A goose for the pot, Chicken as back-up dish, Cooking wild goose, Cooking wild vs domesticated geese, Cooking your Goose, Fun in the kitchen with goose, Goose cooking disaster, Goose tastes good - or not?, Wild and tame goose, wild game bird cooking
Cooking Your Goose.1
One needs variety in one’s diet. Like occasionally eating goose, say. But you just try sourcing a goose for the pot in Cape Town. Impossible. I tried everywhere. I tried German butchers and chefs, as Germans have goose for Christmas, not turkey, but no luck. I then tried Vergenoegd wine farm In Stellenbosch where they raise ducks and geese, but they don’t sell the geese, only the ducks. The geese are kept for competition purposes, the man said. He competes with them at shows. But if I wanted a goose for the pot, the best would be to try a pet shop for a gosling, which would be soft and tender, he said. A pet shop, did I understand? Not his farm.2 I see, I said.
Well I don’t like pet shops, especially not when shopping for food.3 So what to do? Enter Dennis. Dennis is a friend of Raoul’s. He’s a sommelier, a foodie, is expansive and is very French. Loves life. Was coming to deliver champagne, so I thought I’d bounce the question of the goose off him. “You want a goose? No problem, I ‘unt one for you. Zees week, I shoot eeet. I also bring you twenty peejeeons, yes, eez very good! Also I bring a guineee fowl and une sarcelle, yes, a teal. Teal is excellent! You must smell your fingers an hour after you eet it with your hands. The teal aroma will still be zhere!” At this he licked his fingers and kissed them. “Mwah!” With that Dennis left and came back a week later with twenty pigeons and a spur-winged goose in tow, deplumed and prepared for the pot. It being early in the New Year I poured him yet another glass, which extracted the most convoluted method for preparing the goose out of him, delivered with punctilio, pontification and aplomb. At the time I followed him perfectly. One used seafood vinegar with shallots and Irish butter, then did this then that, marinating and so on. My mind parsed all instructions perfectly well with my sixth glass of champagne, it being fresh in the New Year and all. All was quite clear.
Two days later I started reducing the marinade I had prepared to a sauce, and got ready to tackle the goose. I hauled out Dennis’s notes. Total befuddlement. Back to the sauce. It was reducing to a bitter paste before my eyes. I tasted some. Revulsion. I spooned some into Graeme Comrie’s reluctant mouth. Notwithstanding being well brought up, he froze, discoloured, convulsed and died. The marinade and the goose had the same sour smell to it. Panic and despair. Guests were coming over for the widely telegraphed goose I would be serving. What now? Confidence crashed. Stupid me and the exoticness of serving goose. Why can’t I darned-well barbecue like everyone else? No I can’t.
Now what? In a huff, phoned Eliane and Sylvia who were coming over for dinner. They are good cooks and are French to boot. “Alex, no problem. We have a good recipe for goose. Calme-toi! We’ll come over earlier and cook the goose for you. Re-l-a-a-a-x. On-t’a-i-i-i-i-i-me! We love you! Des bises! Kisses!” Relief. Outsourcing is one of life’s great pleasures. Calmly park the problem with someone else. Nonetheless, an inner voice compelled me to have Plan B prepared in case this incapacitating goose – notwithstanding all summoned assistance – flopped. So I defrosted two of Oubaas Brink’s magnificent true free-range chickens from Durbanville and set about preparing them.
A word about chicken. The ordinary chicken you buy in supermarkets is suffused with hormones, enzymes, chemicals, antibiotics and some are even injected with brine in their after-life to make them weigh more. Investigate it for yourself. They are battery reared and can hardly move around in their cages during their 41 day lifespan.4 You can do no greater harm to your body than to ingest them. Even so-called free-range chickens simply have double the space of movement than battery chickens do, and must have access to direct light from a window, that is all. Oubaas Brink’s chickens are truly organic, they run around and feed freely on the farm, and nothing is added to their food. They are slaughtered at four months and taste like chicken, not miniature chemical depots. When Oubaas Brink has some to sell, you buy twenty and freeze them. It’s the only way to eat chicken. The two chickens I took out weighed 2,75 and 2.1kg respectively, and I prepared them in my special way.5
Plan B ready, I had a back up. I had done something about the situation. This becalmed me. Sylvia and Eliane arrived all eager and smiling and set about working the goose. They prepared a stuffing out of shallots and honey and cloves and apples. They washed the goose free of marinade and patted it dry, stuffed it, packed glazed apples around it on a tray and slid it into the oven at 150 degrees Celsius. In the meanwhile, we had the first course of squab. Delicious, prepared in a pot this time and cooked over three hours, not Dennis’s short thirty minutes in the oven. It crumbled off the bone, so soft, so appetising. Ah, magic! Only to be followed by goose disaster number two.
