Gift of a Martha’s Vineyard goose prompts a culinary lesson

Gift of a Martha’s Vineyard goose prompts a culinary lesson

No supermarket bird, this goose met its fate on Chilmark Pond. — Photo by Kelley DeBettencourt

At the tail end of the duck hunting season, we received an unexpected phone call. Our friend Diana Waring, a Martha’s Vineyard Times advertising staff member and sometime guest correspondent on our Hungry Native website, had an interesting question for us.

Nelson Sigelman, The Times managing editor, had just given her a goose. And by “a goose,” we mean an entire Canada goose, freshly shot. Diana wanted to know if we would help her clean, prep, and cook the goose. Our answer, of course, was immediate and enthusiastic. We’d never prepared a whole goose before, so we did a quick bit of Internet research and formulated a rough plan of attack.

The first and most time-consuming step was plucking the bird. The large feathers are fairly easy to grasp and remove, the difficulty comes from trying to remove every last one of the finer down feathers.

After stripping most of the feathers away from the torso, we strung up the goose by its feet to facilitate removal of the neck, head, and wings.

The wings came off with little fanfare, separating naturally at the joint. The neck, however, presented more of a challenge. The vertebrae of the neck are tightly joined together and tougher than you might think.

Now for the fun part — dealing with the guts: We made a shallow incision, slicing through the skin and fat but taking care not to puncture any of the internal organs. Unlike a chicken, it actually takes a fair amount of force to pull the guts out of a goose, but Diana handled the task with aplomb. Removing the innards is messy and a bit gross, but also fascinating.

Many of the organs are actually quite beautiful, especially the gizzard, with its iridescent coating and intense colors. While we were in there, we removed the clumps of fat from the body cavity and set them aside to use later.

Using a propane torch, we singed away any stubborn remaining feathers from the bird’s skin.

Next, we removed the feet (scaly and dinosaur-like) and brought the goose inside for a good wash, inside and out. To ensure a plump, juicy bird, we brined the goose overnight.

The next day, Diana and my wife, Kelley, removed the goose from the brine, gave it a rinse, and patted it dry. At this point, they used a needle (a small knife works as well) to prick the skin all over making sure not to pierce through to the meat. This gives the subcutaneous fat an escape route and helps produce a crispy skin and some amazing pan drippings.

To stuff the bird, they used some lemon peel and chunks of apple leftover from one of the side dishes they were working on. They sewed the cavity shut and brushed the skin lightly with lemon juice. With a quick sprinkle of salt, the goose was ready for the oven.

Similar to duck, goose meat is very red, and the breasts are best served medium-rare. To achieve this, we inserted a probe thermometer into the breast, and slid it into a 325-degree oven.

While the bird was cooking, we put the chunks of goose fat in a small pot on the stovetop, to render over low heat.

Once the thermometer read 135 F, we removed the bird from the oven. To prevent them from over-cooking, we carved the breasts away from the bird and set them aside to rest, loosely covered with foil.

The bird went back into the oven, this time with the probe inserted into the thickest part of the thigh.

Since you aren’t given a goose every day, Diana invited a handful of friends to join us for dinner, and the kitchen was full of people readying side dishes while the bird roasted. When the thermometer showed 165 F, it was time to pull the bird out of the oven.

We transferred the bird to a cutting board and let it sit for a few minutes. This allowed us to use the pan drippings to flavor our stuffing, which also contained veggies that had been sautéed in the rendered goose fat.

Once the bird had rested, we sliced off the thighs and drumsticks. In a heavy cast iron skillet, we heated some goose fat until it was almost smoking, and added the two breasts, skin side down. They received a good hard sear, until the skin was nicely browned. Next, the thighs were treated the same way, but seared on both sides. This produced a skin that was very crispy and surprisingly similar to crackling pork skin.

The breasts were sliced and served on a platter with the thighs. The breast meat was juicy and pink, with bright red streaks where it was pierced by shot. Very rich and flavorful, the goose tasted wild, but wasn’t really gamey, contrary to what some people had led us to believe.

One guest called it his “new favorite thing” and said that “it tastes like duck… for men!” We’re pretty sure that he was referring to the bold flavor of the goose, not to any weird sexist rules he had about waterfowl. The goose was a big hit, and everyone really enjoyed trying something new, especially something that came from right here on the Vineyard.

It takes a lot of work to transform a goose from a “bird” to something that you see in the supermarket, but it’s also supremely satisfying to do the work yourself and know how your food was treated every step of the way.

Husband and wife Ezra Agnew and Kelley DeBettencourt are Island foodies. An unedited version of their goose adventure is available on their website devoted to food, Hungrynative.com.