Christmas turkey? Why not go for a goose

The traditional Christmas bird may not be cheap, says Anthea Gerrie, but with its uniquely delicious fat and crispy crackling, it’s a festive feast that keeps on giving

Christmas is coming and the goose is getting fat. How we love that fat – goose flesh may be rich, dark and succulent, but it’s the thought of those bonus pints of the world’s finest cooking medium and the planet’s crispiest crackling which is inducing paroxysms of anticipation in Britain’s top chefs. And right behind them are the foodies buying more of this traditional bird than at any time since Dickens eulogised it in A Christmas Carol.

Do they know what they are in for? Perhaps not first-timers, who could be disappointed to find they’ve forked out twice the price of a turkey to feed half as many, without any sandwich meat to boot. But connoisseurs don’t care that a goose is just for Christmas, given all the freebies no turkey offers up – the fabulous fat, the salty,  crisp-as-a-cracker golden skin, the rich liver for practically instant  pâté, stock with a uniquely velvety quality and meaty scraps to underpin a New Year cassoulet.

“It’s almost better than the meat, the skin and all the bits,” says Rowley Leigh, who is already spit-roasting four or five geese a day at his Le Café Anglais: “They were so popular at parties and on special last year, I decided to make them part of the regular  festive offering.”

He’s not alone. Goose is going on the menu all over fashionable London and beyond, though a traditional roast is the last thing you can expect. Philip Howard is shredding the confit legs and packing the meat into brik pastry for deep-fried goose spring rolls at the two-Michelin-star Square, Oliver Gladwin is putting on orange and thyme-scented potted goose at The Shed, while Adam Byatt will serve goose crown pink with celeriac and cranberries at Trinity.

Yet over at Quo Vadis, while Jeremy Lee was the season’s earliest customer at award-winning goose farm Seldom Seen, you won’t get any goose at all until January. That’s because Lee, who adores the bird, bluntly declares what many think, but few utter – goose may lend itself more to the cutting up and confit treatment than cooking whole: ”I’m not the biggest fan of roast goose meat, but I do love the fat, and what happens when you cook this lovely bird covered in it. Layered with salted pork belly and beans, it will see us through the ghastliness of January, February and March.”

While Claire Symington, of Seldom Seen, believes you can’t go wrong if you roast your typical 5kg (11lb) plus goose for three hours at 190F, many chefs disagree. Howard is an advocate of slow-roasting for 4-5 hours at 120C – “you still get crispy skin, but the breast stays tender” – while Sam Harris, of Zucca, who mostly concurs, turns the temperature up to 220C for the last half-hour. If not slow-roasting, two hours before resting may well  be long enough, says Leigh: “Goose meat is surprisingly lean and dries out very quickly. 

However you cut it, goose is gorgeous in the hands of a careful cook, which explains surprisingly bullish sales in recessionary times of a bird that can command close to three figures: “We are seeing a 16 per cent increase year on year and could sell more if we could get it,” says M&S poultry technologist Mark Atherton-Ranson.

In supermarkets, the ratio is still just a few thousand geese to every million turkeys, but some food halls are seeing inverse proportions: “Our Christmas goose sales have been outstripping turkeys for the past eight years,” says Selfridges’ fresh-food buyer Andrew Cavanna. “It’s a combination of perceived luxury and the nostalgia of eating a dish that was a Christmas staple more than 100 years ago.”  

Then there’s rarity value; the current annual production of 250,000 birds (massively up from an all-time low of 100,000 in the 1970s) is fairly finite, according to Gressingham, which raises more than a third of British geese. While growth is steady, there is a limit to how far smaller farmers can go to meet increased demand, as Symington, who supplies M&S as well as chefs and locals, confesses: “Geese are very  labour-intensive. I didn’t know the half of it when I asked Robert to  buy me a pet pair for our anniversary and he came home with another 30 in the trailer.”

The following year the Symingtons, who now raise 5,000 geese a year, tried 100 birds from scratch and learned just how much TLC a gosling requires from the moment it arrives at the farm as a day-old hatchling: “Once they venture outside you need to make sure their little unfeathered backs don’t get sunburned, and as they like to sleep outside, an electric pen is necessary to protect them from predators.”

Stephen Curzon, of Gressingham, evokes a memorable image when he tells how much geese love their outdoor beds on “clear, moonlit nights, when they are all wide awake!” He contributes further to the mythology around geese by pointing out the first eggs are laid on Valentine’s Day.

Come December, the best farmers laboriously dry-pluck the birds after they are dispatched – “it’s essential for the crispiest skin,” says Symington. Then they hand-eviscerate them, labour-intensive procedures which add to the cost – typically £13 or more per kilo – as much as their balanced corn diet and the acreage they require for months of free-range grazing. “If we were to keep birds over to offer goose for Easter, it would add enormously to the cost,” says Robert Symington.

But there are a few ways to keep the goose coming months after the birds have vanished from the Christmas shelves. Selfridges is now selling confit legs and smoked goose breast, and chef-charcutiers such as Jason Freedman, of The Minnis, near Margate, are smoking their own.

Small households could preserve the legs of their birds in the fat for New Year and roast just the crown, with crispy wings to nibble on the side and a pot of pâté from the liver as an irresistible starter.

Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Sport
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
News
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Sport
Jose Mourinho on Sky Sports
footballEXCLUSIVE COLUMN Paul Scholes: It was not a leg-breaking tackle, as the Chelsea manager had claimed
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Cleaning Manager - York and Bradford

    £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The post holder is a key member of the V...

    Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Breakdown Recovery Drivers

    £18000 - £28800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Breakdown Recovery Driv...

    Recruitment Genius: Processing Partner

    £15000 - £19200 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Processing Partner is require...

    Recruitment Genius: PPC Manager - SW London

    £34000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This specialist travel agent ba...

    Day In a Page

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower