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Cook Your Goose

Musing on the merits of a different Thanksgiving bird

 

By B.A. Nilsson

Toward the end of December 1972, Jean Shepherd devoted one of his radio programs to, as he termed it, “The Majestic Goose.” Best known as the author of the tales that formed the basis of the movie A Christmas Story, Shepherd held forth for many years on WOR in Manhattan every weeknight with a 45-minute show. He was a master monologuist with an incisive view of American life; on this particular program, he lamented the fact the roasted goose plays so small a part in the otherwise large realm of the domestic palate.

As Shepherd pointed out, this is “the only time of year when you can get one of my absolutely favorite—well, it’s a sensual experience, is all I can say—one of my favorite items of food.” Before launching into an overview of the goose in history (from which I’ve drawn several elements of this piece), he termed it “one of the truly exquisite taste pleasures. If there’s any food I enjoy better than roast goose, I don’t know what it is.”

That opinion has been extensively shared throughout history. Goose has long been a Christmas meal staple, with some incursions (notably in my house) at Thanksgiving. Tracing it as a foodstuff back through history, we find it as a staple of a Celtic Hallowe’en (Samhain), which, for a mighty conflation of holidays, was also New Year’s Eve.

Goose is part of the traditional Hanukkah meal. It was the symbol of Amen, the Egyptian god who was the source of all creation—and you’ll find gooseheads on many other ancient deities. It’s a staple of Michaelmas, the winter solstice feast. The animal’s migratory patterns coincided with key agricultural moments, so the beast was seen as magical, even godlike. Thus, the ritual of dining on goose was performed as a gesture of gratitude for a good harvest.

A flock of sacred geese were kept in the Roman Capitol at a time (about 400 B.C.) when that city was under siege by the Gauls; when Gallic forces attempted a surprise predawn rout of the Roman army, the birds were awakened by the clanking armor and raised enough of a clamor to alert the soldier Manlius to the incursion—and the Romans thus had time to drive back and eventually defeat their enemy.

This incident inspired Gen. Sir Gerald Templar when he was appointed high commissioner of the British forces during the “Malayan Emergency” of the 1950s. Templar was curious to see if geese could warn of the approach of terrorist forces, and commissioned an in-field study, the result of which was successful only insofar as it provided an exotic dinner once it was understood that the taciturn birds showed no interest in the approach of anyone.

With sufficient training, however, watch-geese have been successfully used by the German and American armies. As Shepherd pointed out, urban apartment dwellers might be able to make use of them as well, as you’ll rarely find in your lease a proscription against geese.

So why are we in this country so turkey-centric in our ritual dining? Turkeys are creatures of the New World, and were introduced to Europe only later. Even then, it was an expensive bird. (That’s why Scrooge buys the Cratchits a turkey.) We’re just, as the saying goes, lousy with turkeys.

And keep in mind that turkeys are flops, while geese lay golden eggs. Of course, a goose egg is the most onerous form of nothing—but that’s a term that originated in baseball, a sport that colored the language like no other. Things are going well when the goose hangs high, but we’d rather never more encounter a battalion that’s goose-stepping.

You can goose someone with a jab to the butt, but don’t do it to a stranger in pursuit of intimacy: that would be a wild goose chase. (Geese are notoriously difficult to catch but are partial to liquor, so savvy farmers would tip some booze into the mash and thus render their quarry more compliant.)

When your goose is cooked, you’re done for, but if it’s your holiday dinner, you’re in for a treat. Move beyond the turkeys, cast aside the ducks, and grab one of those lone geese off to the side of the meat display. And here’s what you’ll do with it.

Geese are thick-skinned and fat-filled. They have an unfairly earned reputation as being greasy, which is only a reflection of improper cooking. It’s an excellent bird to stuff; the best way to do so is by removing the wishbone, stuffing the cavity, and trussing shut the opening.

Elevate the bird above the roasting pan so it won’t simmer in its fat. Cook a 10-pound goose for half an hour at 425 degrees; then continue at 350 degrees for another 90 minutes to two hours. Let it rest for a while before carving— then enjoy the luscious dark meat you’ll find in all parts of the bird.

Stuffing options are legion. Apples and onions are always good; the Scandinavian recipe calls for apples and prunes. To get even fancier, marinate the bird overnight in a combination of citrus juice and wine.

