One goose goes a long way
With a few clever knife strokes, one goose becomes a pint of Indian-spiced rillettes (a rough, meaty spread); a half-cup of an elegant, smooth, very rich pâté; four quarts of robust stock; and nearly a quart of goose fat (for exquisite roasted potatoes, among many other uses).
And the main attraction: a braise to serve eight people.
To start, you need to remove the meat from the carcass in one piece. Have at hand a large cutting board, a bowl, a damp kitchen towel and a very sharp knife. If you have a boning knife, all the better, but a sharp knife, with a very sharp tip, is most important.
Place a paper towel under the cutting board to keep it from sliding. Make sure all the good stuff from the carcass — the neck, gizzard, heart and liver — has been removed and reserved. Also remove the two big pieces of fat attached to either side of the large cavity. You’ll be rendering that fat later.
Rinse the goose well and pat it dry. Place a paper towel on top of the cutting board, under the goose, to keep the bird from sliding around. Then, place the goose on the board breast-side up, with its legs facing you.
Feel for the breastbone, running right down the center. Make one deep and daring slice through skin, fat and meat, right to the breastbone, from top to bottom. Press the knife tip against the bone, just to the right of the ridge of the breastbone. Divide the neck skin along the same line.
Work the tip of your knife against the breastbone and ribs, pulling the breast meat gently away from the bones as the knife releases the meat. Work one side and then the other. You can’t go terribly wrong here if you stay close to the rib bones with the tip of your knife, making short slices, not long strokes. Work slowly, deliberately and methodically with the knife, and use your other hand to pull the meat away. There is no need to rush. It’s akin to removing a coat, peeling each side back as you go. Stop when you run into the wings and thighs.
Lift the carcass and press down on the leg quarter, right at the knee. Bend back the thigh toward the cutting board, exposing the joint between the main carcass and the thigh bone. Wriggle the knife into that joint and separate the bones. Repeat on the other side. Using the same motion, disjoint the wings and then continue to remove the “coat,” using the knife to release the carcass when you reach the backbone.
Spread out the skin and meat, skin side down, and slice each breast half free of the skin, making it look very tidy. Make a similar cut around the meat of the thighs, forming the leg quarters.
Wrap the two breast halves and two leg quarters in plastic wrap and refrigerate until you’re ready to make the braise.
Render the fat
On the board before you will be a stripped carcass, a lot of skin and some pieces of meat — all useful, delicious and not to be wasted. A goose is an investment, and there is a world of flavor on that cutting board.
Gather any trimmed meat in a bowl. Cut around and release the wings and add them to the bowl. Sprinkle with a teaspoon of kosher or sea salt and one minced garlic clove and stir well. Cover and refrigerate for eight to 24 hours.
Cut the remaining skin and fat (including the fat reserved from the goose cavity) into 1-inch cubes and transfer them to a saucepan over very low heat. Once all the fat has rendered to a clear gold color, after about two hours, crisp little pieces of skin will have risen to the surface of the fat. Those are cracklins; fish them out, salt them well and have a little snack.
Strain the fat into a glass jar, cover and refrigerate.
Cook the stock
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Transfer the carcass, neck, gizzard and heart (omitting the liver) to a baking sheet lined with parchment and roast for 30 minutes.
Add the roasted parts and any accumulated juices to a stock pot filled with eight cups of water, two onions, two carrots, a celery stalk, a dozen parsley stems and a dozen black peppercorns. Bring the liquid almost to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to low and cook for four hours, keeping the liquid barely bubbling.
Strain the stock into a storage container and refrigerate, uncovered. (Discard the solids in the strainer.) Once the top layer of fat has congealed, remove it and store it separately. Cover the stock.
Use the stock for gravy or as a soup base or in eisbein, a classic dish of sauerkraut and ham hocks.
Make the pâté (your reward)
After all that work, it’s time to make a little treat. Mince half an onion. Peel and mince a small, tart apple. Pluck one teaspoon of thyme leaves. Heat a tablespoon of butter in a small skillet, add the onion and cook until translucent. Add the goose liver and thyme and cook over medium heat for four or five minutes on each side, until the liver is no longer raw or weeping red juices. Add the apple and cook, stirring, until the apple pieces begin to collapse.
Transfer the warm mixture to a food processor, add one tablespoon of cognac, Calvados or Armagnac, and whir until smooth. (Alternatively, place all of the ingredients in a bowl, and use a fork and knife to mash them.)
Season generously with salt and pepper, remembering that foods served cold need more aggressive salting. Pack the pâté into a serving bowl or ramekin. Chill for at least four hours. Serve with baguette toasts or crackers.
Shred the rillettes
The next day, retrieve the wings and trimmed meat from the refrigerator and transfer them to a wide pot with straight sides, such as a wide, shallow, straight-sided skillet. Add rendered goose fat to cover.
Cook this — a confit — very slowly for two hours. If you are able to achieve a slow, burbling simmer, leave the pot on the stovetop; otherwise, place the pot in a 220-degree oven for two hours. It’s important to keep the confit barely bubbling. You want the meat to oil-poach, not fry.
After two hours, remove the wings and let them cool. As soon as you can handle them, pick off the meat, taking care to leave behind any small bones or tendons. Coarsely chop the meat and fat, then stir in one teaspoon each of garam masala, ground coriander and ground cardamom. Season with salt as needed, again remembering that food served cold should be more aggressively salted, then then pack into bowls, ramekins or jars. Press the meat down firmly, and spoon hot goose fat over to cover by a half-inch. Refrigerate until chilled.
Serve the rillettes on crusty bread, accompanied by a sharp mustard and tart pickles.
Strain any extra fat into a jar and refrigerate for up to a month. Remember that this fat now has some added salt, from the wings, and although it may be used several times, if each time the fat is salted, at some point it will become inedible.
Barrow is a Washington food writer whose first book, “Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry,” will be published by W.W. Norton in fall 2014. She’ll join today’s Free Range chat: live.washingtonpost.com.
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