How to Make the Perfect Christmas Goose

A whitefront or specklebelly goose easily feeds four people and has the perfectly sweet flavor for a Christmas dinner

How to Make the Perfect Christmas Goose
This recipe acknowledges the magical meat and fruit pairing of goose and cranberries. (Hank Shaw photo)
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Few things are as iconic as a Christmas goose, but when it comes to translating that beloved holiday tradition into the wild world, many hunters throw up their hands and give up. Geese are tough, they say. Livery, smelly, and hard to clean. Sky carp.

All of this can be true, but it still shouldn't stop you from hunting, cooking, and enjoying your goose. Follow these guidelines and you'll be shocked at how wonderful the Lords of the Air can be on the table.

Let me start with the king of all geese: the whitefront or specklebelly goose. This is the finest-eating goose in North America (with the possible exception of the black brant on the West Coast). Specks are a seed-eating bird that can put on a heavy layer of fat, are the perfect size to feed four, and will always be sweet and lovely. A speck is my go-to goose for Christmas dinner.

This is a Nordic-inspired take on the eternal marriage between wild game and fruit. Cranberries are an especially good match because they are tart, but not too sweet. And while it might look like I'm asking you to use an awful lot of rosemary, it's mostly to flavor the butter sauce, rather than to be eaten; think of it like a bay leaf, and if you want to eat some of the rosemary, mince up a little bit and add it to the sauce. The end result is savory, tart, woodsy, and just a bit electric from lots of black pepper. The dish screams winter.


Serves: 4
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes


Ingredients:

  • 1 to 1½ pounds goose or duck breast
  • Salt (smoked salt if you have it)
  • ⅓ cup unsalted butter
  • Black pepper to taste
  • 1 heaping cup of cranberries
  • ½ cup fresh rosemary, (loosely packed) little bunches on stem
  • 1 tablespoon honey or brown sugar
  • Pickled mustard seeds (optional)

Directions:

  1. Take the goose breasts out of the fridge and salt them well. Let them come to room temperature for 30 minutes or so.
  2. Heat 2 tablespoons of the butter in a sauté pan set over medium-high heat. Sear the goose, skin side down (or, if skinless, the side the skin used to be on), and cook over medium heat until it's brown and crispy, about 6 to 8 minutes. Flip and cook another 2 to 4 minutes, depending on how well you like your goose. Set the meat (skin side up if it has skin) on a cutting board to rest while you make the sauce.
  3. Add the rest of the butter to the pan and turn the heat to medium. Add the cranberries and toss to coat with the butter. Let the berries cook for a minute or two, until a few start to burst, then add the rosemary, honey, and quite a lot of black pepper – you want very much to be able to detect the black pepper in this dish. Toss all this to combine and heat through for another minute or so. Add any juices that have collected on the cutting board to the pan.
  4. Slice the goose breasts and serve with the sauce. If you're using the pickled mustard seeds, sprinkle some of them on the meat.
  5. Serve with roasted or mashed potatoes or with good bread.

Note: If you want to do the pickled mustard seeds, boil some white wine vinegar with mustard seeds for 5 minutes, then pour it all into a glass jar and cover. Let them steep at least a few days, but they will last a year in the fridge.

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