French way to cook goose leaves nothing but the feathers
Sounds like there's a Siamese cat or something out here,'' I said to Peggy Glass, as she led me through the backdoor into her gleaming new kitchen. ''Oh no, that's only the goat. Actually we have two,'' she answered casually. (They were somewhere out there in the dark along with the beehives, I later learned.)
Not your typical suburban home in this bedroom community of Auburndale - just outside Boston.
But then, Peggy is hardly your stereotypical cooking teacher. When she's not milking the goats or tending the bees, she's teaching the ''Magic Rabbit'' cooking classes from her home kitchen - that is, between being the wife of a doctor and mother of three youngsters.
She's also young and attractive, with soft red hair the color of Scottish smoked salmon. And although Peggy confesses to being a glutton, she doesn't appear much larger than the Grace Goose lamp glowing on the kitchen counter - symbolic of the reluctant star of tonight's demonstration.
Peggy taught a few cooking courses in California, but art was really her vocation there. ''I started out as a graphic artist, something I intended to continue when I came East, but there wasn't an available studio here when I arrived,'' she explained before one of her evening classes.
To use up some of that creative energy and to broaden her interest in food, Peggy signed up for cooking lessons with teacher and author Madeleine Kamman.
''I was really struggling to learn the techniques of French cooking,'' she says. ''Then one day it just seemed to come together in a flash. Eureka! That was it.
''Once you learn the techniques, the world is yours.''
Six years ago she started her home classes and now teaches serious cooking students as well as interested housewives, and some men too.
''Men,'' she says, ''are closet cooks. I don't know why, but they always sign up for classes in chocolate!''
The challenging part, Peggy thinks, is coming up with lessons that will be of value and interest to professional students and yet not be too difficult for the casual cook.
''What I'm basically trying to do is teach techniques and pique my students' curiosity. I want them to learn to think creatively. I want them to look at a chicken and know they can do more than roast it.''
Peggy excuses herself each time the doorbell rings, greets every student, and watches patiently as they file in, ogle the 12-pound goose sprawled out on the counter, and give it an unceremonious poke.
As the dozen or so students pull their stools up to the counter, she begins by explaining the technique and history of confit - the French method of cooking and preserving meat, usually goose, in its own fat. It was a practical way of preserving meat before refrigeration.
''Just remember to cook the confit slowly,'' she emphasizes. ''If the fat is too hot what will you get?
''Right. Fried goose. Properly done, it should be tender enough to push a straw through.''
She pulls over a large round earthenware casserole containing a confit of goose she made weeks earlier. Scraping a tablespoon or two of fat from the top, she drops it in a large saucepan and adds some corn kernels.
''We're starting out with popcorn flavored with the confit fat.
''This fat,'' she insists, ''is liquid gold and may be kept frozen indefinitely and reused to make more confit.
''Don't ever throw out goose or duck fat. It's wonderful to saute vegetables in. If you don't want it, bring it to me and I'll make marvelous things with it. Actually, after tonight you will too.''
As the popcorn gets passed around, Peggy starts carefully boning the goose.
Although all the meat usually goes into a confit, tonight Peggy has some other ideas to demonstrate the versatility of this noble bird.
''We're going to save the breast meat and grill it in a little butter like steak. Then we'll make a pate out of the liver, stock out of the carcass, cracklings out of the skin, and render the fat for a confit. Even the gizzard from the confit we'll slice and put in a salad.''
And holding up the wishbone she has just extracted, she says,''This I give to the kids to play with!''
Here is Peggy's recipe for a confit of goose, along with some suggested ideas for the leftover bits and pieces. Confit of Goose or Duck 1 goose or 2 ducks, about 13 pounds 4 tablespoons coarse salt 1/2 teaspoon black pepper 4 large cloves garlic, finely chopped 4 bay leaves, crumbled 2 teaspoons crushed thyme
Carefully bone uncooked goose or ducks and cut into serving pieces. Boning is difficult to explain. If you are unfamilar with the technique, detailed instructions with pictures are in many cookbooks.
GRILL: Reserve breast meat and grill it later, like a piece of steak.
STOCK: To make stock, brown carcass and wing tips in small amount of butter and add aromatics such as leek tops, parsley stems, chopped carrot and onions, and a bay leaf. Reserve neck and gizzard for confit.
Add water to cover and simmer partially covered for at least 3 hours. Once cooled and defatted, it may be frozen for future use as a base for soup or sauces.
CRACKLIN'S: To render fat and to make cracklin's, remove excess skin including neck and fat from carcass. Cut into very small pieces.
Place in double boiler with 1/2 cup water, and render fat over low heat until skin pieces turn a light brown, about 2 hours. Strain cracklin's.
Brown further in a shallow pan in 350 degree F. oven until golden, about 20 minutes. Serve lightly salted in a tossed salad or omelette, or freeze for later use.
CONFIT: Combine salt, chopped garlic, thyme, and crumbled bay leaf. Rub this mixture into goose pieces, including gizzard, and layer them in a shallow noncorrosive bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 12 but not more that 24 hours, turning occasionally.
Rinse goose pieces well under cold water to remove salt. Drain and pat dry with paper towels.
Place goose pieces in pan and cover completely with rendered fat. If there is not enough fat to cover, chicken fat or lard may be added. Slowly bring almost to boiling point, then turn down to barely a simmer.
Cook uncovered about 1 1/2 hours, or until meat is very soft and tender.
Cool slightly, pack in a crock, and strain rendered fat over meat. Cover with foil and refrigerate.
Flavor will develop slowly over a period of weeks. Confit may be kept refrigerated for months.
Meat may be removed from fat and broiled or sauteed, or used in recipe for a French cassoulet.
HORS D'OEUVRE: To make an interesting and rich hors d'oeuvre, shred pieces of confit from goose neck and wings, mix in enough fat to moisten, a clove of chopped garlic, and a pinch of thyme. Pack in a small crock and serve with good bread and sour pickles.
POPCORN: And don't forget to try some popcorn with the confitm fat.