Master Peter, and the two ubiquitous young Cratchits went to fetch the goose, with which they soon returned in high procession.
Such a bustle ensued that you might have thought a goose the rarest of all birds; a feathered phenomenon, to which a black swan was a matter of course—and in truth it was something very like it in that house.—Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
In our modern kitchens, goose has become a rarity much like in the Cratchits’ home; so if you want to create ‘such a bustle’ in your own kitchen this Christmas, try roasting a goose too! And if you want guaranteed clamor, make it a smoked goose. Goose has long been a traditional Christmas and winter dish in northern Europe, but we have largely forgotten its goodness in the States, where ham and roasts of beef have become kings of the Christmas board.
That needn’t be the case! Whether you hunt your own goose or buy a domesticated goose from the store, this half-forgotten bird will make a delicious and stunning addition to your holiday table. Use a leave-in probe thermometer like the ChefAlarm® to track the cooking and make sure you get mouth-watering results.
Christmas Goose Difficulties and Solutions
Before we dive headlong into the recipe, let’s look at what we’re getting ourselves into.
Dark meat, tough meat
First, there’s the meat itself. Geese are biologically hardwired to migrate. And being migratory means their muscles are built for 3,000-mile flights. And that means dark meat. Yes, the myoglobin necessary to fuel those flapping muscles also dyes the meat dark, and there is plenty of it in goose meat. In fact, while chickens have only 10% red fibers in their breast muscle, geese have up to 85% red fibers in their breast muscles—more than any other culinary fowl except squab, which has the same percentage. The abundance of myoglobin, and the other bio-mechanisms needed to make use of it, alter the flavor of the meat, creating a richer, meatier flavor.
While the richer flavor is a benefit for the cook and the eater, myoglobin is not all that the goose’s migratory nature brings to the table. Those wingéd miles also give the goose a hefty dose of connective tissue. Much like the well-used parts of a cow (brisket, round), goose’s nicely exercised muscles are full of collagen, which takes time and heat to break down. If we don’t cook it in a way that will break the connective bits down, we will end up with a tough, chewy bird, and that’s not something that’s going to make your Cratchits smile.
When it comes to cooking the goose, all that connective tissue is a two-edged sword: we don’t need to worry about pulling our bird at a just-barely-done temperature like we would chicken or turkey breast, but we really need to make sure that we cook it to a higher temp, 175°F (79°C) to break some of that connective tissue down into gelatin.
Another of goose’s characteristics that we need to be aware of its fattiness. Geese, like ducks, have copious stores of fat in the cavities and under their skin. Again, we have the migrations to blame—or rather to thank, in this case. Geese spend a lot of time in icy cold waters and need insulation to keep themselves warm, and they need large stores of energy for their protracted flights. Fat is the solution to both problems. Fat is a natural insulator and is more than twice as energy-dense as sugar. The goose’s fat stores aid its survival, but also create a culinary feature that needs proper handling.
To make the goose palatable and not greasy, we need to render off as much of the excess fat as we possibly can. We’ll also need to pierce the skin all over to allow the fat to flow out of the bird as it roasts. As that fat renders in the smoker, it will drip down onto the coals and create flare-ups and off flavors, so it’s important to put a pan under the goose to catch the fat. As an added bonus, you end up with a pan of smoked goose fat, which you should absolutely fry some potatoes in. Trust me.
Smoked Goose recipe
Based on Tea-smoked Duck in Steven Raichlen’s Project Smoke
- 1 goose, thawed, giblets and neck removed
- 1 apple, sliced
- 1 onion, sliced
- Salt and pepper
- Fuel and wood for smoker
- 10 cinnamon sticks
- Pat the goose dry and trim the long wingtips from the goose with a knife or kitchen shears (these can be reserved, along with the neck, for making goose stock).
- Remove any extra fat from the cavity that you can (use a sharp knife if necessary). Keep this fat for other culinary uses.*
- With a skewer, prick the skin of the goose all over to allow the fat to drain out/baste the goose. Be careful not to penetrate the meat, we only want to go through the skin.
- Stuff the goose with the apples and onions. Sprinkle some salt into the cavity as well.
- Generously salt and pepper the skin of the goose.
- Fold and secure the wings back underneath the goose and tie the legs together with butcher’s twine.
- Prepare your smoker by preheating it to 225-250°F (107-121°C). Right before putting the goose on, add a good handful of wood chips or a good chunk of wood and half the cinnamon sticks.
- Place a pan to collect the drippings under the smoker rack and place the goose in the smoker.
- Insert the probe from your ChefAlarm into the deepest part of the thigh and set the high alarm to 145°F (63°C). Smoke the goose until the alarm goes off.
- When the ChefAlarm high alarm sounds, increase the heat of your smoker to 350°F (177°C) and re-set your ChefAlarm high alarm to 175°F (79°C). Add another handful of woodchips and the rest of the cinnamon sticks.
- Continue smoking your goose.
- When the ChefAlarm high alarm sounds for the second time, verify the final temperature with a Thermapen® Mk4.
- Allow the goose to rest for 10 minutes.
- Carve, serve, and be of good cheer!
Understanding the structure of goose meat helps us know how we should cook it, and our ChefAlarm leave-in penetration probe allows us to keep an eye on our goose meat with an accuracy that grants us greater control over our cooking.
* Other culinary uses: Chop the fat and put it in a small pot of cold water. Heat this slowly to a low simmer. Let the water boil out, keeping a close eye on it. When the water has all cooked off, you will have a good bit of rendered fat. Continue cooking this on low heat to finish rendering the fat, allowing the bits left to just crisp. Strain off and reserve the fat for cooking potatoes, other vegetables, or adding to your oil for popping corn on the stovetop. It’s just delicious.
Steven Raichlen, Project Smoke
Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking