I do a lot of thinking about food choices and what people eat and why and think I want to start a guerilla movement to intervene in grocery stores to stop people from buying the Fiber One Blueberry Bars that they are pondering. Why? Well, as it turns out, there aren’t any actual blueberries listed in the ingredients label. Or perhaps stop people at the Taco Bell drive through and ask, “Did you know that the meat isn’t actually, well, meat?”
When I taught middle school, I had an agreement with my students that they could eat in the classroom (administrative policy notwithstanding) if they could pronounce and describe each ingredient on the label of whatever it was that they brought in. Extra points were given for foods that had less than five ingredients or no label, like a banana. This was in Bed Stuy Brooklyn, I was teaching kids whose families were scraping by well below the poverty line and to my surprise, started coming in with things like hummus.
I still preach from the pulpit of Know Your Food. I also should point out that I’m not advocating eating a “healthy lifestyle.” I was recently asked if I’d ever written anything on this blog for vegans. Err… a couple of times by accident. And, I should say that if you are vegan, this is not the post for you. I’ll also ask that if you are vegan, please don’t email me about why I should give up eating meat because I won’t ever do that. Also, if you are anti-hunting, now would probably be a good time to find another post as well.
I say these disclaimers because I recently completely freaked out a person new to my life that I need to keep happy. I’ll call this person John. I could have sworn that John told me that he was a hunter and went hunting with his grandfather and yadda yadda so when the color drained from his face as I waxed on about the intact ducks I had gotten from my brother and father’s hunting trip (“Feathers and feet and all!”) I realized I’d misunderstood a crucial bit of information. John plainly told me that while he does eat meat, he is so freaked out by its presence that for Thanksgiving, the turkey is handled with gloved hands, dropped on a pan and thrown into the hot oven, sans seasoning or stuffing. John then has a stiff drink, gathers his wits and waits for the doneness indicator to pop.
All that to not eat a Tofurky. I guess I have to give some credit for annually taking on the ritual, and for genuinely admitting to loving roast turkey. But… really? Gloves? Tears?
Chances are strong that John is not reading this website, but if this sounds like you, why take that anxiety on? Why not just have everything else that makes Thanksgiving Thanksgiving and forget about the animal part all together?
I promise that I am not trying to insight an email barrage, I swear, so let me move on to the actual point of this post, why I started writing today at all:
I got three Canadian Geese from a friend.
You can’t buy wild Canadian Geese at any store as its illegal to sell anything wild, even your “wild” boar at fancy restaurants is not actually wild. The FDA requires provenance as to diet and exercise and so for real wild goose, get a gun. Or in my case, a friend with a gun. And a license and a lesson or two. Head out to legal pasture and git you some dinner.
That’s how you know, for sure, beyond any shadow of a doubt, where your meal came from. I wrote about this a while back when I attended Farm Camp, an experience that culminated in slaughtering and processing my own chicken. That experience was intense, but now, a year and a half later, Mark and I are planning to raise meat chickens this spring because I want to know where my food comes from. Not to delight in the process of processing, but not having any shrink wrap or dubious label claims between me and my meal.
Back to the geese. Getting wild game usually feels like a drug deal. “Dave’s got some geese, you guys want in?” “I’ve got a friend with some yak, ten pounds is $100, interested?” Tales of midnight poaching venison from glamorous golf estates are out there, but unlike fish stories, no one ever uses their “friend’s” name.
Sitting in my fridge were three perfectly legal geese. And up until this meal, I’ve never actually cooked a goose before. But, animals with two legs are all basically constructed the same way under their feathers. So, using what I know from the thousands of chickens I have broken down in my day, I proceeded to successfully dismember two of them. The third is going to a friend, whole. She wants to experiment with something new.
I’ve eaten lots of geese in my day as I come from a long line of hunters and so my dad was regularly feeding us things procured from the bow of a snow-covered rowboat. Because they eat a lot of grass and algae, geese can be on the gamey side. Because they fly, their breast meat needs a long, wet braise to break down the meat into something meltingly tender. The more an animal uses a muscle, the tougher the meat. Geese fly, hence tough breasts. Chickens don’t therefore breasts are tender and due to strict regulation of their diet, rather bland in the flavor category.
I took off the legs and sent those to the freezer. I’m doing further research on confit of goose leg, and am in the market for an old French recipe, so if you have one, do email!
Then, I proceeded to remove the breast from the body cavity the same way one does chicken. Notice the lack of knife in the next picture. When you start doing butchering one of the first things you’ll notice is that a lot of the muscle structure isn’t actually held together by anything and pulling apart with your hands removes the potential for damaging too much meat with a sharp blade. Use your knife for skin and tendons, but don’t hesitate to get in there with your fingers. Every jeweler that has ever cleaned my rings asks what I don for a living and I take great pride in that.
Each bird will produce two breast halves, and loosely attached to these are the tenderloins. If you have the energy, dust with a little flour ,salt and pepper and cook quickly in some hot oil for a goose finger snack. Or, cut them into a few pieces and add to the stew. Remove the skin from the breasts and discard. Cut the breast meat into bite-sized chunks.
A word here about shot. As you are doing your butchery, you may notice some entry and/or exit wounds. While running the meat under cold water, use your finger to completely clean the wound of coagulated blood and more importantly, use your fingers to feel around for any shot. I thoroughly felt up all four breasts looking for something smaller than a bb, perfectly spherical, usually black, and so hard that if you miss it and bite down on any in your stew, you’ll break a tooth. It takes a while to do, but no more time than sitting in the emergency room. This meat didn’t come Cryovaced, after all. I’d share a picture, but I didn’t find any shot in my geese.
Then, finish with the cutting until your goose breasts are all cut up into bite-sized, about 1″ cubes. Proceed with recipe, adapted from Garvey, another hunter friend:
Wild Goose Stew
3 T olive oil (not extra virgin)
1 cup diced onion
1/2 cup diced celery
1/2 cup peeled, diced carrot
1/2 cup peeled, diced parsnip
Sea Salt & Fresh black pepper
1 T dry thyme
3 bay leaves
1/2 tsp sugar
2 T veal demi glace*
1/2 cup unoaked red wine
1/2 cup soy sauce
Cut up meat from two wild geese
2 T flour
2 cups water
2 cups diced waxy potatoes like yukon golds
Polenta, cooked to your liking for serving
Heat the oven to 350º. In a large dutch oven with a tight fitting lid, heat the olive oil. Add the onion, celery, carrot, parsnip and a heavy pinch of salt and pepper. Cook over medium-high until the carrots turn bright orange, about three minutes. Add the thyme, bay leaves, sugar and demi glace. Stir until the demi glace liquifies in the hot oil. Add the wine and reduce by half. Add the soy sauce and the meat. Toss to coat the meat with the stew base. Then, sprinkle with the flour and stir until the pot no longer smells like raw flour, about a minute. Add the water, cover and bring to a boil. Move the pot into the hot oven and let cook 2 1/2 hours. Stir in the potatoes and add hot water if the stew is looking too dry for your tastes. Continue to cook another hour. Remove the bay leaves, adjust the seasoning and serve over polenta.
*Ok, so remember all that stuff I was saying about knowing where your food comes from? Well, I don’t just have veal demi glace laying around all the time. I found something in the supermarket called Better than Bouillon and gave it a try. Recognizable ingredients, less salt content than bouillon cubes and no MSG. Next time I make real veal demi glace, I’ll let you know. But don’t hold your breath. And don’t judge me.