For many British game species, 31st January is end of the open season, including wild greylag geese. I thought it would be fitting to mark the occasion by spending time exploring classic goose recipes by Julia Child. I was particularly thinking of confit of the legs. I had another recipe in mind for the breasts courtesy of Cooking in Sens, a delicious balsamic goose breast recipe. It is also a requirement, of course, to use the whole bird and the carcass was used to make goose or game stock (as I call it).
We have accumulated a number of wild greylag geese, shot and kindly gifted to us by a friend. One never quite knows when geese will arrive at the door, but we are always pleased to see them, no matter how busy or inconvenient the moment – it is a pleasure to receive such delicious and free wild meat.
We recently took receipt of our final two geese of the season. Given the pretty awful experience of plucking the last two indoors (being forced to do so by darkness and grim weather), we decided our only option was to get out while it was daylight and the weather calm enough to deal with plucking, etc. Since it was mid-week, and we both work full time from home, this meant seizing the opportunity at lunchtime to get on with the job. Not your average lunchtime pursuit!
So, down we went to the bay at the bottom of our garden, a goose each in hand and got plucking. Fortunately, only the sheep can see us down there. I had to abandon The Man Named Sous, (pictured finishing the job sitting on the rocks in the company of sheep as the tide came in) as I had to get back to work.
Room with a view
This is also the view from my office window and I work hard not be distracted by the ebb and flow of the tide and daily patterns of activities that the changing sea level brings, particularly those of birds. Waders including redshanks, greenshanks and curlews use the bay all year, as do a resident population of about 50 shelducks.
Female eiders nest around the edge of the sheltered bay in the breeding season, forming crèches with other females and their broods to try to protect their vulnerable chicks from predation, particularly by gulls. Lapwings and oystercatchers nest around the house in the mosaic of marshy grassland, as do snipe.
Passing and hunting raptors including hen harriers, short-eared owls (both daily visitors in the breeding season), peregrine, kestrel and the occasional white-tailed sea eagle make use of the bay and the surrounding common grazings.
It’s a busy and beautifully noisy place most of the year, especially so in spring when lapwings display and snipe drum overhead. A bit later in the season, oystercatchers start to get excited as their broods hatch and they constantly circle anything that comes close, trying to see them off with their distinctive and relentless, loud piping call.
Of course, resident greylag geese also use the croftland all year and nest out on the islands, bringing broods in to the sheltered bay once they hatch. It is also why the location, overlooking the bay and islands sold the house to us – and that was before we realised how incredible the sunsets would be. It pays for us to remember these most sublime views when the weather is at its worst, as it has been on some days over the last couple of weeks.
Plucking complete, goose feathers were gathered up and added to our compost heaps as they make an excellent addition to compost, providing nitrogen and minerals (similarly, I also add wool gathered from around the common grazings that surround the house).
Preparing geese, I must admit, is a lot of work and was covered more fully in a previous post Plucking Hell, it’s an ‘een of evisceration but is well worth it.
As the season goes on, geese accumulate more fat reserves, so the bonus of late season geese is the ability to utilise this fat to confit part or all of the bird. Although greylag geese can be difficult to age, I had judged this bird to be one of the 2012 broods, so was reasonably confident the breasts would be wonderfully tender and fit for the fine recipe I had in mind.
Wanting to maximise what the goose could deliver in both the number and variety of dishes, I opted to confit the often tough legs and wings. Actually, only one wing was fit for confit as the other had sustained irreparable damage when the goose transited from sky to ground.
I used Julia Child’s recipe for Confit D’Oie. Salt curing the goose pieces first for 24 hours, I omitted the saltpetre (Potassium nitrate) from the original recipe and it still works. For this volume of goose, you need a lot less of the quantities than Julia suggests as her cure is for a large pork joint.
For the salt cure:
20g Maldon salt
2 bays leaves, shredded
2 springs of thyme
1 tsp. of ground black pepper
3 garlic cloves
- Crush this mixture in a mortar and pestle and rub it all over the goose pieces, skin and flesh, massaging it in well. Refrigerate the pieces for 24 hours.
- Scrape the seasoning off at this stage.
- Brown the goose legs in a frying pan in some goose fat to colour them lightly.
- Now the legs are ready to go into the goose fat.
For the goose fat:
- Use enough goose fat to submerge the pieces of goose, I used about 700 ml (melted). Put in a casserole dish with a lid – it will be going in the oven.
- Bring to the gentlest simmer on the stove top and preheat the oven to 140C.
- Place in the oven, covered for about 2 hours. Check it half way through to make sure all the meat is covered.
It should be golden brown and the flesh exceptionally tender when it is ready. The smell was intoxicating when I took the lid off the pot. Mine were perhaps a bit too brown, but it did not diminish the deliciousness.
There was no way this goose was ever going to last long enough to be preserved in goose fat, the original reason for confit being to enhance the storage potential of the meat. Having made goose stock with the carcass, I served the confit legs and wing with puy lentils cooked in the stock, with a bit of carrot, shallot and celery, folding through some tomato concasse at the end and garnishing with parsley.
A final added bonus was all the spare fat which the goose was cooked in. This was strained and stored for other recipes – not least wonderfully flavoured roast potatoes.
Balsamic goose breast with roast potatoes and braised red cabbage
Having boned out each goose breast, I use a goose breast recipe courtesy of Cooking in Sens, where the recipe can be found – delicious marinade of balsamic vinegar, honey and ginger. The only alterations I made were to replace the chicken broth in the original with goose stock – and the alternative side dishes.
I also made a sauce by taking a decent splash of Madeira, simmering it to let the alcohol vapours leave the sweet flavour, then adding the reserved marinade. This was then reduced slightly before whisking in some cubes of unsalted butter at the end, straining and serving over the goose breast which was served nice and pink and extremely tender. Apologies for the quality of the photograph!
Potatoes were diced for a large surface area to absorb the flavour from the goose fat they were roasted in, reserved from the confit. Braised red cabbage was cooked in a bit of goose stock, sherry vinegar and a few sticky drops of pomegranate molasses.
In the end, the goose went a long way because the breasts were so big, we could only eat one between us. We had the other one cold in a tasty winter salad the next day as we discussed how great greylag goose tasted and what we might do with the others in the freezer.