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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
footballA colourful discussion on tactics, the merits of the English footballer and rebuilding Manchester United
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Travel
The shipping news: a typical Snoozebox construction
travelSpending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
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

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Day In a Page

    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
    Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
    Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

    Feather dust-up

    A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
    5 best waterproof cameras

    Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

    Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
    Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

    Louis van Gaal interview

    Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
    Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

    Will Gore: Outside Edge

    The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz