A regular skillet will suffice, but nothing conducts as much heat or does so as evenly as cast iron. Here's a good rule of thumb: If using a gas stove, allow the pan to heat for 5 minutes. Give it 10 minutes for an electric stove.
Grill the goose breasts to medium rare. Don't play with them: Just flip once or twice during the cooking process to ensure you get a nice, tasty sear on the outside. Contrary to popular belief, searing meat doesn't "lock in" juices, but it does add delicious flavor.
Place the breasts on a cutting board and allow them to sit for 3 to 5 minutes. If you immediately cut into them, hot juices will run all over, making a mess and reducing flavor. Slice the breasts against the grain into thin slices (this breaks down fibers and further tenderizes the meat) and serve with a side of horseradish sauce for dipping.