Christmas Food And Drink: Wrapping up Christmas

One goose in its time plays many parts
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Goosey scratchings (to serve with drinks)

Giblet-stuffed goose neck with spicy chutney

Confit of the legs and wings with a split pea and peppercorn puree

Roast goose with apple sauce and all the trimmings

This Is an exciting and satisfyingly holistic way to prepare the entire Christmas meal (bar the pudding, of course) using a large goose to produce three different courses. Between them they express all the versatility and delight of this excellent bird.

To do this properly takes time, and you should begin at least three days before Christmas. But it's a gleeful task in which several willing hands can all do their bit. In our house, Mum has proved herself a brilliant neck-stuffer, Dad has the vegetables under control, and I rather think I have the confit licked. My sister, incidentally, makes a mean mince pie. The advantage, however, is that relatively little labour is required on the day itself, leaving the head chef plenty of time to enjoy the meal, not to mention the plaudits of family and friends.

Choosing the goose is the vitally important first stage of this adventure, and now is the time to make your arrangements. Contact the best butcher you know right away, and explain what it is you are after. Or better still, do a bit of research and buy your bird direct from the producer.

What you need is a whole large goose, preferably free-range. The neck and all the giblets are essential, and you may as well take the feet and head for stock, if they are going. By all means get your butcher to take the legs and wings off the bird and cut off the neck, but explain what you are planning to do, so that he or she prepares everything just as you need it. In particular, make sure they know that you are intending to stuff the goose's neck, and that it needs to be cut off as close as possible to the head and breast, and that the skin of the neck must be left on as it is going to be the casing of a giant sausage.

Stuffing the neck is not by any means as difficult a procedure as you might think, and there is every chance of first-time success if you follow the instructions below very carefully. But if it all sounds like too much of a palaver, or if, God forbid, the neck should split on you, the dish is easily adapted as a terrine, which can be cooked in a loaf tin in the usual way. Instructions for this variation are given overleaf.

This menu serves six to eight people.

PREPARING THE GOOSE

Collect your goose a few days before Christmas, ideally on 21 or 22 December. First remove the neck: using the point of a very sharp knife, cut around the skin at the base of the neck incorporating a good- sized flap of skin all the way round from the part where the neck joins the body (see step one, illustrated above). Once you have released the skin, you can cut through the neck muscle and bones with a cleaver or poultry shears, again as near the base as possible. If the head is still attached, cut it off. Likewise the feet, below the drumstick. The head and feet are the only parts you may throw away, though even they could go in the stockpot.

Then cut off the legs and wings. There is a lot of meat on the legs, so try and cut between them and the body keeping as much meat attached as you can: this means including the thighs - but leaving all the breast meat (and its covering of fat) on the body of the bird. Again start with a sharp knife to get through the skin and the ligaments that attach the thigh-bone to the body (see step two, above). A good firm twist should tear the thigh-bone away, without need of the cleaver. Then remove the wings, cutting through the skin and flesh where the wing joins the body. Use shears or cleaver to get through the wing-bone close to the body.

Next remove the excess fat of the goose (there should be plenty of it) from around the neck end, and inside the cavity. This fat is essential for cooking the confit and the stuffed neck.

You are now left with a wingless, legless carcass of goose, but it needs further trimming: it's pos-sible to get even more fat off, and the little meat that comes off with it goes, finely chopped, into the forcemeat for the stuffing. So now cut out the whole fatty area around the parson's nose with a wide V-shaped incision. Next cut out the first third or so of the backbone at the neck end, with attached fat and meat - this is done by making two incisions (again, with the sharp knife), underneath each side of the breast-bone, until you reach the point above where the wings used to be. Trim off the flimsy bones and the flap of meat exposed where the legs were removed. Then pick up your cleaver or shears and cut through the backbone between the two incisions to release this segment (see step three, above). Pull off any easily accessible excess fat.

The fourth photograph above shows the various parts of the dismembered bird and the dish of fatty parts ready to be rendered. It is all going to be used.

