In Britain the goose always used to be the favoured bird at the Christmas table. For centuries geese were marched from their breeding grounds in the country, on journeys that might take weeks, to the outskirts of the cities, where they would be re-fattened for market.
But whereas turkeys later on submitted to being shod in tar and leather for the walk, geese stubbornly resisted the option (hence the impossibility of ‘shoeing a goose’). In recent years they have returned to popularity – and at least now get transported to market!
Largely, I think, because of tasteless, intensively reared turkey, more and more people are turning to goose – not just for Christmas but for entertaining from Michaelmas (the traditional time to eat goose) right up till Christmas. Be that as it may, I personally feel that a goose is more appropriate for a Christmas dinner party or New Year’s celebration than for Christmas lunch itself – the reason being that there is never enough left over, and I like to put my feet up on Boxing Day! However, a goose always features somewhere in my Christmas plans, not. least because I would hate to miss out on that very special flavour.
Geese do not take kindly to intensive rearing, so more and more farmers are producing large flocks of free-range birds fed naturally on grass and post-harvest stubble. Judy Goodman on her farm in Worcestershire, for instance, raises 4000 free-range birds each season and dispatches them all over the country. If you are ordering one from a local butcher or supplier, look out for that golden-yellow skin which is the sign that it has been grass-fed: pale, whitish skin indicates some other type of feeding and rearing. An 11-12 lb (5-5.5 kg) bird is the ideal weight, and will serve eight people quite generously.
Although (like ducks) geese have a substantial layer of fat under the skin, this melts during the cooking and acts as an excellent internal basting process. It helps to keep the meat moist and succulent, but if it is poured off as it escapes during the cooking, the meat will not become fatty.
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