For unexplainable reasons, Europeans, particularly north Europeans, have always been fond of goose, whereas in North America the popularity of this fowl is more or less concentrated on Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
Goose meat is darker (including the breast), fuller bodied, and more intensely flavoured than turkey. It is fatter and more gamy than duck. Of all fowl, goose meat offers the most opportunities to match with wine.
Most associate Christmas goose with Victorian England. During the 19th century, in England, geese were served (like practically all other animals) at an older age than those of today – up to nine months as opposed to four to six months. Older birds are tough and the meat must be tenderized before cooking (through marination and aging) before cooking.
Today’s geese still have a whiff of gaminess, but just enough to appeal to the connoisseur. There is no need to tenderize chemically or mechanically as feeding and raising techniques have improved. Turkey has been crossbred to the extent that its meat is more or less mushy; the birds are fed with specifically manufactures feed. Geese have been spared this fate, because unlike turkeys, crossbreeding geese is much more difficult. The natural cycle of raising geese is still in tact: hatching, between April and July, and slaughter in September.
The U S A is a large producer of geese- California, Pennsylvania, and New York State produce most. Of course France produces a lot, as does Hungary, Poland and Israel, mostly for foie gras d’oie (fattened goose liver). Fattened goose liver is exported to France to be processed to pate ad many other products, Carcasses are used for roasting in Hungary and Poland.
For centuries goose fat has been hailed as tasty and texturally rich, French are famous for their cassoulet using goose fat, parts beans and vegetable, but most famous of all now is confit of goose or duck. Confit means cooked in its own fat. If properly doe a confit of goose or duck is crisp, deliciously rich, and delightfully satisfying. Also it can be stored for months. White English, grey Toulouse and Chinese geese are the most popular with goose farms. Most geese are fed a mixture of corn, wheat and soybeans, although a few farmers feed their animals with vegetables including salads in California.
Mature geese carcasses weigh 18 – 19 lbs. ( 8 – 9 kg) although young animals weighing 10 – 14 lbs ( 4 ½ to 5 ½ Kg) are more popular with housewives. The yield improves with mature animals. Free-range fresh geese tend to be more tender than those marketed frozen.
Goose contains a high proportion of fat and must be properly cooked to provide the eating pleasure connoisseurs expect. A leg of roasted goose swimming in its own fat would hardly please anyone, except maybe a hard-working farmer who has a chance to sample it once a year.
You can either blanch the bird for a few minutes, and prick the skin to release the fat, or ‘crisp” the carcass in the refrigerator for a week, or roast for four hours at 250F (125C) in a convection oven, or start roasting at 475F (235C) for 15 minutes and reduce the heat to 375F (180C) until done. Obviously, the bird must be basted frequently to prevent drying.
You can stuff geese with dried fruits (resins, figs, or prunes, marinated in Armagnac or Cognac or rum). Rye or black bread is more suitable than regular white bread The stuffing can be cooked separately and passed around. The bird would smell more appealing if stuffed with apples, onion, celery, orange or lemon.
Unlike turkey, roast goose can be served without a sauce, as the meat is moist, but would benefit from the use of chutney made using nuts, and fall fruits (grape juice, apples, pears, figs, walnuts and hazelnuts).
In the past decade, North American gourmets discovered the tantalizing taste and texture of fattened goose liver.
It can be pan seared and served with a reduction of port wine, or simply sautéed to enrich lean cuts of grilled meat, or processed to pate, bloc, parfait, just to name a few methods of preparation.
Egyptians and Romans of antiquity knew about this delicacy, and maintained farms feeding geese with dried figs. Nowadays, geese are force fed with corn much.
Force-feeding is by all accounts a cruel way of raising an animal, but to date, other methods proved unsuccessful. In fact by force-feeding (by means of a long neck funnel stuck into the beak of the bird), the liver is made incapable of functioning, thus becoming excessively fatty and smooth. French products are very expensive in North America, and hence in both Quebec and New York State (Hudson Valley) several farms started specializing in producing fattened goose liver. Most go to restaurants in New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. Some are exported.
