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Au revoir, Oie.

An update on our first time Goose Rearing exploits.

Square Feet

Goose Feet

The deed was done last Friday and a 48 72 hour processing and cooking marathon was underway. Everything you might have read about plucking a goose is true. It’s not for the feint of heart nor the weak of thumb! Minus feathers, wingtips, innards and necks the dressed out weight of each bird was a touch under 5kg. That’s a lot of Oie to turn into winter food.

The livers I’d expected to be a particular treat – I wasn’t disappointed. My birds had nothing like the gigantic engorged livers of birds put through gavage but one of them did have the look of a foie-gras. We’d deliberately moved the birds into a smaller enclosure to ‘finish’ them. No running around a large paddock and feeding them up on cereals and vegetable scraps for their last six weeks or so helps bring them into table ready condition. We were not disappointed.

A diet that was all grass and corn gave us plenty of yellow fat inside the carcass. Again, not as much as you see in commercial birds that are fed up specifically for their fattened livers but still good. I’d harvested all the internal body fat and rendered that down and filtered it. Got a good couple of bowls that I’ve used for confit. One bowl will be reserved exclusively for roasting spuds. A roast spud done in goose fat is a thing of glory.

What have we knocked up so far?

First evening, a soup made with the necks and wingtips.

Liver. Nothing for it, I ended up cutting little slabs from the lobes of the fatty liver and quickly pan-frying them in a knob of butter… just long enough to crisply seal the outside and to allow the liver to begin to give up a little of it’s own fat. Eaten straight out of the pan… literally melted in the mouth with a very subtle / delicate flavour. Potted goose livers like this are €58/kg in the shops. Ouch. Even then you have to buy them mi-cuit. Not the same.

I’ve made a pate au foie de oie avec truffes noir.  Blimey, this was a bit special. The foie-gras flavour from the goose livers came through.. along with that indefineably earthy flavour of truffles. I don’t quite think I’ve ever had a more delicious pate. Ever. Ever ever.

First time ever making rilletes – a particularly French version of potted meat and excellent winter snack food on a piece of grilled sourdough. Mine were pretty good. I’d used 50:50 mix of pork shoulder and goose meat for this and finished it after nine hours simmering with plenty of black pepper and paprika. The falling apart meat is blitzed to a smooth paste with copious quantities of the reduced meat juices and reserved fat from the cooking.

Pans and pans of confit legs and thighs etc. I’d also confit’ed the larger pieces of trimmings for use in sausages… more of this later.

A Roast dinner. The principal reason we got Geese – to have a roast goose for xmas dinner. Now, this presents a problem. Our normal domestic oven won’t fit a whole goose for roasting I’m afraid. We do have a bigger oven but then I’m not – this year at least – doing xmas dinner for a dozen people. No, a single breast, leg and thigh have been reserved for solo roasting for xmas. With our own redcurrant jelly, our own squash etc. etc. It’ll feed us for a week.

Sausages. Rather nice these.  Equal quantity of goose breast, pork shoulder and lardons fumé. Seasoned with shallots, garlic, chillis, salt, ground black pepper and coarsely chopped pink peppercorns. The je-ne-sais-quoi comes from the couple of handfuls of bits of cooked confit meat and the reduced stock that’s left over from making the confit. Pure undiluted Umami!  You can’t buy sausages like this – and if you could you’d have to pay a fortune for ’em. I shall christen them Bellebouche Love Sausages!

Pie. Oh dear, I ran out of sausage casings. The addition of minced poitrine de porc and a hotwater crust will make a grandiose Escoffier style  pork/goose pie and a whole ‘nother future blog post. We like pie.

Confit Gesiers. The Gizzards. The unspeakable organ that’s filled with stones/bile and does all of the work of grinding down the grass and grains that the birds eat. On eviscerating the bird I know what to feel for as I draw the intestines but I had something of a visceral shock at the sheer size of the gizzard when my hand was up inside the bird. I had to weigh it for posterity. 243g (empty/cleaned) and about three times the size of the heart. So, all of that unpleasantness aside? The muscle itself is bullet hard. Confit is the only realistic thing you could do with it  and even after a good 5 hours gentle simmering in oil it is only just done and it does still retain that firmness. Once warmed through and drained of the fat it’s stored in, the gesiers are quite delicious on a warm salad. I’ll be saving these for the first outdoor lunch of 2010. It should be just about the time that we’re planning on buying (or hatching!) the 2010 geese.

So, that’s it, nothing left but the Oink. Kind of.

And on which subject, raising animals like this for our own food purposes brings home some real truths about eating meat. The actual act of dispatching the animal as quickly and cleanly as possible is still, to me at least, very unpleasant. It brought back all of the memories and emotions of when we raised (and processed) our own pigs. Two years after the fact for that and there’s not a great deal left aside from some prosciuitto. We’ve had chickens and guinea fowl in the interim but a large animal like this is something altogether different – even so,  I long for another couple of pigs.

Raising the geese was fun, they had free-range of the paddock and about 2000 M² of grass to eat. I was pleased as I only had to mow that paddock twice  this year – we could have comfortably have raised half a dozen on the same size area.

We gave them swimming lessons, Joan taught them to half-fly and as soon as they had proper feathers we were walking them down to the reed bed for swimming lessons. Towards the end I bought them a little paddling pool when they’d outgrown their original little baby bath. They actively battled over it and it was a huge hit. Next year it’ll be a big hit I’m sure.

So, up early the next morning to let the other animals out and I’m struck by that same tremendous empty feeling of loss I had after the demise of the pigs because they’ve gone. I don’t have to let them out of their digs and and give them a bowl of carrot peelings for their brekkie and a dried up corn cob for a treat. They’re just not there. Harsh stuff and all the more reason to celebrate them when they’re gone. Rest assured that every goose tinged meal we’ll enjoy we’ll say a quiet little thankyou to our fluffy chums.

Should you consider raising your own animals or struggle with the issues raised in the eating thereof  I can’t recommend the excellent Omnivores Dilemma by Michael Pollan highly enough. It touches on a thousand and one food issues in far more depth than I’ve covered here and I would encourage anyone to read it.

The original The River Cottage Cookbook served as inspiration for much of our adventure here. Hugh fearlessly – in this original book – captures much of the spirit and intent in what a downshifted life and a close relationship with what’s on your plate is all about. If this book didn’t exist I’d have to write it.

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  1. ps says:

    What a superb read Ade. This has been sat in my RSS reader for a little while now, and I like to wait until I have the time to read your blog entries properly, to do them justice.

    You lead such a different life to me, which I find utterly compelling to read. The way you document in detail can be a joy to read (even if the subject is sometimes a little grisly). Between your cooking exploits and your photography, Bellebouche is high on my reading list 😀

    1. bellebouche says:


      What lovely feedback! Glad you’re enjoying the blog – it’s great to hear stuff like this.

      We set out on a bit of an adventure doing this a few years ago and it’s a thrill to have a few people along for the vicarious trip!