Thursday, December 23, 2010

How I Know Goose Down Works

After a big breakfast of chorizo fried up and smothered all over eggs and tortillas, then an unfruitful-for-everyone-except-me-'cause-I-got-new-slippers-and-boy-oh-boy-are-they-great excursion to the bizarre bazaar known as the Swap-O-Rama, I embarked with old Crazy Hair on a mission to "deal with" two beautiful wild geese a friend of his had shot up North. As I learned a few weeks ago, for most, being a city guy chef really means little when out of the comfort zone of delivery trucks bringing already "dealt with" stuff to your back door. With the exception of fish, I'd never really cleaned anything the whole way--I'm talking flying feathers and bristles and steaming guts here. I've seen it done, and have worked with cleaned whole pigs and halves of cows (which, by the way, was done in sublime fashion with a pig by a friend via tutelage from the beyond capable hands of one of the city's best butchers/larders). Sure, these are birds--easier to distance oneself from than the gently masticating cows and funny and cute pigs of the world, when they are warm, at least--and my hunter friends laugh at me when I talk about this, but still, looking at something and not being able to get out of your mind that it is just sleeping as you begin to rip feathers out of its body can be a bit of a task. But, with a great reverence for the lovely creatures in front of us, we did it anyway:
We read that despite the fact that blanching the birds quickly in warm water helps the plucking process, it was better to not blanch so as to avoid any "cooking" of the birds before it was intended. So, there was a lot of grabbing, holding, and ripping involved.
Disjointing the wings by gently working a boning knife through the tendons in the "elbow" got a lot of the feathers out of the way--helping mentally as we worked through a seemingly endless scape of feathers only to be greeted by soft fuzz underneath. Goose down is coveted for a reason--softer than much else I've ever felt, and the birds were pretty well insulated despite a long rest in the refrigerator.
When we'd finally made it through all that down and removed wings, we removed the heads (which can be done as described with the wings above, or Christmas Story style with a cleaver), then hung the geese to singe any remaining down with a blowtorch. One goose was pretty smooth; the other gave some trouble and got a fair amount of rips in it. It could've been the goose; it could've been the plucker (me). Who knows. But the layer of skin and fat, despite all of this, was still really nice and thick despite the cosmetic blemishes.
So, after a couple of hours outside, noses dripping, hands frozen, covered in feathers, we went back inside to finish the job. In the sink, we gently sliced open the geese on the tail end to eviscerate them. Some interesting smells found their way out--the most prevalent one of pond mud made perfect sense.
We rinsed everything and set the hearts and livers aside for instant eating...
...and had our ready-to-use geese. The more torn up one is currently in fat for confit; the other will be a roast tomorrow night.
The livers were fried and sliced...
...and Crazy Hair pulled out some pork heart and venison to join the party. Being outside and in the circus land of swap-o-rama had made us all tired and hungry and cold, so we drank some scotch, then some wine, ate some lovely bass broiled with soy standing up...
...then sat down to a papaya and grapefruit salad with an interestingly named super hot dressing happily full of fish sauce served with the sliced goose liver, pork heart and venison.
Being out in the cold was exhausting. But what a great day and experience--reminded me of anytime I've killed an animal to eat, and how that re-centers me a bit an reminds me of the respect we should all have for what we eat. I've always thought that if you're going to eat it, you've got to be able to kill it, at least once. And certainly, you've got to be able to clean it. Doing this makes you respect it a bit more, and this is one of the more important relationships that needs to exist between us and our food, don't you think?
PS--Be sure to check out the link to the pig butchering above--you'll find more links to some pretty amazing pictures of that event by someone who really knows how to use a camera. Here at F.o.t.D., that's still a pretty major work in progress.


  1. How did your goose turn out? Was all of the struggling with down paid off by a feast of goose?

  2. The geese were delicious indeed. The one I was able to taste was prepared two ways: the legs were confited in fat until melting and falling apart in the most delicious of ways. The breast was seared in a cast iron pan, kept nice and rare-medium rare. The thing that surprised me was how tender the meat was on the breast--not overwhelmingly gamey whatsoever. The conclusion was that goose is best cooked multiple ways--as described above--otherwise the difference in rate at which the legs and breasts cook is just too vast. Either way, it was a great experience, start to finish--and everything was used. Old crazy hair was sure to make stock from the carcasses and every last drop of everything was utilized. A beautiful process.


  3. Hi Hugh -- I do enjoy your blog so much.
    Next time you have a goose to pluck, take the advice of Ralph Moody (from the biographical 'Little Britches' series of books) and after you've pulled the feathers off (but the down's still there), coat the goose with a layer of paraffin or candle wax. All the down stuff should peel right off, clean as a whistle.

  4. That's a very useful thing to know Cindy!

  5. Indeed, Cindy--reminds me of the clay-baked ducks in South East Asia--the whole thing gets covered in mud, goes into a hot ash lined hole in the earth, and when it comes out, the clay cracks off, leaving a rich, moist feast...thanks for the tip!


  6. I'm guessing that's the "No Pussy" sauce?

  7. where is the restaurant?
    Is the restaurant still open?