Cook your goose slowly at a low heat to let the fat render out

With its crispy skin, rich meat and natural seasonality -- most geese don't come to market until late September -- goose is the perfect holiday meal. But most of us don't roast goose every week. Hank Shaw, author of Duck, Duck, Goose: The Ultimate Guide to Cooking Waterfowl, Both Farmed and Wild, walks us through it.

Lynne Rossetto Kasper: What is it that you love about goose at this time of year?

Hank Shaw
Hank Shaw (Photo: Holly Heyser)

Hank Shaw: That's an easy one. Goose, for me, it's a little bit like if you hybridized a turkey and a standing rib roast. It's the best of both worlds. You get crispy skin and you get that delicious, medium-rare, red breast meat. Then on top of that, from the legs and the wings you have the falling-apart, almost confit-like effect where you have the meat just pulling away. For me that's worth the price of admission.

LRK: When we buy a goose in the store, what exactly are we getting?

HS: Typically the goose that you're going to get in the store is from a place in South Dakota called Schiltz Goose Farm. They pretty much dominate the goose market in the U.S. They actually have a pretty nice product.

LRK: What do they do at this farm? Are there specific breeds that they work with?

HS: The Schiltz goose is a proprietary breed. It's based off the Emden, which is the big, giant, white goose. But it has a couple of other breeds mixed in with it to basically just suit whatever environment the Schiltz farm has. It's a big goose. They're usually between 12 and 16 pounds, but you can get them a little lighter as well.

They are all grass-fed pretty much because geese have to be raised free range. If you confine them, they die. Geese, in general, have to be raised on grass because that's what they eat. No one has been able to figure out how to breed a goose that will eat chicken feed, for example. It wrecks them and then they just die. It's an interesting throwback to old, old-style agriculture.

Geese also are relatively unique in that they pretty much only lay eggs for one period in a year, and that's the spring. So there's a seasonal crop of geese. They don't really start coming to market until late September -- they're ready right in time for the holidays. It's a natural seasonality that makes goose such a good holiday meal.

LRK: What's your opinion of the flavor?

HS: I like it. It's probably the best mass-market meat I've ever eaten.

LRK: That's a big statement.

HS: This goose, because you have to raise it in the old way, is still very similar to the way that you would raise a goose on a small farm from your local farmers market.

LRK: We have the goose, we've defrosted the goose. Most of us don't do this every week. What do we need to know about roasting that goose?

HS: The first thing you need to know is the sweet spot of cooking a goose breast is somewhere around 135 to 145 degrees Fahrenheit internal temperature.

LRK: It's pink?

HS: It's pink, yes -- medium-rare to medium. The sweet spot for the legs is somewhere around 175 to 180 degrees Fahrenheit, give or take, they're pretty forgiving. That's a huge spread in temperature. You can't really pull it off if you are stuck on a whole Norman Rockwell "I've got to carve the goose at the table" image. If you can get away from that, which I highly recommend you do, you can have your cake and eat it too.

The way you do it is this: Your goose is thawed, your goose is at room temperature. You put Mr. Goose in a roasting pan on a bed of very chunky root vegetables. You get him all salted and you put some lemon in the cavity, maybe some garlic in the cavity, and you roast him. It's as simple as that. 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

LRK: Breast up or breast down?

HS: Breast up. After about 45 minutes or so, you check the breast temperature with a probe thermometer. It should read around 135, 140 degrees Fahrenheit. What you do is you pull the goose out at that point and then carve the entire breast off both sides. That's the key.

How to Carve Ducks and Geese
Excerpt: How to Carve Ducks and Geese (Photo: Holly Heyser)

LRK: Then that gets set aside and Mr. Goose goes back into the oven?

HS: Precisely. Then you can roast it as long as you want. If you want to hammer the legs and wings, you could cook it for another hour or an hour and a half if you want. It usually only takes about 45 more minutes though.

LRK: You're using fairly low heat, so you're doing a slow roast on the goose.

HS: Yes. That's critical because there's so much fat on a goose, it needs time to render out. If you try to cook it at too high of a temperature, the fat will scorch and it will not render properly so you get this globby, fatty bleh. Nobody likes that.

LRK: What about pricking the skin? Is that part of what you do before you put the thing in?

HS: It is. I've done it both ways. You can get away with it either way, but I like to prick the skin with a big, heavy-gauge needle or with a pointy fillet knife or something like that. You do it at an angle to the meat because you don't want to pierce the meat. You just want to pierce the skin so that the fat has a way to get out. That makes a dramatic difference over time, especially with the breast meat.

LRK: OK. So I now have the breast, which is going to be sitting around for 45 minutes to an hour. Something is going to have to warm that up. I've got these juicy, tender legs and thighs.

HS: When your legs and thighs are done, you pull the goose out and you let the whole thing rest. Now that's your cue to finish up the breast. You're right, the breast is sitting around for 45 minutes or so, so it's cool. Plus that skin is no longer crispy.

Now is when you crisp up the skin. You get a big frying pan. You put a little bit of that goose fat -- you'll have plenty -- maybe a tablespoon down. Then just kick the spurs to it. Put it over medium-high heat. You want to get a nice caramel brown on that skin. It'll take 2 to 4 minutes or so. You don't necessarily need to do any more cooking on the meat side because the meat side is already cooked. All you're doing is crisping up that skin.

LRK: We have the breast set up and it's ready to be sliced thin. What about the rest of the goose? How do you like to serve this whole thing?

HS: A lot of times I will just pull the legs and wings off, then just serve them on the platter that way. But you can also crisp them up in the same pan that you did the breasts in. That just gives you an added layer of crispiness to it and it renders a little more fat out. I don't always do this, but it is helpful, especially if for whatever reason those legs did not get crispy as they cooked in the oven.

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