Cooking the perfect Christmas goose, with delicious gravy, is a fantastic way to celebrate Christmas. Mark Hix explains how it's done.
Christmas Day can be a bit frantic if you haven’t prepared well in advance. So many people get up early that morning to start cooking, when they actually could have started the process beforehand.
It’s quite difficult telling people when they’re in the thick of it that they should have done this and that the day before, as it tends to frustrate them. Christmas Day cooking is like cooking in a professional kitchen, and should be treated as such, which means doing all the preparation the day before, so that all you have to do on the day is cook and reheat.
Gravy is a good example of this. I’ve watched people trying to make it at the last minute when the bird has come out of the oven (normally cremated), when they could have made it the day before-or even weeks before and frozen it. With some chicken wings and necks, you can make a great gravy and really concentrate on getting lots of flavour into it.
Your vegetables can all be prepped and chopped the day before, and even your roast potatoes can be pre-boiled, ready to go in the oven an hour or so before you need them.
I’m a bit of an anti-traditionalist when it comes to Christmas Day lunch, and like to serve anything but turkey. Goose is a great bird to cook, and I also love dishing up a selection of small game birds, such as teal, snipe and woodcock, with all of the traditional accompaniments, on a carving board or serving plate for the guests to help themselves.
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A goose weighing 9lb-11lb (4kg-5kg) should be enough for 5-6 people. I remember that, when I was a child, my grandmother would occasionally attempt to cook a goose, and my grandfather would always complain the next day about how fatty and what a waste of time it was. If only I could cook a goose for them now and show him that they aren’t actually fatty birds if cooked and treated correctly.
For me, the obvious thing to do, as with a turkey, is to remove the legs before cooking and slow cook them separately, almost like a confit. You can then concentrate on cooking the breasts just slightly pink and roasting them skin-side down, so all the skin and fat renders down.
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 cloves of garlic, peeled
10 black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1cm or so of cinnamon stick
For the stuffing
2 onions, peeled and finely chopped
1tbsp sage, chopped
100g fresh white breadcrumbs
1tbsp chopped parsley
The livers from the goose, or the equivalent quantity of duck livers
For the apple sauce
1kg Bramley apples, peeled, cored
and roughly chopped
2tbsp caster sugar
The legs can be cooked hours before you’re planning to eat – or even a day or so earlier-then reheated and crisped up nearer the time.
Pre-heat the oven to 160°C/ gas mark 3. Remove the legs from the goose by pulling them away from the bone and cutting them in half at the joint, then cut the wings off.
Remove any fat and skin from the back, underneath the goose, and on the backbone and put them into a tight-fitting oven tray with the goose legs, garlic, peppercorns, cloves, bay leaf and cinnamon.
Season the legs and cook them for about 2½ hours, basting every so often and until the meat is just coming away from the bone. Drain off the fat and use it for roasting your potatoes.
Put the legs aside, ready to heat up 25-30 minutes or so before you serve the goose. If you’re cooking them a day or so before, just store the legs in the fat in the fridge.
Your goose may well have the neck still attached-if so, cut it off as close as you can to the main body. With a heavy chopping knife, remove the backbone from the goose where you’ve cut the fat away, so you’re left with just the breasts on the bone. Separate the two breasts by carefully cutting down the centre breastbone. Chop the backbone and neck into small pieces for the gravy.
To make the stuffing, gently cook the onions and sage in the butter for 2-3 minutes without colouring, then remove from the heat and stir the breadcrumbs in. Meanwhile, season and fry the goose livers in a hot frying pan for a couple of minutes on each side, then remove from the heat and leave to cool a little.
Chop the livers into rough, smallish pieces and mix into the breadcrumbs with the parsley and season to taste.
Transfer the stuffing to an ovenproof dish with a tight-fitting lid, or cover with foil.
Meanwhile (or even the day before), put the apples into a pan with the sugar and butter, cover with a lid and cook gently, stirring every so often for 15-20 minutes until the apples start to disintegrate. You can keep the sauce chunky and natural, or blend it smoother in a food processor. Check the sweetness, and add more sugar if necessary, although it shouldn’t be too sweet to accompany goose.
Turn the oven up to 200˚C/ gas mark 6.
Heat a roasting tray on the stove top, season the goose breasts and place them in the tray, skin side down. Cook them on the skin on a medium heat for 5-6 minutes so they start to release some of the fat.
Drain any fat off and reserve it, then cook the breasts in the oven for 25-30 minutes, keeping them nice and pink, then remove them and leave to rest.
Put the legs and stuffing in a roasting tray in the oven while the breasts are cooking. Then, remove the breasts from the bone with a sharp knife and slice thinly across them with the skin down on the board. The leg meat can just be carved off the bone, or cut into chunks.
With goose, or any poultry come to that, you’ll never have enough giblets and neck to flavour your gravy, so you’ll need to bring in a few reinforcements. I’d recommend getting some extra chicken wings, necks and bones to make the gravy a few days before. This recipe should make enough for Christmas Day, so scale up the quantities accordingly for large batches to store in the freezer.
500g bones, including the goose bones and giblets, chopped
1 large onion, peeled and roughly
2 medium carrots, peeled and
1 stick of celery, roughly chopped
1 leek, trimmed, roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and
1tsp tomato purée
2 litres chicken stock (a good cube
6 black peppercorns
A few sprigs of thyme
1 bay leaf
Pre-heat the oven to 200˚C/gas mark 6.
Roast the bones, goose giblets and the vegetables and garlic for 15-20 minutes until lightly coloured, giving them a good stir every so often.
When they’re a nice golden brown colour, add the tomato purée, then the flour, and stir well with the bones and vegetables in the roasting pan. Return the pan to the oven for another 10 minutes. Remove the roasting tray from the oven and put on the hob. Add a little of the stock and give it a good stir over a low flame. This will remove any residue from the tray and begin the thickening process.
Transfer everything into a large saucepan, cover with the rest of the stock, and some cold water if the stock doesn’t cover the bones. Add the peppercorns, thyme and bay leaf. Bring to the boil, skim off any scum that forms and simmer for two hours.
The gravy may need topping up with water to keep the ingredients covered. Skim occasionally as required. Strain the gravy through a fine-meshed sieve and remove any fat with a ladle. Check its strength, and reduce if necessary. If the gravy isn’t thick enough, dilute some cornflour in a little cold water and stir in.