The remaining carcass, basically the breast on the bone, is more or less oven-ready. Cover it with a cloth and return it to the fridge, or a very cool larder, until Christmas Day. From your rather scrappy pile of fat, parson's nose and backbone, trim off any little scraps of meat and put aside. What's left of the backbone piece can go in the stock- pot with the neck meat. The fat must now be rendered: put all the fat, fatty pieces and skin in an oven-proof dish, and into a hot oven. After half an hour, strain all the melted fat through a sieve into a bowl. Return the dish to the oven and repeat the straining every 15 minutes or so, until all the fat has been rendered. Leave the rendered fat to cool and keep in a bowl until you need it.

When you have strained off all the fat you will be left with some oddly shaped pieces of crispy skin and gristly bits. Even these need not be wasted: sprinkle generously with rough salt, and return them to the oven to get them really crispy. They will keep in a sealed bag and can be served as "goosey scratchings" with your pre-dinner drinks.

EVERY WHICH WAY AND GOOSE

MAKING THE CONFIT

The initial preparation should be done on the day you pick up the goose. The first cooking can be done on Christmas Eve, or Christmas morning, and the final crisping up just before serving.

the wings and legs of your goose

30g/1oz rock salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

2-3 sprigs of thyme or marjoram

2-3 bayleaves, broken

6 garlic cloves, crushed

2 tablespoons olive oil

about 900g/2lb of reserved goose fat, or enough to cover

To garnish and accompany:

puree of split peas and pink or green peppercorns (see below)

thinly pared orange rind, cut into julienne strips.

Rub the goose legs and wings with the salt, pepper, thyme or marjoram, bayleaves and garlic, leave for two days in a tray or dish in the fridge. Take out, scrape off all the seasonings and reserve.

Heat the olive oil in a heavy pan over a moderate heat, and brown the legs and wings thoroughly, skin-side down first and then all over. Put the legs and wings into an ovenproof dish in which they fit as closely as possible, with the seasoning, scrapings and enough goose fat to cover, or almost cover, the meat. Cook for about two hours in a pre-heated slow oven (300F/150C/Gas 2) until the meat is nearly falling from the bone.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool, then cover until it is time for the final crisping. When the confit is to be served, smear a little goose fat over the legs and wings with your fingers. Place them skin-side down in a roasting tray. Put into a pre-heated hot oven (450F/ 230C/Gas 8) for 10 minutes, drain off the melted fat, then return to the oven for a further five minutes, skin-side up, until piping hot and crispy.

For the plating up of this course, see "on the day" below.

STUFFING THE NECK

The neck can be stuffed and cooked any time on the days preceding Christmas, with the confit if you like. If you are making the terrine version, it is best done a day or two before. Both should be served cold.

neck of the goose

three tablespoons Armagnac

meat trimmings from the goose

all the giblets: heart, gizzard and liver

a few stock vegetables (onion, carrot, celery) roughly chopped

175g/6oz minced veal or pork sausage meat

small piece (c 10-15g/1.2oz) of black truffle (optional)

pinch thyme

pinch nutmeg

one tablespoon goose fat

salt and fresh ground black pepper

more goose fat for cooking

a needle and cotton, or butcher's string

For the terrine version:

2oz fresh breadcrumbs

1 whole egg

several rashers rindless streaky bacon

To accompany:

a good fruit chutney, watercress, lamb's lettuce, or other green salad leaves

A few hours before you intend to stuff the neck, peel the skin carefully off it, using the tip of a knife to release any reluctant sinews. Remove and discard the windpipe. Remove excess fat inside the skin of the neck, and put with the rest of the fat to be rendered. Place the neck skin in the Armagnac in a small dish, to marinade for at least two hours. This helps to soften the skin, so that it will stretch when stuffed, and not split when cooked.

