People have disrespected geese for decades with names like “sky rats” or worse, convinced that this species is unfit for consumption. When I started hunting, I heard people say geese were inedible and shouldn’t be hunted. Not knowing any better, I listened and never really got into goose hunting. On a few occasions, I was able to try a goose dish someone else prepared, and it reaffirmed all the negative things I had heard. The meat was tough, stringy, and tasted like day-old liver.
Then something happened. I began to get into cooking and trying new things. I started to break many of my old habits and explore different cooking methods. I soon found out goose is actually a delicious bird that can be prepared in so many different ways that aren’t just good, but downright fantastic.
That’s when I discovered goose pastrami. A brined and smoked goose breast thinly sliced and piled high on a bun with onion marmalade and spicy brown mustard is delicious and can turn even to biggest goose critic into a fan. I once met a guy who hated goose so bad that when his kids shot some, he gave the meat to his pigs. After trying my pastrami, he said he would probably start hunting geese.
The first thing you should know about goose is that you can use almost every part of the bird. That is why you should always pluck your geese. It may seem like a lot of work, but it’s worth the time and effort, especially if you plan to cook a bird whole as the centerpiece for a holiday meal.
After you pluck and clean a goose, you can leave it whole and roast the whole bird, or you can break it down and use each piece for something different. Each breast weighs about a pound and a half, and is more than enough for 3 or 4 people. You can then use the leg and thigh portions for stews, soups, or confit. Another great way to use goose legs is to braise them. I take two goose legs and cook them with a mixture of goose stock and apple cider for 4 hours. The meat falls off the bone and tastes like a fine pot roast.
We have all heard the saying, “simple is best,” and when it comes to a goose breast, I couldn’t agree more. Score the skin with a very sharp knife, then rub salt and pepper into the grooves. Place the goose breasts skin-side down in a heavy-bottomed, oven-safe pan. Set the pan over medium-low heat so the fat under the skin slowly renders. This can take 8 to 10 minutes, and it will help crisp the skin. You want to do this slow, or you risk burning it. After the skin is nice and brown, flip the breast over and put the whole pan in a 350-degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the meat is 150 degrees.
You can even roast the carcass to render all the fat out of the body and then make stock. The rendered fat is great for confit, or to roast vegetables. In fact, potatoes fried in goose fat is one of my favorite treats. Lastly, don’t forget the organs. You can use the liver in stuffing or to make a delicious pate.
I love to eat goose hearts so much that it’s usually the first thing I prepare after getting a goose. Sometimes I get lucky enough to get a few geese all at once, and have multiple hearts to cook at the same time. I marinade mine and throw them on the grill for a couple of minutes. They are tender and delicious.
Along with the heart, the gizzard of a goose is another favorite of mine. A goose’s gizzard is about the size of a tennis ball and, if you have a few of them, you can incorporate them into different dishes. You can substitute gizzards for the confit recipe below, or if you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, try corning them. A corned goose gizzard is a thing of beauty and adds an amazing element to your favorite hash recipe.
Today the prospect of shooting a goose gets me almost as excited as shooting a deer. A good-sized Canada goose can weigh 10 to 12 pounds and make 3 or 4 meals for my family and me. Understanding how to cook the different parts of a goose and what methods work best was the biggest hurdle for me to get over, and if you follow these instructions, you can do the same.
- Mix the gin, salt, and bay leaves together and marinade the livers for 24 hours. Then remove the livers from the marinade and dry them completely.
- Pan fry the livers in two tablespoons of rendered goose fat for a couple of minutes on each side. Then place the livers and goose fat into a food processor and add:
- Half a small white onion
- 8 ounces of whipped cream cheese
- 1 minced garlic clove
- ¼ teaspoon dry thyme
- ¼ teaspoon white pepper
- A dash of nutmeg
- Blend the ingredients until it’s all smooth and creamy. Taste the mixture and add salt if necessary because as it cools the salt will mellow.
- Transfer the mixture to a fine mesh sieve and press through the mesh to get a very smooth and creamy pate. Chill before serving.
Like so many other game birds, the leg and thigh portions can be tough to eat and are best prepared with a low-and-slow cooking method. That said, one of the best things I have ever eaten is confit. Confit is a method of cooking where the legs are salted for 24 hours and then cooked submerged in fat until the meat literally falls off the bone. Here’s how to make it.
- 2 unskinned goose legs and thighs
- ¼ cup kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 4 cloves of minced garlic
- 3 bay leaves
- Enough duck or goose fat to cover the legs
- Mix together the salt and spices and rub the goose legs with the mixture.
- Refrigerate the legs and thighs for 24 hours.
- Rinse all the salt mixture off the legs and dry them completely.
- Place the legs in a heavy, oven-safe pot and cover with duck or goose fat.
- Place the dish in the oven at 200 degrees for 5 to 6 hours. You’ll know when the legs are done when the meat and skin have pulled away from the knuckle on the leg bone.
- If you are going to store your confit, you can place it in a Ziploc freezer bag with some of the rendered fat and put in the freezer. Or you can pack it into a container and cover it with remaining rendered fat.
- When you are ready to use the legs, preheat the oven to 425 and roast the legs for 10 to 15 minutes until the skin is crispy.
One of the biggest mistakes people make is over cooking goose. A finished piece of meat should be nice and pink all the way through. Slice the goose into ¼-inch pieces and serve with a nice chutney. The meat will be as tender as a fine ribeye steak and the crisp little piece of salty skin will pop in your mouth. When done correctly, you’ll find goose one of the best wild meats you’ve ever tried.