Chicken coops may be sprouting up on rooftops and backyards around the city, but don’t expect domesticated geese to be taking up urban residence anytime soon. “The biggest reason I don’t think you’ll ever see geese in an urban setting, or even a suburban setting, is they’re very loud,” said Hank Shaw, the author of Duck, Duck, Goose. “They honk at everything.”
Their vociferousness even saved ancient Rome from invasion, according to legend. A flock of sacred geese dedicated to the goddess Juno* woke up Roman guards when Gallic enemies tried to invade.
“If you’ve ever been to a goose farm, and you walk up to the geese and they don’t know you, they’ll all stand at the edge of the fence and yell at you,” explained Shaw, whose website Hunter Angler Gardener Cook won a James Beard award last year.
Another characteristic of geese is that they don’t survive well when penned up. That means keeping them in battery cages, which are often used in a factory-farm settings, is out of the question.
“Geese are one of oldest domesticated animals that we know of, but they have thus far resisted our ability to mess with them, which I think is kind of cool,” added Shaw.
That means that the goose you find at farmers markets and even in supermarkets has probably had the ability to run around in a normal, goose-like manner. The need for space is tied to their diet, which is comprised largely of grasses. Shaw compares geese to grass-fed beef.
“You can’t really do a good goose farm unless you have access to pasture and grass,” he said. “So it’s sort of a natural feedback system that works really well, and it creates a really nice product.”
So for those of us who are looking for a sustainable, responsible source of meat, goose is a good choice. It’s also in season right now, and fresh geese will likely only be available for a few more weeks.
(Photo: Hank Shaw/Photography (c) 2013 by Holly A. Heyser)
“When you can start seeing spring in your mind’s eye, the goose season is pretty much over,” said Shaw. That’s because geese typically lay eggs around April, then spend most of the year growing to maturity. The market season for geese traditionally starts on September 29, or Michaelmas.
The birds generally only lay eggs once a year, and the goslings are more delicate than chicks or ducklings. Those factors, combined with the need for space, mean goose is expensive compared to other types of meat. In order to make the most of that pricey bird, Shaw recommends breaking it down into pieces. He cautions against roasting the bird whole, since different parts cook at very different temperatures.
Instead, for the goose breast, he said to score the skin, pan sear it, and then finish it in the oven. And don’t be scared of the layer of fat you find under the skin.
“That goose fat is one of the big benefits of getting a goose,” said Shaw. “Goose fat has the lowest level of saturated fat of any animal fat, and that includes duck fat. It’s the closest thing you can get to an oil in animal fat. I mean, it is totally liquid at room temperature.”
Try a recipe from Shaw’s Duck, Duck, Goose for Pan-Seared Goose Breast With Orange and Ouzo.
*Whoops, not Minerva as Hank guessed.