Geese are tough, they say. Livery, smelly, and hard to clean. Sky carp.
All of this can be true, but it still shouldn't stop you from hunting, cooking, and enjoying your goose breast. Follow these guidelines and you'll be shocked at how wonderful the Lords of the Air can be on the table.
Let me start with the king of all geese: the whitefront or specklebelly goose. This is the finest-eating goose in North America (with the possible exception of the black brant on the West Coast). Specks are a seed-eating bird that can put on a heavy layer of fat, are the perfect size to feed four, and will always be sweet and lovely.
More common, however, is the Canada goose, which can range in size from teeny cacklers and Aleutians no larger than a mallard all the way to the giants of the Midwest, which can top 20 pounds. Canada geese are what most of us think of when we think "goose," and they are, like the equally ubiquitous mallard, very, ahem, variable birds at the table. I've had Canada goose that was sublime and some even the dog wouldn't eat.
Diet matters. Grain-eating Canadas taste best. And they can live a long time; every year hunters bring down banded Canadas well over 20 years old, and a 10-year-old Canada isn't uncommon. A bird that old is going to be tough as nails. With more long-lived, resident geese around these days, it is always safe to assume that any large Canada goose you shoot will be tough.
So what to do? With the breast meat, you still want to cook it medium-rare like any other goose or duck, but you want to make sure you rest the meat well (at least 10 minutes) and slice it very thin. Think roast beef, not a ribeye. As for the legs and wings, slow and low is the key. Stew or braise the legs and you'll be surprised how meaty they are; they're a bit like brisket.
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
- 1 to 1 ½ pounds duck or goose breast
- Salt (smoked salt if you have it)
- ⅓ cup unsalted butter
- Black pepper to taste
- 1 cup cranberries
- ½ cup fresh rosemary, (loosely packed) little bunches on stem
- 1 tablespoon honey or brown sugar
- Pickled mustard seeds (optional)
- Take the goose breasts out of the fridge and salt them well. Let them come to room temperature for 30 minutes or so.
- Heat 2 tablespoons of the butter in a sauté pan set over medium-high heat. Sear the goose, skin side down (or, if skinless, the side the skin used to be on), and cook over medium heat until it's brown and crispy, about 6 to 8 minutes. Flip and cook another 2 to 4 minutes, depending on how well you like your goose. Set the meat (skin side up if it has skin) on a cutting board to rest while you make the sauce.
- Add the rest of the butter to the pan and turn the heat to medium. Add the cranberries and toss to coat with the butter. Let the berries cook for a minute or two, until a few start to burst, then add the rosemary, honey, and quite a lot of black pepper – you want very much to be able to detect the black pepper in this dish. Toss all this to combine and heat through for another minute or so. Add any juices that have collected on the cutting board to the pan.
- Slice the goose breasts and serve with the sauce. If you're using the pickled mustard seeds, sprinkle some of them on the meat.
- Serve with roasted or mashed potatoes or with good bread.
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