Chop the skinless neck into a few sections, and put in a pan with the backbone piece, the giblets (but not the liver) and the stock vegetables. Cover with cold water, bring to the boil, and simmer gently for one and a half hours. Strain the stock and put aside. Discard the veg and the backbone piece, and leave the giblets and neck to cool.

Pick off as much meat as you can from the neck. Trim the coarse edges off the gizzards, and pick away any tough sinewy bits from the remaining giblets. Finely chop the neck meat, all the cooked giblets, and the raw meat trimmings saved from the goose, and put in a mixing bowl. Trim any sinews or discoloured parts from the raw goose liver and add to the bowl.

Add the sausage meat or minced veal, goose fat, thyme and nutmeg, one tablespoonful of the Armagnac marinade and the truffle, if used, finely chopped. Season well with salt and black pepper. Mix all these ingredients with your hands, until well combined.

There are two ways to seal each end of the sausage. The easiest is simply to tie them tightly with butcher's string, like a Christmas cracker. Tie up the narrow head-end first, then stuff in as much of the forcemeat as you can. Be gentle but firm, and the skin should stretch to accommodate a surprising amount of stuffing. Don't overstretch it though, or it may split when cooking.

The more skilful method, which allows you to get a fair bit more stuffing in the neck, is to use a darning needle and extra strong cotton to sew each end. I can't really give precise guidance on this, but if you fancy your needlework skills you'll work it out.

Prick your finished sausage all over with a needle. The stuffed neck should be cooked in a slow to moderate oven (covered, or almost covered, in goose fat). You can put it in the same dish as the confit during its initial slow cooking, or do it separately. It's traditionally done when it floats in the fat (it won't take as long as the confit - about an hour and a half should do it).

Leave to cool completely, wrap in foil and refrigerate. Remove from fridge and foil about an hour before dinner. It can be kept for a couple of days.

FOR A TERRINE: if you have been unable to get a bird with the head on and the butcher has discarded the neck skin, this is an easy alternative.

Add to the above forcemeat an extra blob of goose fat (c 25g/1oz), the breadcrumbs and egg, and mix well. Line a loaf tin or ceramic terrine dish with the bacon, and spread over the mixture. Cover with two layers of foil and bake in a tray of hot water in a moderate oven (350F/180C/Gas 4) for one and half hours. Remove and leave to partially cool. Cut a piece of thick card or thin wood to fit neatly inside the tin, and wrap with foil. Place on top of the terrine and weigh down with weights or stones. Leave to cool completely.

ROASTING THE BREAST

The first two courses show a distinctly French approach to the extraneous parts of the goose. I like to give the main body of the bird a more traditionally British treatment: roast with apple sauce.

Prick the surface of the breast all over, with a sharp fork, and rub well with a little rough salt and pepper. It can be served ever so slightly pink, which is best achieved by roasting fast in a hot oven (450F/230C/Gas 8) for about 40 minutes. Let it rest for 10 minutes before carving. All the vegetables should be turned at least once during cooking.

PERFECT COMPANIONS

SPLIT PEA AND PEPPERCORN PUReE (to accompany the confit)

The whole peppercorns make little punchy explosions in contrast to the smooth, slightly sweetish puree and the rich, fatty goose.

350g/12oz split green peas

1 onion, finely chopped

1 carrot, finely chopped

1/2 celery stick, finely chopped

1/2 small leek, chopped

sprig of thyme

1 bayleaf

60g/2oz butter

pinch of caster sugar

salt

1 tablespoon pickled green or pink peppercorns (preserved in brine or in a can or jar, not dried)

Soak the peas overnight in plenty of cold water. Drain, rinse and put into a saucepan along with the vegetables and herbs, and enough water to cover. Bring to the boil, simmer and continue cooking until tender.

Drain off the water, remove the bayleaf and thyme, and put the peas and vegetables, with the butter, through a mouli-legumes, sieve or food processor (although the latter makes a less interesting texture). Now season to taste with salt and the sugar, add the peppercorns and mix well. Heat through before serving, thinning with a little hot water if the puree is very stiff.

