Learning to Love Canada Goose

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Holly A. Heyser


Canada geese get a bad rap. We all know this goose. It's the one that chokes our parks, wanders around our neighborhoods, and leaves great cylindrical snakes o' crap all over the place. Sky carp. Flying rats. Stinking, arrogant hissing birds that frighten children.

Yeah, Canadas can be all of these things. But in the right circumstances they can be wonderful at the table, in many ways better even than either a domestic goose or a wild specklebelly goose, which is known to those of us who hunt them as "the ribeye of the sky."

I managed to return from my sojourn to Manitoba with five Canada geese, and since then I've been busy trying to elevate what most people view as barely a step above vermin.

I should start by noting that there are Canada geese and there are Canada geese; incidentally, it is most definitely not a "Canadian goose." That drives me nuts. The geese I shot happened to be Canadian because I killed them in Manitoba. But the species is correctly known as "Canada goose." Got it? Good.

As I was saying, there are all sorts of geese that look like Canadas, from tiny Aleutian geese no larger than a mallard, to the Giant Canadas, which can reportedly top 18 pounds. That, my friends, is one big-ass sky carp. The geese I shot were a mix of cacklers, which are only about three to four pounds, lesser Canada geese, which are about five to seven pounds, and one big Western Canada, which weighed nearly 13 pounds. That was a monster.

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Wikimedia Commons

Canada geese live like large mallards, which is why you see them sharing the same park ponds. Both birds will eat just about anything, from bread and algae to insects, crayfish, and, yes, grain. How a Canada tastes depends on what that bird ate before you shot it. And because they are such eclectic eaters, it really, really matters.

My geese had been gorging on barley, so I knew they'd be fine. Not sure I'd eat a Canada out of Central Park in Manhattan, though, unless I were really, really hungry. But who knows? Maybe it'd taste like knishes, hot dog buns, and hard pretzels?

When it comes to cleaning these birds, lots of people get turned off. This is understandable: Once you start talking about an animal 12 pounds or larger, everything gets harder to deal with.

I highly recommend aging your geese, in the feathers, with the guts in, for one to three days. I wrote a tutorial about hanging game birds that goes into details. Big geese can be tough—they can live more than 20 years even in the wild. Aging develops flavor and tenderizes the meat. Gotta love enzymatic acrobatics—thanks, meat science!

The feathers on a large Canada are tough to remove, and waxing one takes two full blocks of paraffin. God help you if you try to dry-pluck one. Once you get to the gutting, I often hear people say, "Christ it stank! Was so bad I tossed the bird." That's a crying shame, because the stink is, in most cases, just the fact that the ass end of a Canada goose is so large the sheer mass of crap makes the whole thing smelly—until you remove it and wash the cavity. You've seen a goose crap on the grass, right? Can you even remember seeing duck crap? Waaay smaller. Shit happens. It's an occupational hazard when you deal with larger animals.

I should have taken a picture of my big Canada goose, all plucked and cleaned and gutted. It was so big I could have stuffed it with one of the smaller geese. And then a duck in the small goose, then a quail in the duck, a snipe in the quail ... but I digress.

There are no pictures because I broke it down. (Here's how to break down a game bird.) Sorry. As pretty as cooking a whole goose is, I generally don't recommend it. I like my breasts medium to rare (yeah, I'm snickering too... ) and my thighs well-done. Very hard to do this on a whole bird.

So, armed with all kinds of random goose parts, what to do with them? I have a whole ton of duck and goose recipes already on the site, so every new season I try to refine old recipes and then attempt to stretch myself a bit with new recipes.

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Holly A. Heyser

Yeah, that's a goose neck. Specifically, it's the neck from the big Canada goose. I stuffed it with ground goose meat and spices, tied it off at either end, and roasted it à la ficelle, so it would be evenly browned. (Here is how to make sausages using a bird's neck as the casing.)

I've stuffed goose necks many times before, but the new bit was roasting the neck à la ficelle, a cooking technique dating back to the 16th century in which you suspend meat over or next to a heat source. The ficelle is the string, and if you have meat hanging next to a fire, and not in an oven as I did, you twist the string so the meat rotates—it's a ghetto rotisserie. The result is very even browning.

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Hank Shaw runs the website Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, nominated for Best Food Blog by the James Beard Foundation in 2009 and 2010. He is the author of the recently released Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast. More

A former line cook, veteran political reporter, and fisherman, Hank Shaw is a freelance food writer who runs the website Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, which chronicles Shaw's search for what he calls the Forgotten Feast: The seasonal foods--mostly wild--we once delighted in, but are now curiosities at best. Game, wild mushrooms, seafood, and wild plants all have a place in modern cooking, and Shaw spends his days exploring their possibilities on the plate.

Hunter Angler Gardener Cook was nominated for Best Food Blog by the James Beard Foundation in both 2009 and 2010 and by the International Association of Culinary Professionals in 2010. He is the author of the recently released Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast. His work has appeared in magazines such as The Art of Eating, Field & Stream, and Gastronomica. He hunts, fishes, forages, and gardens in Northern California with his girlfriend--and photographer--Holly A. Heyser.
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