And then you’ll want to take a gander at the sauce for the goose, which need be no more than what you make for your turkey but seasoned to suit the richer, deeper flavor of the meat. I try to work a good Burgundy in there, offset with a little fruit.

Restoring roasted goose to the holiday table is a welcome alternative to turkey and ham, and I’ve already assured my family that, yes, we can have it for Christmas, too.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Preview the new year with New World Home Cooking Company’s 10th annual Champagne Dinner, which takes place at 6:30 PM on Dec. 14. Chef Ric Orlando and Michael Weiss, wine instructor at the Culinary Institute of America, join forces to present a seven-course meal paired with seven wines. Start with a clam foursome—raw littlenecks with mustard sauce, cherrystone ceviche with cilantro, razor clam spicy Asian barbecue, and Manila clam paella with peas and chorizo—and continue through a meal that includes a trio of lamb (lamb filet mignon, sweetbreads with strawberry-chipotle sauce, and crepinettes with tomato jam) and much more. It’s $79 per person, plus tax and tip, and you can reserve seats by calling (845) 246-0900. The restaurant is at 1411 Route 212, Saugerties; check out newworldhomecooking.com for more info. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland (e-mail food@banilsson.com).


We want your feedback

Have you eaten at any recently reviewed restaurants? Agree or disagree with B.A.? Let us know what you think...

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What you're saying...

I very much enjoyed eating dinner at Daniel's at Ogdens. You review described my dining experience perfectly. This wasn't the case with Pancho's. I much prefer Garcia's or Lake View Tavern for Mexican fare. I agree that a restaurant can have an off night so I'll give the second unit on Central Avenue a try.

Mary Kurtz
Castleton

First, yes I miss the star ratings, bring it back. Second, I haven't had a chance to visit Poncho's yet, but I especially like reading the reviews.

Pat Russo
East Greenbush

I would travel to Amsterdam to this restaurant - it's not that far away. People traveled from all over to eat at Ferrandi's in Amsterdam. From his background, I'm sure the chef's sauce is excellent and that is the most important aspect of an Italian restaurant. Sometimes your reviewer wastes words on the negative aspects of a restaurant. I'm looking forward to trying this restaurant - I look forward to Metroland every Thursday especially for the restaurant review. And by the way Ferrandi's closed its Amsterdam location and is opening a new bistro on Saratoga Lake - Should be up and running in May. It will be called Saratoga Lake Bistro. It should be great!

Peggy Van Deloo
Schenectady

So happy to see you finally made out!! Our experiences have always been wonderful, the staff is extremely professional, the food subperb, and the atmosphere very warm and comfortable. Let us not forget to mention "Maria" the pianist on Friday and Saturday nights.

Charlie and Marie
Michaels Restaurant

I have been to Michael's several times and each time I have enjoyed it very much. The food is delicious and the staff is great. Also, Maria Riccio Bryce plays piano there every Friday and Saturday evening, a nice touch to add to the already wonderful atmosphere. It is also easy to find, exit 27 off the thruway to 30 north for about 5 miles.

N. Moore
Albany

Wonderful!

Elaine Snowdon
Albany

We loved it and will definitely go back.

Rosemarie Rafferty

Absolutely excellent. The quality and the flavor far surpasses that of other Indian restaurants in the area. I was a die-hard Shalimar fan and Tandoor Palace won my heart. It blows Ghandi out of the water. FInally a decent place in Albany where you can get a good dinner for less than $10 and not have tacos. The outdoor seating is also festive.

Brady G'sell

Indian is my favorite cuisine available in the area--I loved Tandoor Palace. We all agreed that the tandoori chicken was superior to other local restaraunts, and we also tried the ka-chori based on that intriguing description-delicious.

Kizzi Casale
Albany

Your comments about the Indian / Pakistani restaurants being as "standardized as McDonald's" shows either that you have eaten at only a few Indian / Pakistani restaurants or that you have some prejudices to work out. That the physical appearances are not what you would consider fancy dancy has no bearing on the food. And after all, that is what the main focus of the reviews should be. Not the physical appearances, which is what most of your reviews concentrate on.
A restaurant like The Shalimar, down on Central Avenue, may not look the greatest, but the food is excellent there. And the menu has lots of variety - beef, lamb, vegetarian, chicken, and more..

Barry Uznitsky
Guilderland



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