If someone says they're serving goose for Christmas, you’d probably consider it an elaborate meal. Nowadays meats like turkey or ham are far more common at the Christmas table, so the presence of goose seems like something special. It also evokes a scene in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, where Ebeneezer Scrooge and the spirit of Christmas Present look on as Scrooge's employee, Bob Cratchit, enjoys a beautiful Christmas dinner with his family. However, while now goose is an elaborate and expensive choice, for the Cratchits it was the most affordable option. Dickens writes:
There never was such a goose. Bob said he didn't believe there ever was such a goose cooked. Its tenderness and flavour, size and cheapness, were the themes of universal admiration. Eked out by apple-sauce and mashed potatoes, it was a sufficient dinner for the whole family; indeed, as Mrs Cratchit said with great delight (surveying one small atom of a bone upon the dish), they hadn't ate it all at last! Yet every one had had enough, and the youngest Cratchits in particular, were steeped in sage and onion to the eyebrows!
At the end of the story, Scrooge surprises the Cratchits by bringing them a fat turkey, a far more exotic meal for a family of modest means. According to Teri Metz of Schiltz Foods, this is because goose was a common, seasonally farmed bird in those times, while turkey was still seen as a fancier, New World food. "Geese were domesticated thousands of years ago, around the same time as cattle, and are a seasonal bird. The geese fatten for the winter and then are processed or harvested once a season right before they mature, so the meat stays tender and doesn't get tough," says Metz. "The seasonality of the birds ended up coinciding with the Christmas holiday." However, now turkey and ham are much easier to mass farm, whereas goose still requires a lot of time and detail to raise right.
Sage, onions, and apple are still great flavor pairings for goose, but since it’s a dark meat, it pairs well with other red-meat-friendly flavors. "Any kind of fruit-based Chutney is delicious with goose, or an orange sauce is also a popular option," says Metz. "Many within the Schiltz family love it with salt and pepper — keeping it simple, but also love it with a good zing of mustard or even horseradish as well."
The key to cooking a goose well is to take your time. According to Metz, "if you end up with a tough goose, it's likely because you didn't cook it long enough." Goose fat also smokes at 370º, so cooking it low and slow will yield the tenderest meat. Plus, it renders a good amount of fat, which can be used for roasting vegetables on the side or making eggs with the next morning. And if anything, roasting a goose is likely to impress your friends and family far more than turkey, and bragging rights are what the holidays are all about.
How to prepare a Christmas goose
- Thaw in the refrigerator 1–1½ days for a 6–10 lbs, 1½–2 days for 10–14 lbs or in cool water 4–6 hours = 6–10 lbs or 6–8 hours = 10–14 lbs.
- Preheat oven to 350º.
- Remove excess fat from body cavity and neck skin.
- Rinse bird and drain.
- Prick entire goose several times with a fork.
- To stuff, fill neck and body cavity loosely.
- Cover bottom of roaster pan with water.
- Place goose, breast-side up, on rack in roasting pan, insert meat thermometer deep into inside thigh muscle.
- Cover with roaster pan lid or foil.
- Continue roasting until meat thermometer registers 180–185º.
- Allow about 25–30 minutes per pound for a stuffed goose and 18–22 minutes per pound for an unstuffed goose.
- Allow goose to cool slightly and carve.