Checking up on the oven revealed a goose in a tray surrounded by a black crud. Quick panic, quick salvage operation put in place: The tray was changed, the temperature lowered and the goose put back in. But wait, cried Sylvia. Where was the fat that the goose was meant to extrude? Where? This wasn’t an ordinary goose like the French ones, she realized. It wasn’t une oie d’elevage, a farmed goose, non! It was a dry, wild goose. No fat! This goose should be prepared like venison, she said, not goose. Sorry, she despaired, they had done their best. The recipe they had was for a domesticated goose, not for venison, which this clearly was. The best would be to pierce its skin with a fork, add butter, lower the oven temperature and hope for the best. Dommage mais c’est comme ça. The infernal goose, towards which I was rapidly developing debilitating mental phobias, was still dive-bombing on our parade.
But, my dear friends, there was Plan B. I took out my magnificent Oubaas Brink chickens and served them with potatoes specially prepared with juice from the chicken pot. It was truly life-giving. Everyone’s soul rose, eased heavenwards by downing a well aged magnum of Meerlust Chardonnay. A venerating silence descended as we ate. We could have been praying.
So, always have a back-up. Of course, when the goose was eventually salvaged, carved, plated and served as a little after dish, everyone thought it tasty, strange, exotic and interesting.6 There’s something there to work with, we thought. I should persist with it, everyone encouraged. So when Dennis arrives all swaggering and swaying with the exotic fowl he is bringing me next week, who knows, it could be an ibis, a hadeda , an Egyptian goose or even a partridge in a pear tree, I think I’ll treat them gastronomically as wildebeest loins. What do you think?
- For non-English speakers, ‘cooking your goose’ is an idiomatic expression meaning ‘ruining your chances’, an appropriate title for this piece, what? One searches so hard for double-entendre titles that work. Even Comrie the scriptwriter appreciated this one.
- I have since heard that The Butcherman next to Giovanni’s at 105 Main Road Greenpoint, Cape Town occasionally stock domestic geese. Contact details for The Butcherman: Tel: +27 (0)21 434 1111 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org 105 Main Road Greenpoint Cape Town.
- Although, I must say, some of the live Eastern food markets I’ve seen could be mistaken for pet shops. All sing together now: “How much is that dog-gie in the window? Tra-la-la. The one with the wag-gy tail, tra-la-la, How much is that dog-gie in the window? La-la, I do hope that dog-gie’s for sale…
- I’ve heard it’s actually shorter today…
- Cooking Method for Oubaas Brink’s Chickens: (Recipe for two chickens in a large Le Creuset pot). Sear each chicken on all sides in extra virgin olive oil for 5-6 minutes in a large Le Creuset pot. Add salt (pink Himalayan crystal salt of course, otherwise you don’t count in Oranjezicht), pepper (preferably from one of the exotic Spice Islands, but Zanzibar will do), garlic (Italian style, not elephant garlic) and some chili flakes from a remote mountain in Peru. Take chickens out of pot and set them aside. To the juices in the pot, add peeled baby onions and more olive oil. Fry on medium heat till golden. Add the chickens back to the pot, then add bay leaves, thyme, rosemary and oregano – all fresh, not dry. Enrica Rocca, an Italian cook and restaurateur, taught us that if you use dried herbs from a flask in your food you might as well use dried-out grass from your lawn. Now add a litre of dry white wine, place pot in oven and cook at 150 degrees for 75 minutes. To a saucepan, add large black mushrooms and a knob of butter. Fry on medium heat till the juices flow, then let stand. After 75 minutes, remove the pot of chickens from the oven and add the mushroom-butter mixture to it. Slow cook for another hour in the oven at 150 degrees. You’ll have something special, divine aromas, fabulous flavours.
- I have since cooked a domesticated goose. Chalk and Cheese. Entirely different from the spur wing venison goose. Excellent eating, moist and satisfying.