28 November 1997

More choose goose to eat on Christmas Day

ARE you one in 50,000? Those who have goose for Christmas dinner may claim this distinction.

But not for long. More and more people are fancying something other than turkey for Christmas and plumping for goose, the traditional festive bird of days gone by. So much so that Kerry Foods of Redgrave, Norfolk, the countrys largest goose producer, predict an 8% increase in sales, and buy or order early is the advice from the Goose Information Bureau.

Supermarket prices are expected to be around £5.80/kg (£2.63/lb) for fresh birds and £4.80/kg (£2.18/lb) for frozen ones. Average oven-ready size is 4-5kg (enough for six people), but birds up to 6kg oven ready should be available and sufficient for nine people.

&#42 Buying British

You can be sure of buying a British bird in the supermarket by checking the wrapper for the UK 5004 EEC marking. If you are buying a bird to dress yourself be aware that soft, yellow feet and downy legs indicate a young one.

The goose is still a seasonal bird. The laying season is a brief few weeks – April to July – with an average of only 2.5 eggs a goose a week. It is still a traditionally reared bird, too, even on large goose farming units. Grass paddocks to graze, ad lib root vegetables and a back up cereal feed is what they thrive on. Shelter from the heat or rain and stout fencing are essential. Foxes are a constant menace but thieves the biggest predator.

The first birds are ready at Michaelmas, late September, and the fresh table bird season will run on until December, though supermarkets may only have fresh birds at Christmas.

Newcomers to goose cooking could well be put off by comments about "all that fat" and those handed down tales of goose grease and brown paper vests to ward off chesty winter ills. It is a fatty bird, and its fat can be put to many good uses – mainly culinary ones which include making roast potatoes even more delicious than usual and producing super pastry. Dont let thoughts of fat deter you. A properly cooked bird will be lean and rich in taste.

Remove any surplus fat from the body cavity before cooking (This can be melted down separately. NB. Romans considered goose fat to be an aphrodisiac!)

&#42 Breast upwards

Stand a trivet in the roasting tray and place the bird breast uppermost on this. It will allow melted fat to drain off and not be reabsorbed. But first prick the skin and rub in salt and pepper and brush lightly with cooking oil.

Fruit complements goose well. The recipes we give here use apples and prunes in a stuffing and pears and apples in a sauce. But there are many other possibilities and the Goose Information Bureau, 9 Thorpe Road, Norwich, Norfolk NR1 1EP (01603-616097) can supply recipe leaflets and advice.

Ann Rogers

The festive goose is back in favour.