Your goose is cooked

It's time to give the turkey a rest. Mark Hix takes a gander at some delicious alternatives for Christmas
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Indy Lifestyle Online

There was no question I was ever going to cook a turkey for Christmas after I'd visited Judy Goodman's Walsgrove farm in Worcester. Goose is Britain's only seasonally reared bird, and Judy and her family produce the finest geese in the country. You know how keen I am on seasonal food, and it seems mad not to jump at the chance to eat goose while you can.

When my daughters - Ellie and Lydia - and I arrived at the farm after a long trek all the way across the country from Dorset, Judy, as promised, had a fantastic lunch waiting on the kitchen table. There was cold sliced goose, apple sauce and local organic greens.

That was it. My mind was made up that goose would be my bird for the 25th. Judy's free-range flock must be some of the most pampered birds in the land. They roam around feeding on wheat, barley, maize and grass. You order your bird and it arrives by post in a box, dressed, with the liver, giblets and neck in separate boxes, along with some extra fat for roasting your potatoes.

Don't be put off by the fat. Duck and geese have a layer of it, but properly cooked, a good quality bird won't be greasy when it's cooked as the fat will run off, simply leaving crisp delicious skin behind. The fat also makes the best, crispy roast potatoes you'll ever eat, so save it for future roastings.

For the Christmas Day starter, I may well go for some wild artisan-smoked salmon from Ireland with soda bread and pickled rock samphire. I foraged the samphire from the beach on a visit to Ireland in the summer. Frank Hederman smokes eels and mussels as well as wild salmon over beechwood at his Belvelly smokehouse. If you can't get to Cork to buy, there's just time to order from 00 353 2148 11089 or f Then to keep the visiting pescatorian happy while we tuck into the goose, I'll do a whole baked sea bass. To make it special I'll give it a luxurious lift with some lobster or prawns in the stuffing, or maybe an oyster or two chopped up with a milder version of the goose stuffing.

Pudding is also a refreshing alternative: a sort of exotic fruit salad with Christmassy spices, true to the spirit of the season but not too tied to tradition.

Where to buy your goose:

Goodman's Geese (and bronze turkeys) 01299 896272/; Donald Russell 01467 629666/; Johnson and Swarbrick 01772 865251;

Seldom Seen Farm 0116 2596742/

Roast goose with apple sauce

A goose weighing about 4-5kg should be enough for 5-6 people

If they'll fit in your oven I would suggest getting a couple of birds for more than 8-10 people. The secret of rendering down the fat is to begin the cooking process with the breasts facing down in the pan so that the skin fries in the hot fat released from under the skin. The mistake people make is to just bung the goose in the oven for hours on end hoping for the best. That's how you end up with a dry fatty bird.

Judy Goodman recommends removing and seasoning the legs, smearing a bit of goose fat over them, covering them in foil and roasting them ahead of the carcass. Then roast the bird on its back for an hour; turn it over on to the breast to finish the crisping process for another 45 minutes or so. Then put it breast up again for the final 15-20 minutes.

I've tried lots of different ways of roasting a goose over the years and found that unlike a duck, the legs need more time to cook. By roasting the bird this way, the breasts get cooked to medium - while the legs are slow-cooked and crispy, almost like confit legs. This process will also render enough fat from the goose to get your roast spuds going.

1 goose
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

for the stuffing

2 onions, peeled and finely chopped
1tbsp sage, chopped
60g butter
100g fresh white breadcrumbs
1tbsp chopped parsley
The livers from the goose, or the equivalent of chicken livers

For the apple sauce

1kg cooking apples, peeled, cored and roughly chopped
2tbsp caster sugar
50g butter

To make the stuffing, gently cook the onions and sage in the butter for 2-3 minutes without colouring, then remove from the heat and stir in the breadcrumbs. Meanwhile season and fry the goose livers in a hot frying pan for a couple of minutes on each side, remove from the heat and leave to cool a little. Chop the livers into rough smallish pieces and mix into the breadcrumbs with the parsley and season to taste.

The legs can be cooked hours before you're eating and reheated nearer the time. Pre-heat the oven to 160C/gas mark 3. Remove the legs from the goose by pulling them away from the bone and cutting at the joint. Remove any fat and skin from underneath the goose on the backbone and put it in a tight-fitting oven tray either on top of or to the side of the legs. The fat will render down. Season the legs and cook for 21/2 hours, basting every so often. Drain off the fat and use for roasting the potatoes. Put the legs aside ready to heat up 15 minutes before you serve the goose.

For the goose itself turn the oven up to 200C/gas mark 6. Spoon the stuffing into the cavity of the bird and season the breast, spoon over a little of the fat that the legs have been cooking in and put the bird breast down in a roasting tray. Cook for 45 minutes, draining any excess fat from the tray during cooking (add this to the fat from the legs for your potatoes) then turn the bird back up on to its back and cook for a further 20 minutes.

In a separate tray, roast the potatoes, topping up with goose fat as needed. You can give them a final blast when you've taken the goose out of the oven and it's resting for 15 minutes. Put the legs back in the oven to heat up now, too. Then remove the breasts from the bone with a sharp knife and slice thinly across the breasts with the skin down on the board. The leg meat can just be carved off the bone, or cut into chunks.

Meanwhile (or even the day before), put the apples into a pan with the sugar and butter, cover with lid and cook gently, stirring every so often for 15-20 minutes until the apples start to disintegrate. You can keep the sauce chunky and natural, or blend it in a food processor. Check the sweetness and add more sugar if necessary, although it shouldn't be too sweet to accompany goose.

Goose gravy

It's always a good idea to get ahead by having gravy, or at least the basis for it, already made. Beats scrabbling around after the meat's cooked and leaving it to wait for the liquid in the roasting tin to take on some flavour. Try to keep a good supply of gravy in the freezer for roasts and quick sauces.

With goose, or any poultry come to that, you'll never have enough giblets and neck to flavour your gravy, so bring in reinforcements. I'd strongly recommend getting in some extra chicken wings, necks and bones to make the gravy up a couple days before. This recipe should make enough for Christmas Day, so scale up the quantities accordingly for large batches to store in the freezer.

500g chicken, or duck bones, or a mixture, chopped into small pieces, plus goose giblets
1 large onion, peeled and roughly chopped f
2 medium carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
1 stick of celery, roughly chopped
1 leek, trimmed, roughly chopped and washed
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
1tsp tomato purée
1tbsp flour
2 litres chicken stock (a good cube will do)
6 black peppercorns
A few sprigs of thyme
1 bay leaf

Pre-heat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Roast the bones, goose giblets and the vegetables and garlic for about 15-20 minutes until lightly coloured, giving them a good stir every so often. When they are a nice golden-brown colour, add the tomato purée then the flour and stir well with the bones and vegetables in the roasting pan. Return the pan to the oven for another 10 minutes.

Remove the roasting tray from the oven to the hob. Add a little of the stock and give it a good stir over a low flame. This will remove any residue from the tray and begin the thickening process. Transfer everything into a large saucepan, cover with the rest of the stock and some cold water if the stock doesn't cover the bones and add the peppercorns, thyme and bay leaf. Bring to the boil, skim off any scum that forms and simmer for 2 hours. The gravy may need topping up with water to keep the ingredients covered. Skim occasionally as required. Strain through a fine-meshed sieve and remove any fat with a ladle. Check its strength and reduce it if necessary. If the gravy is not thick enough, dilute some cornflour in a little cold water and stir in.

Wild mushroom and chestnut tarts

Makes 4

Vegetarians can sometimes feel neglected at the table on Christmas Day, so it's important to have something special for them to eat. Mushrooms make a great meaty alternative and if you use wild ones it's luxurious, too.

250g puff pastry, or trimmings, rolled to 2-3 mm thick
12 fresh chestnuts
4 large shallots, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
A good knob of butter
400g wild mushrooms, cleaned and cut into good sized chunks
250ml double cream
1tbsp freshly grated Parmesan
2tbsp chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

As the filling is a little too gooey for slicing a larger tart, this is better if you use 4 tart tins measuring approximately 21/2-3cm high by 10cm. Cut the pastry about 2cm larger than the tins and line them, firming the pastry up to and a little over the top of the tins with your thumb and forefinger. With a fork, prick the pastry all over on the inside of the tins, including the sides. Line them with greaseproof paper or foil and fill them with baking beans (dried old beans or the metal baking beans you can buy).

Leave to rest in the fridge for 1 hour at least or better still overnight.

Pre-heat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4.

