Christmas is coming,
the geese are getting fat …
—traditional nursery rhyme
The Christmas goose. It’s mentioned in Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” depicted (in its yet-to-be-plucked form) in the Norman Rockwell painting “Christmas Goose/Muggelton’s Stagecoach,” and was a mainstay of the holiday table in England from the time of Elizabeth I into the Victorian era (where poor families could join “goose clubs” and make small payments throughout the year in order to afford one).
But these days, the goose has lost its place on the menu, supplanted by turkeys, hams, and any number of other centerpiece dishes. It has, says one local butcher, gone out of style.
“People ask for it—not all the time, but sometimes you have people that would like to do something different,” says Ariel Martinez, who’s been a butcher at McKinnon’s Meat Market for 14 years. “It’s not something we sell all the time.”
Its fall from grace would seem to be reflected in the offerings of Somerville restaurants; a survey of menus from a variety of establishments didn’t turn up a hint of goose. And if any are planning to offer it as part of a special Christmas dinner, well, they must be keeping it a secret.
If you’re feeling adventurous and want to cook your own holiday goose, you’ll need to plan ahead; Martinez says they’ll need a week or maybe two to get one in, as it will probably have to come from an out-of-state farm. The last goose he remembers selling was in the 10- to 12-pound range and probably would have fed eight people, depending on the size of their appetites. But be aware, it’s not going to be like cooking a slightly smaller turkey.
“The turkey is large and tender piece of meat,” says Martinez. “The goose, you’ve got to cook it so long because it’s not as tender.”
They’re fatty, like duck (in a GQ article from a few years back, James Beard Award-winning food writer Hank Shaw called them “the pigs of the air”), and that can be both rewarding and challenging to the cook. And there are some people in the area who seek it out.
“We sell about 200 over the holiday season,” says Christopher Walker, general manager of Savenor’s Market in Cambridge.
And those customers don’t fall into any particular group or demographic, he says. They’re all over the spectrum, and he suspects one reason is because it’s so much easier to find new recipes these days, from the internet to Bon Appetit to the New York Times.
“I think people get tired of traditional things,” Walker says. “The goose used to be traditional, but it fell out of favor and now it’s the new turkey.”
His customers sometimes even replace their Thanksgiving turkey with a goose, but most of them are sold for Christmas. Walker also cites the goose’s layer of fat as one of its charms, keeping the meat moist and flavorful as it renders out (and worth saving to roast potatoes or other vegetables in).
For his part, Martinez says he likes goose when it’s cooked well, and that usually means the low-and-slow approach.
“At the end, some people put a little wine on the top and that makes a difference,” he adds.
But, he notes, he has never cooked one himself. And while he’s sometimes enjoyed goose that has been prepared by others, it doesn’t always work out that way.
So, as this year’s holidays roll around, the Martinez family is far more likely to turn to the new champions of the table.
“We’ll cook a little turkey, a little pork loin, a little roast beef,” he says. “We kind of mix and match, you know.”
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