THE TRIMMINGS

THE GRAVY: the basis for your gravy is the stock in which the giblets, neck, feet and backbone section of the goose were cooked. Warm it up and strain it through a cloth or muslin into a clean heavy-based pan. Add half as much red wine as there is stock, and bring to the boil to reduce. I like to think in terms of a scant tablespoon per person, and so reduce until I have about 150ml (1/4pt).

This will make an intensely flavoured but quite thin jus to serve with the goose. If you like a thicker gravy, whisk a little beurre manie (soft butter mixed to a paste with a little plain flour) into the boiling juices. Both versions can be supplemented at the last moment by the juices strained from the roasting pan, deglazed with another splash of red wine. Skim off as much fat as you can, but whisk the gravy well to incorporate the little that inevitably gets through.

APPLE SAUCE: peel and slice three large Bramleys and cook with just a tablespoon of water until they disintegrate. Sweeten to taste with a little caster sugar (I recommend you keep it tart to cut the fat of the goose).

DEVILS ON HORSEBACK: pitted prunes wrapped in streaky bacon, and roasted for about 15 minutes. One or two per person.

CHIPOLATAS: best butcher's chipolatas, fried, grilled, or roasted on a tray with the devils on horseback.

ROAST VEGETABLES: a selection of the following can all be roasted in the same hot oven as the goose, in the copious goose fat that you have saved after cooking the confit and the stuffed neck. The fat should be pre-heated in the oven before any of the vegetables go in. They do not all take the same time, so can be put into the roasting tray at staggered times. Basic preparation and cooking times are given below:

Potatoes: peeled, parboiled for five minutes in well salted water, cut as you like and scratched with a fork - 40 minutes.

Jerusalem artichokes: whole, and not peeled, but well scrubbed and rinsed - 30 minutes.

Parsnips: peeled and cut as you like - 30 to 35 minutes.

Celeriac: peeled and cut into 5cm (2in) cubes - 30 to 35 minutes.

Shallots (or baby onions): whole and in their skins - 30 minutes.

Carrots: big donkey carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks - 30 minutes.

Leeks: cut into 5cm (2in) long pieces - 20 minutes.

SERVING

All three courses are pretty rich, so only small portions are required at each stage. Served like this, one goose really does feed eight people.

THE NECK

The terrine or stuffed neck can both be plated up in the same way. Divide either into eight equal slices. A single slice is put in the centre of a small cold starter plate, with a blob of good chutney on the side as an essential sweet and sour relish to contrast with the richness of the goose. Choose any chutney you like, but a fruit-based one is best. I like Pettigrew's apple chutney. The only further embellishment is a simple garnish of a few lightly dressed green leaves - I like to use lamb's lettuce or watercress or a mixture of the two - the heat of the latter is another good way to cut the fat of the goose.

THE CONFIT

Normally you would get a whole leg of confit as a (rather challenging) main course. Here, it's really just a taster for each person. Crisp up the confit in a hot oven for 15 minutes, as described in the recipe above. Then shred the meat off the bones of the wing and leg, rather in the manner of crispy duck as served with pancakes in a Chinese restaurant. Ladle a small pool of the split pea puree on to well warmed small starter plates, and put a pile of the shredded meat in the centre of each. Make sure everybody gets a bit of crispy skin too. Scatter a few strips of orange rind julienne over the meat as a final garnish. Plate up and serve fast, so it doesn't get cold.

THE ROAST

This is best carved at (or beside) the table, in the traditional manner. A couple of thin slices of breast per person, plus one piece each of all the vegetables and trimmings, should keep everybody happy.

The vegetables should be well drained of excess fat, transferred to a very hot serving dish, and brought to the carving station. The gravy and apple sauce can be on the table, but make sure both are properly hot (ie not brought in too early). The gravy is rich and strong, and there's not usually much of it, so in the interests of fair play I tend to ration it at the carving station.

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