All I knew about roast goose before I roasted mine was a story that my dad tells from time to time about how when he was a kid, his cousin (Janet, I think, if I remember correctly) visited from college, and his dad decided to spit-roast a goose in her honor.
I obviously wasn’t around for the meal, but I can imagine the preparations that went into it. Lew probably measured the heat at various intervals from the coals to determine exactly where the bird should be placed, and had several heights pre-arranged with holes drilled into a piece of sheet metal in case the bird needed to be moved while it cooked. He had probably measured the goose to determine its exact center of gravity, and skewered it so that it would turn on a precise rotation. And, the turning mechanism for the skewer was probably an old turntable that had been co-opted for the purpose of cooking outdoors.
The bird roasted, turning slowly, for close to three hours while the family watched it darken, playing croquet; or maybe scrabble. When the bird developed a beautiful chocolate brown tone to its skin, Lew decided that it was probably ready to serve–but to be certain, he poked it through the thigh with his instant-read thermometer to make sure that it was done.
Mind you that goose is a gloriously fattened animal–that’s a large reason of why it tastes so good. And, as it cooks, all of that fat liquefies. Lew poked the goose in the thigh and a steady stream of fat poured down onto coals. It was lit ablaze, and the fire climbed the stream, right into the goose, which went up in a tremendous fury of flame.
I don’t know what they ate for dinner–that detail didn’t make it into the story–but I’m guessing they probably had pilaf, cranberry sauce, brussels sprouts, and gravy while Lew stewed about burning the goose–even though secretly inside, he had probably enjoyed the light show the goose displayed, once he realized that he hadn’t caught fire as part of the conflagration.
My goose-roasting experience:
My goose-roasting experience was much easier. For one thing, I did it indoors; and for another, I had that story as a guide. I removed all of the excess fat and skin from around the bird’s cavities; and I poked several holes in the skin of the goose breast before roasting it–small slits that I made almost parallel to the breast meat so that I wouldn’t cut into the good stuff.
I slow-cooked the excess fat in a cast iron pan to render the fat. Slow cooking it helped the fat to melt without burning; the cast iron makeup of the pan helped it to heat evenly over a low flame. I drained off fat and turned the pieces periodically. All in all, that got me about 2 cups of beautifully-flavored fat to use for future cooking projects (I’m thinking I might use some in place of oil for a pumpkin bread, I have a feeling that would be really good).
In my mind, goose has always been associated with a winter meal–probably because the first place I heard of it was in Charles Dickens’ The Christmas Carol. So, I decide to season my goose with some spices to match. I rubbed it with a good bit of salt and pepper, then put down a mix of sweet spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and ginger; with a dash each of ancho chile and cayenne tossed in for balance. I rubbed the inside of the bird with this mix, too, so that the flavor would penetrate from two sides. I also put a cinnamon stick, some garlic, some chopped onion, carrots, and a large sprig of fresh rosemary into the bird.
I used my standard turkey roaster with its rack. Because there’s so much fat to drain off, you want to make sure that you have a container with high sides so the fat doesn’t spill into your oven. I used the lid on my roaster–but it’s very dark in color, and I’ve found through the years that my birds tend to brown even better with the lid on than with the lid off.
I set my oven to 325 F, and roasted it on the rack, belly side down for the first 1 1/2 hours. Because I didn’t truss the goose closed, some of my vegetables spilled out of the goose and started to burn in the hot fat. I caught them before they started to smoke or anything; but I drained off that fat immediately so I could still cook with it (separate from the fat I had carefully rendered before); the rest of the fat (from the second half of the roasting) was much darker and had to be discarded.
I flipped the bird after the first 1.5 hours and let it spend an additional 1.5 hours roasting breast up. At that point, the leg and the thigh kind of jiggled inside of the perfectly-browned skin. I transferred it to a cutting board and tented it with foil for about a half hour while I finished the rest of the meal, every component of which used some of the fat I drained from the first half of the roasting process: mashed potatoes, sauteed collard greens, and gravy.
The white meat is the color of a turkey’s dark meat; the dark meat is the color of fudge. The flavor is tantalizing yet familiar—the closest parallel I can come up with is turkey on flavor steroids. One of the best meats I’ve ever eaten.