Properly prepared fattened goose liver is an absolute delicacy for those who love smooth textured flavourful meat. Connoisseurs pair goose liver with fine Sauternes, or Beerenauslese or Tokaji (three or four puttonyos) wines. They claim this to be a match made in heaven!
Article contributed by Hrayr Berberoglu, a Professor Emeritus of Hospitality and Tourism Management specializing in Food and Beverage. Books by H. Berberoglu
Note: Here is an email I received about this article and my response.
April 30, 2004
Publishing the article by Hrayr Berberoglu promoting cruel torture of geese is shameful and brings discredit to your website.
Educating the public about the methods of food production and how to create nutritious and good tasting meals is a positive contribution, however the ethical aspects of farming deserve consideration. Interest in organic, healthy and cruelty free produce is at a peak, and I believe that your website would benefit by supporting these favourable trends.
I urge you to consider removing the offensive glorification of this barabaric (sic) practice. All species, especially those animals that are destined for the cooking pot, deserve to be treated with the same respect that we ourselves expect.
Best regards, Russell Hawkins
Response from Foodreference.com publisher, Chef James:
April 2004 - Hello Russell,
Thank you for your email, I always appreciate comments about the Food Reference Website.
You object to the article on goose liver. I have also received email from others who object to information on the following subjects:
Dog meat, horse meat, mule, llama, donkey, goat, insects, veal, chicken, beef, coconut crabs, mahi-mahi (dolphin), swordfish, tuna, shark, rays, trout, salmon, any animal source of food, fast food, snack food, high fat foods, high sugar foods, various ethnic foods, American food, French food, McDonald's, KFC, any mention of how food is produced, vegetarians, vegans, restaurant food, etc., etc., etc.
(excerpt from your email)>>”I urge you to consider removing...”
Rather than have a website with empty pages, I choose to allow different viewpoints to be heard, rather than censoring information.
I happen to believe that people have a right to information, and the right to make their own decisions as to what and how they eat. I may agree with some of your opinion, but I will not limit the information on the website to one side of an issue.
The article may say that goose liver is delicious, but it also states that force-feeding is a cruel way of raising an animal.
The Food Reference website has about 14,500 pages now, and its primary focus is FACT about food history and culture. There are many other websites out there that promote specific agendas. The Food Reference website deals primarily with facts, and it is a fact that goose liver is produced and eaten.
If nothing was ever published about it, no one would have the knowledge to object to it.
You have a perfect right to your viewpoint, and I will include your email with the article to provide you with an open forum for that viewpoint.
Regards from Paradise,
James T. Ehler (Webmaster, chef, writer, publisher)
November, 2007 Another thoughtful email on the subject from someone with personal knowledge of the subject:
I was interested in reading your article on raising geese for meat and came across the replies re fattened liver and ethical issues involved.
I am British but moved to rural France 3 years ago, I have always held a view on the cruelty of force feeding geese - ie it should be abolished. However, after living here in the country for 3 years, I was surprised last year to find that my opinion is less forceful.
I do not eat foie gras, never have and probably never will, my changed attitude related to the mental image I always had of some poor goose held against its will, furiously trying to stop being forcefed corn. Last year I helped one neighbour and discussed my issue with her, she just laughed at me and asked me to come back at feeding time in her barn. I went and basically was amazed, she rattled her tin of food and the geese came running (they were organically raised and free range), they paitently waited to be "forcefed", needed no restraints and were not distressed by the experience. They were in all other ways as "healthy" in terms of being happy, as the non fatty geese, not confined and slaughtered as with all others at around 24 weeks. This was a far cry from what I expected. Force fed is such an emotive word, perhaps there are producers whose geese do not "line up", are confined or are distressed, but, in my village area (the duck and geese region of France) my notion of force feeding has been changed.
Personally, I would prefer all animals to have a good quality of life before slaughter, and although I know the issue of force feeding is abhorrent to most people, the actuality of it did not match my understanding. Those geese had a better life running free range than some poor battery hen or goose for mass market production. Thats why Foie Gras costs!