By Paul Wait
THE MOST CHALLENGING part of this recipe, if I can even call it a recipe, is hunting the geese that provide the meat. It’s more apt to describe the cooking method I’m about to share as an approach to making a meal.
Like most folks, I had heard others hunters refer to the white-fronted goose, a.k.a., the specklebelly or speck, as “ribeye in the sky.” However, as a Wisconsin native who hunted mostly close to home, I had never seen a speck while clutching a shotgun, let alone ever had one for supper.
Then, a couple seasons ago, I was fortunate to shoot one in a flooded Arkansas rice field. And in 2013-2014, I had a banner year on specklebellies, taking a pair of nicely barred birds in Alberta and following up with three more late-season geese in southern Illinois. In addition to the thrill of my successful hunts, I was salivating at the prospect of firing up my charcoal grill.
I decided, as I field dressed these handsome geese, to treat the breast meat like the steak it was purported to be. Instead of plucking the birds, I skinned them and carefully filleted each side of the breast. (I saved the remaining meat for soup.) After a gentle rinse in tap water to rid the flesh of blood and fine feathers, I laid the breast meat on a cutting board. Using a meat tenderizer, I flattened each cut out. At this point, the inch-thick goose breasts truly started to look like steaks.
Some people prefer to marinade steak. It’s not a necessary step, but if desired, you can make a simple marinade using worcestershire sauce and brown sugar. I chose to use only a shake or two of mixed peppercorn seasoning. Specklebelly meat is like premium beef — it has its own great flavor.
If your goose steaks are frozen or refrigerated, allow them to warm up to room temperature before you cook them. Obviously, you don’t want raw meat to sit out any longer than necessary, but you also don’t want to throw a cold block of meat on your flame.
I’m an old-school grill chef who learned to cook steaks under the guidance of a banquet chef named Thomas Sanders (he’s not of KFC fame, but insert your own joke here) in the 1980s. He taught me to appreciate an open flame to cook meat, so I prefer charcoal to a gas grill. However, a gas grill can certainly do a fine job. The key to almost any grilling success is even heat. I think we’ve all had that backyard burger at a picnic that is charred on the outside and bloody cold in the middle, or the chicken patty that is leather crisp on one end and raw on the other.
Avoid that by building a nice, low, even pile of charcoal, and then letting the coals turn white before you start to cook.
Put your goose steaks on the rack and close the lid. Usually, four to five minutes per side is long enough. You should hear them sizzle a bit as they cook. Keep the cover on. I flip them only once. As with cooking most waterfowl meat, you do not want to overcook speck steaks. Medium rare is optimal. The closer you get to medium, the tougher the meat becomes. Beyond medium, you might need a meat saw.
Let the steaks rest on a warm plate for a few minutes before you serve the meal. Plate your speck steak with whatever sides you prefer to eat with ribeye or beef tenderloin.
Not to spoil the surprise, but you can’t buy a more flavorful steak at your local butcher.
Good grilling, and happy eating!
Amateur chef Paul Wait is editor and publisher of Delta Waterfowl.