Wild greylag confit d’oie and more

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!

goose plucking bay cottage

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.

sunset 1

sunset 2

sunset 3

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.

Confit d’oie

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.

Ingredients

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.

Goose confit, 1

goose confit 2

  • 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.

goose confit 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.

goose confit 3

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.

goose confit 4

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.

goose breasts

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!

goose final

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.

Plucking hell, it’s an ‘een of evisceration

The greylag geese have been hanging in the container for a few days and are now ready to be dealt with.  Unfortunately, this coincided with the clocks changing at the weekend, meaning it was dark by the time we could get round to dealing with them.  Coupled with the wind and rain, the imperative to pluck the geese outside was not an option. So let the mess begin…..

Confining ourselves to a small room in the house, we don our waterproof clothing to stop feathers sticking to us (what a state). We began plucking the geese over black bags in the vain hope of containing the feathers and down.

There’s a lot of fuss if you do a web search on prepping geese. Suggestions include pluck them while they are still warm, dip them in  x, y and z to loosen the feathers, but really, if you are only doing a few whole geese a year, the job isn’t that onerous – it’s just fantastically messy. Proceed something like:

Start plucking the breast of the goose, pulling out the feathers and underlying down against the direction of growth. Take only a few feathers at a time or you risk tearing the skin.  This is particularly important where there are puncture wounds caused by shot as skin will tear away around the edge of the wound.

Continue plucking, removing all feathers on the body and up to the first wing joint.

Before completing the job, it will help to remove the wings.  Feel for the first joint along the wing and cut using shears.  It may help to expose the ball joint and cut the tendons and ligaments if your shears are not up to the job.

Blowtorch the body to singe off any remaining feather pins and down.

At this stage we had to have an interlude, not to prepare for what was to come but to watch the must-see for Halloween – Horror Europa with Mark Gatiss (the purveyor of horror documentaries of late) on BBC4. As one of our very favourite film genres, European Horror cinema at last gets the documentary treatment it deserves.

From early German expressionist origins, including the iconic Nosferatu to modern masterpieces such as Guillermo del Toro’s The Devil’s Backbone, the documentary  served to explain the evolution of the genre across time and place and included interviews with many of the most influential directors of the genre.  What a treat and no better preparation of real life evisceration that was to follow!

So, back to the geese.  I have opted to leave this section without photographs as it’s not pretty.

Cut the head/neck off a few cm above the body.

Make an incision around the duct, as small as possible, just enough to get your hand inside the body cavity. Remove all of the contents.  The intestines come away first (evisceration on Halloween – perfect), then the organs and you need to reach in as far as you can to get out the heart, lungs, trachea, oesophagus and crop.  Wash the insides of the geese thoroughly.  If geese have been shot and not reared and bled, there is a lot of congealed blood that requires considerable rinsing with cold water.

Also worth mentioning for any game birds shot that have been hanging for a while, the intestines almost putrefy, so best hope you have a cold, a strong breeze or disposition, preferably all three.

It may be a bit rank, but it’s worth it in the end.

Two geese bagged and in the freezer, just after the witching hour on All Hallows’ Eve. Done.

Recipe: Greylag Goose, apple and thyme sausages

Yes, it is tantalising, I go to all the effort of detailing goose prep and stick the birds in the freezer.  Hence, I will share my greylag goose sausage recipe.  The geese prepared above were this year’s birds.  Older birds can be tougher and roasting them whole may not bring out the best in them.  Also, because the open season can yield a lot of geese at once here (there are too many greylags eating crops and they need controlled!), occasionally we may be faced with a pile of old birds.  In this case,  rather than be wasteful, the breasts can be excised and will contribute to wonderful sausages.

Not everyone in the Hebrides agrees that greylags are palatable, but to me that is sacrilegious.  They are wonderful, edible beasts. I hope this sausage recipe will convert even the most dyed-in-the-wool goose critic. Greylag goose sausages are amoung the finest I have tasted.

Ingredients

1 kg greylag goose breast

200g pork fat

100g breadcrumbs or rusk

150ml water

2 apples, peeled, cored and grated

5g salt

5g pepper

handful of thyme sprigs, stripped

Method

Mince the breasts and fat.

Mix the dry ingredients together with the grated apple then add the water

Mix everything together in a big bowl with your hands until well combined.

Stuff into casings using a sausage attachment on a mincer (as I do) or attachment available for the job on a KitchenAid.

I only use natural sausage casings.  They are more delicate, but have a superior texture to collagen casings.  I prefer sheep to hog as they are smaller and not too overwhelming, particularly for game sausages, which I mostly make. I purchase these from the wonderful Weschenfelder website – a dangerous place to visit if sausage and salami making gets you excited! They also sell rusk and breadcrumbs if you do not make your own.

The sausages take a day or two to mature and can then be frozen. Enjoy!