Meanwhile criss-cross the pointed end of the chestnut with a knife. Bake the cases for 20 minutes, then remove the baking beans and return to the oven for 5-10 minutes until lightly coloured. Bake the chestnuts in the same oven for 10 minutes. Remove pastry from the tins and leave on a wire rack to cool. When cool, peel and cut the chestnuts in half.

Gently cook the shallots and garlic in the butter for 2-3 minutes until soft, add the mushrooms, season and cook with a lid on for 3-4 minutes, stirring every so often until they soften. Add the cream and Parmesan and continue to simmer until the cream thickens and just coats the mushrooms. Add the chestnuts and parsley and re-season if necessary.

To serve, warm the tarts and fill with the mushroom mixture, or you can stir in an egg yolk before you fill them and cook them under a grill to give a baked, glazed effect.

Herb roasted sea bass

Serves 6

For a celebratory occasion such as Christmas a whole stuffed and roasted fish makes a really fabulous table centrepiece. Or if you really want to feast, you could serve it as an old-fashioned fish course before the main. You can scale this recipe down and roast an individual 300-400g fish for just one person. Ask your fishmonger (nicely!) to bone the fish like a kipper which will also allow you to get a bit more stuffing in the fish.

1 sea bass weighing about 2-2.5kg, boned as above
Olive oil for brushing

for the stuffing

1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 small fennel bulb, finely chopped
100g butter
200g fresh white breadcrumbs
2tbsp chopped parsley
2tbsp chopped dill
100-150g cooked shellfish such as crab, lobster, prawns, chopped, or 6 raw oysters, chopped
Salt and freshly ground white pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 230C/gas mark 8. In a saucepan gently cook the onions and fennel in the butter for 4-5 minutes until soft, but not coloured. Transfer them into a bowl and mix them with the breadcrumbs, parsley, dill and shellfish, and season with salt and pepper.

Open the sea bass flat on to a table and spread the mixture evenly down the middle of one fillet. Fold the other fillet over and shape it so the fish looks whole. Score the skin in 3cm intervals along the top fillet, season with salt and pepper and rub with olive oil.

Transfer on to an oiled baking tray and roast in the oven for 45 minutes, basting with olive oil two or three times during cooking.

Cinnamon spiced fruits with pomegranate syrup

Serves 6

If, like me, you want to end the meal with something lighter that doesn't in the slightest resemble Christmas pudding, then this dish could be right up your street. I'm just giving guidelines for the fruits you could use, so you can adapt it according to what's available. I quite like the idea of having some of the fruits cooked and some naturally fresh and juicy. Turkish or Middle Eastern shops are your best bet for this dish as they often have a selection of unusual ripe fruits such as pomegranate, fresh dates, kaki or sharon fruit, persimmons and quinces.

250g caster sugar
1 cinnamon stick, halved
1 star anise
4 cloves
1 bay leaf
2 glasses of white wine
2 quince, peeled and cored
18 kumquats
3 tamarillos
2 pears, peeled, cored and quartered
3 satsumas, peeled and segmented
2 very ripe kaki (sharon) fruits, quartered
12 ripe, fresh dates, or preserved ones, stoned
About 36 whole blanched almonds
1tbsp icing sugar mixed with 1tsp ground cinnamon

For the pomegranate syrup

Seeds scooped from 1 ripe pomegranate
200ml of the cooking syrup above
2tbsp grenadine

Choose a non-reactive pan (not aluminium) large enough to hold the submerged tamarillos and quince. Place the sugar, cinnamon, star anise, cloves, bay leaf and wine in the pan and slowly bring to the boil, stirring so the sugar dissolves. Reduce the heat, add the quince and kumquats and enough hot water to cover well, cover with a lid and simmer for about 45 minutes, or until they are tender then remove them with a slotted spoon on to a plate. Meanwhile score the pointed end of the tamarillos with an X, then drop them into the liquid, cover and simmer for 8-10 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave to cool in the syrup. Once cool, carefully remove the skin from the tamarillos and cut in half.

Meanwhile put the pomegranate seeds in a saucepan with the cooking syrup and grenadine, bring to the boil and simmer for 8-10 minutes then leave to cool. Put the almonds on a tray lined with foil and dust with the icing- sugar mixture and cook under a medium grill, turning them every so often and don't take your eyes off them, until they are caramalised.

Cut the quince into 6 wedges and arrange in one large, or individual bowls with the tamarillos and other fruits, pour the pomegranate syrup over and scatter the almonds on top. Serve with thick cream, ice cream, crème fraîche or mascarpone.