Roasting a goose for the holidays may seem like something straight out of a Charles Dickens novel, but this time-tested tradition is making a comeback.
Whether it's adventurous cooks or families seeking an old-fashioned holiday dinner, demand for geese has gone up, farmers and retailers say. And helping to feed that appetite is Pitman Family Farms in Sanger, Calif.
The Pitmans, producers of Mary's Free Range chickens, turkeys and ducks, got into the geese business three years ago and now supply all 340 Whole Foods stores.
Mary Pitman, company founder, says they began raising geese after getting numerous requests from their customers. The Pitmans choose the Embden variety for its heartiness and succulent flavor. The birds, a popular variety in Europe, were also fed a vegetarian and antibiotic-free diet, per Whole Foods' strict standards.
This year, the Pitman's processed about 3,000 geese for the holiday season.
"The interest really seems to be growing," says David Pitman, who represents the third-generation of the family and oversees the poultry operation. "We see a resurgence in people wanting to bring back Christmas traditions."
For decades, roasted goose has been a favorite Christmas dish among many European countries. The rich dark meat bird has an intense flavor that can be too fatty for some.
For others, it is the perfect blend of flavors.
"The last time I made a goose, I had to cut my guests off from eating anymore," says Jim Belcher, owner of Kristina's Natural Ranch Market. "I wanted to make sure I had some for later."
Belcher, who sells Mary's Free Range geese, has seen sales grow at least 20 percent in the last several years. His online store also ships geese all over the country.
Food enthusiasts love the rich flavor of geese, despite its fatty nature.
Tari Simpson of Fresno, Calif., cooked her first goose 12 years ago, having been inspired by Victorian literature. She prepared the goose using a pomegranate port glaze.
"It turned out fantastic, if a little fatty," says Simpson.
Two years ago, she hosted a small dinner party where she roasted a goose and used a marmalade glaze. She also served Brussels sprouts and potatoes cooked in goose fat. She even used the leftovers to make pot pies the next day.
Although she loves the flavor, Simpson has learned to remove some of the excess skin and fat before cooking. She also rendered the excess fat and stored it in the freezer for later use.
"Goose fat is wonderful for making crusts, browning potatoes and adding that extra savoriness to many dishes," she says. "Try a spoonful at the last minute in risotto. Wonderful."
3 tablespoons cracked mixed black, white and green peppercorns
3 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves, divided
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
Salt, to taste
1 (7- to 10-pound) goose, cleaned
Ground black pepper, to taste
1 large yellow onion, quartered
2 large carrots, peeled and chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1/4 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces
Heat oven to 375 F.
To prepare glaze, in a small bowl mix together the peppercorns, 2 tablespoons of the thyme leaves, the olive oil and garlic. Season with the salt, then set aside.
Season outside and cavity of the goose with salt and the pepper. Brush glaze over outside of goose, reserving any extra for basting during cooking.
Arrange the onion, carrots and celery in roasting pan. Set goose on top of vegetables. Roast in preheated oven for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, basting occasionally with drippings and any remaining glaze.
Goose is done when it is golden-brown and crispy, juice from cavity runs clear and an instant-read thermometer inserted at thickest part of breast and innermost part of thigh reads at least 165 F.
Cover goose with foil and let it rest for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare sauce. Pour pan drippings through a mesh strainer and into a fat separator. Discard fat, or reserve it for another use.
In a small saucepan over medium heat, whisk together the butter and pan juices. Chop remaining 1 tablespoon of thyme, then add that. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Carve goose and serve with pan sauce.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
— Recipe from "Home Cooking with Charlie Trotter" by Charlie Trotter (Ten Speed Press, 2008, $25).