the Story of a Gosling; or, Tangled Thoughts on Christmas Dinner
Last night we had leftovers and champagne. I think it was my favourite of the Christmas meals. Ham, turkey and goose – with chutneys, pickles, salads. To start we had lentil soup made from the ham stock; to finish, a little Christmas pudding and some beautiful custard. I adore adore adore vanilla custard, cool, soothing, thickened with just the yolks of eggs and very lightly sweetened. It’s ambrosial (if not “Ambrosia,” I suppose you add). I mean it really is. Gran makes the Christmas pudding from the Eliza Acton recipe which contains no flour, only breadcrumbs for bulk and, far from being stodgy, it is light, aromatic and not in the least cloying. Particularly with custard…
Goose, I now really agree, is better cold. I’ve read it so often – in Elizabeth David, Matthew Fort among others – and thought No, you want it hot! On Christmas day you must have a whole, roasted bird, and it has to be goose! If only as a note to myself, for next year, I want to say that this is not so.
This year we had a turkey and a goose. I have come round to turkey. When I cooked Christmas dinner at college, we were mostly vegetarians (excepting me and Johan) so I didn’t do meat. I didn’t do any sort of replacement for it either. Trimmings are substantial enough not really to need the meat that’s supposed to be their substance. Certainly they don’t need something in pastry, something starchy and oily with nuts. Christmas dinner, let’s face it, is the trimmings; otherwise it would just be roast dinner, roast dinner being a celebration of a glorious joint, or a beautiful bird, with a few veg to accompany it. If, for Christmas dinner, you have meat with your trimmings, turkey is not ostentatious. It sits there very happily and its light poultry flavour and thirsty flesh soaks up gravy and this partnership with bread sauce is a holy trinity you can’t better. The potatoes, roasted in goose fat so as to be light but rich, are more easily stomached with a less fat bird than the goose itself.
Tentatively I’m saying I hardly wanted the goose. At least with the main course. For starter, I stuffed the goose’s neck with its liver, some sausagemeat, some pheasant. It was fabulous, without doubt the best bit of the meal. I’ll write the ingredients down in a minute, again if only as a note to myself for next year because I’ll do it again. Gamey, richly and strongly flavoured, like one of those French pâtés you can’t stop eating, and served with a few pickles, this really got me going for the main course. But then the goose felt a bit superfluous. Turkey alone would have been fine.
And then the goose, quite cold, was so good on Boxing Day. For next year, I’m thinking: do the goose neck as a starter, have turkey for the main – the whole, roasted bird – and then have the goose cold on Boxing Day.
I also think that I’d like to do a confit of the goose legs as a second starter, and just roast the crown to have cold. I wanted to write that I stuffed a goose neck and took the idea unashamedly from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, but everyone wants their Christmas recipes to be their own, so I am a little ashamed. The confit of goose seemed a step too far. That’s his idea, too, as a second starter for Christmas dinner. Also it means taking the legs off so you don’t get the humble Dickensian glory of a whole, roast goose. But next year I think should be all about these goosey starters. I shouldn’t worry about decimating the goose, preserving a wholeness I don’t care about by the time I’m into the dinner’s fourth bottle of claret (between us all). And anyway there’s a turkey.
All I can say is I did make up the recipe for my goose neck stuffing, which was this: the goose liver, chopped; equal quantities of fat sausagemeat and minced pheasant; an onion and an apple softened in goose fat; a handful of breadcrumbs; a glass of red wine; an egg; two fat cloves of garlic, crushed; thyme, sage, salt, pepper. Mixed thoroughly and sewn into the neck, it all simmered very slowly, immersed in goose fat for just over an hour, being turned every ten minutes or so.
Before that we did canopés, which caused a genuine family feud, my uncle to take his wife and say Come on, we’re leaving! I made a fennel seed loaf to toast and have with cured salmon, dill sauce, and lump fish roe. I made a pissaladière and cut it into canopé-sized squares. I opened a bottle of Champagne five minutes after everyone arrived. Uncle and Auntie found Skype more fascinating than all this, than talking to us, than taking part. We said how angry we were. Things exploded. Really, I shouldn’t have cared less, as they were so impolite, as we took the champagne away into the kitchen, along with all the canopés, and had a marvellous time, cooking and scoffing, downing champagne. I mean: really fab.
Anyway – god isn’t it all so dissipated? – having whittled on about the ins and outs of this and that, I think, after all, what I found most satisfying about this Christmas was the goose. I’m thinking again about how to cook it and when to serve it next year; but I’m certain I want to have one we’ve raised from the beginning again. It felt good knowing how it had been raised, even better to have all its bits: the giblets, the fat, the neck and its skin.
Early this year, out of seven goose eggs, one hatched, and we called the resulting gosling Lucy – Lucy Gosling, becoming Lucy Goosey. Lucy Gosling’s fate was to be our Christmas lunch. Lucy Gosling would also be raised as a girl, when in fact she was a gander. Lucy was Lucien, said mum. I argued that this renaming, while hilarious, was gender-normative and took the anthropomorphism too far, but I went along with it. Lucien Goosien was lunch.