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.

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
people
News
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
News
Tovey says of homeless charity the Pillion Trust : 'If it weren't for them and the park attendant I wouldn't be here today.'
people
Sport
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
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

    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...

    Telesales Manager. Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Day In a Page

    Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

    The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

    What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
    Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

    Finding the names for America’s shame

    The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
    Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

    Inside a church for Born Again Christians

    As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
    Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
    Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

    Incredible survival story of David Tovey

    Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little