Snow geese stink. They stink when they are cleaned and stink even more while cooking, leading many hunters to assume that the great white game bird isn't fit to eat.
In fact, the flavor of the snow goose is finer and more distinctive than that of the lordly and much larger Canada goose, whether chen hyperborea atlantica has been feeding on marsh grasses or raiding Chesapeake Bay farms for corn, soybeans and winter wheat.
The huge gizzard reeks even worse than the rest of the rascal, but in a food processor it can be transmuted into a mousse that will be the envy of rival game cooks.
It's easy to understand how the snow goose came to be so poorly regarded as table fare. Fifty years ago a plague swept the flocks of greater snow geese, the subspecies that winters in the Chesapeake region, and brought the birds to the edge of extinction. Hunting them was outlawed in 1931 and the season was not reopened until 1975. By then the local snow goose population had passed 200,000 and the birds were doing serious damage to wheatfields and to marsh grasses, which they do not graze but pull up by the roots, leaving sterile mudflats behind.
During that 44-year interval a whole generation of hunters passed, and by the time snow geese became legal again there were few who remembered how to handle and cook them. The new hunters treated them like Canada geese, with which snows have very little in common. Not the least of the differences is that snow geese are virtually impossible to pluck by any of the several dry or wet methods; sooner or later even the most dedicated will give up and skin them.
Snow geese shrivel into a hard, dark, dry and unappetizing mass if subjected to the slow-roasting method used in most Canada goose recipes. (so do Canadas, for that matter; overcooking wild waterfowl is an almost universal sin.) There is a secret and a trick to it. The secret is to cook the snow goose fast and rare, and the trick is how to get people to try it, since rare fowl is rarely seen on American tables.
The recipes that follow were invented by Roland Bouyat of Washington's Bread Oven restaurant, a dedicated game cook. He had never cooked snow geese before and few of the dozen Weekend staffers to whom it was served had ever tasted one, which added up to a severe test. The verdict was that it was a triumph, especially the mousse. His recipes: Wild goose mousse Those unfortunates who despise gizzards will be astonished to discover that this mousse tastes like anything but; the flavor is somewhat akin to a mild liver pate. It's made from gizzard, legs, hearts and necks. The recipe is proportioned for the giblets of four snow geese, one day's shooting limit, but can be adjusted to match the hunter's luck. Bouyat suggests that any shortfall be made up with duck or turkey gizzards, and says the recipe would probably work almost equally well with the giblets from any bird. INGREDIENTS 1 LB. GIZZARDS, trimmed to pure meat; dust with salt some hours in advance, if convenient. As with all game birds, search out the shot pellets. 1 LB. DUCK FAT (rendered from 3 1/2-4 lb. domestic duck) OR LARD. If a duck is used, the rendered meat may be added to the mousse ingredients and the bones used in the sauce recipe given below. GOOSE LEGS, HEARTS AND NECKS (or those of substituted fowls), untrimmed. 2 BAY LEAVES. 1/2 CUP WHIPPING CREAM. 1/4 CUP PORT WINE. PINCH OF CAYENNE PEPPER. PINCH OF WHITE OR BLACK PEPPER. Simmer the gizzards, hearts, necks and bay leaves in a heavy saucepan with enough duck fat or lard to cover. Adjust the heat so that the fat bubbles but does not darken, and cook uncovered for 60 to 90 minutes, until the consistency of the gizzards, when poked with a fork, is similar to a well-done baked potato. Trim off the leg and neck meat, reserving the bones.
Puree the cooked meat in a food processor, dribbling in enough of the fat (perhaps two or three spoonfuls) so that it blends easily, and adding the cream, Port and pepper. If the consistency is soft enough at this point, sieve the mass for shards of bone and shot pellets or little icky things that may have escaped your notice. Bouyat has found that overlooked shot emerges unscathed from his professional-size Cuisinart, but cannot speak for other sizes or brands.
The function of the cream, and to some extent that fat, in this recipe is to lighten the color and texture of the pureed gizzards which tend to be greenish and gluey. Stop adding cream and fat when the color comes up to an agreeable beige.
Cool completely, then blend again until smooth. If it seems to dry, add a little more fat. Now sieve, if you haven't already. Serve with French bread, olives and tiny sour pickles. The mousse can be frozen, or if covered with a layer of fat will keep a month or more in the refrigerator. WILD WATERFOWL SAUCE One virtue of this sauce is that it uses the parts of the birds that usually are wasted in roasting. Another is that it is delicious, and complements the flavor of the bird. Also, it's fairly dark and will disquise the rareness of goose breasts prepared by the recipe below; this will help squeamish guests.
To begin, cut the breasts away with ribs and breastbones, leaving the breast meat undisturbed; break the breastbones by pressing on the breast meat, if necessary to make the breasts lie relatively flat. Marinate meat side down, along with the backs and leg and neck bones, for up to 24 hours. The marination may be omitted, but in any case you will need the liquid, prepared as follows and proportioned to a pair of geese: INGREDIENTS 1 BOTTLE OF RED WINE 2 SMALL ONIONS, SLICED 2 CARROTS, SLICED 2 GARLIC CLOVES, MASHED 2 TABLESPOONS OF RED WINE VINEGAR 2 BAY LEAVES 6 PEPPERCORNS PINCH OF THYME Chop bones coarsely and brown in butter or oil in a heavy saucepan. Add the vegetables from the marinade, cook briefly, then add the juice and thyme. Bring to a boil and simmer for an hour, uncovered; take care it doesn't scorch.
Strain off the liquid and heat until reduced by half; stir carefully and avoid boiling. Then add 1 ounce of butter, plus salt and pepper to taste. Set aside and keep warm until the breasts are ready, which won't be very long. GOOSE BREAST BOUYAT Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Carefully remove the wishbones and dust the breasts with salt and pepper. Saute them very briefly, breast down, to sear and brown them. If they have been skinned, and they more than likely will have been, cover the breasts with thinly sliced lard or strips of bacon. Now pop them in the oven for no more than 12 to 15 minutes.
Carve the breasts in thin horizontal slices; go across the grain of the meat, at 90 degrees to the angle used in carving turkey.
The slices are red, yes. Ladle the sauce over them. If your guests still can't face the color that peeps through, brown the slices very briefly in a very hot saucepan: in, zip! out. Better yet, invite people who appreciate game, and like to try new things. As Chef Bouyat says, "The whole trouble with wild goose is overcooking."
Serve with peeled and diced celery roots, boiled two minutes and sauteed in butter. Saute -- briefly -- and serve the livers also.