If you’re all turkey-ed out, why not cook duck or goose for Christmas dinner?
Whether it’s a local farm or neighborhood butcher shop, there’s a whole selection of birds to choose from.
Matt Trafton, store manager at Wine’ing Butcher’s location in Bedford, said in a phone interview that while turkey is their most popular bird this time of year, they also have chicken, quail, goose and duck.
“After people get done with Thanksgiving, they’re ... looking for something else,” Tim Rocha, owner of Kellie Brook Farm in Greenland, said in a phone interview. They raise turkeys, chickens and ducks, the latter of which is the most popular during the Christmas season.
For Jim Czack, farmer and owner of Elevage de Volailles in Rye, Christmas time is always associated with geese (though he’s already sold out of his white embden geese for the year).
“Being of German descent it was always traditional that you have a goose for Christmas so I am trying to bring that tradition back … and more away from the turkey,” he said. “Turkey is for Turkey Day.”
All cooked up
While sundry other meats may taste “just like chicken,” that’s not the case when it comes to duck and goose — so they can’t be cooked “just like chicken” either.
“People are afraid of waterfowl,”Czack said. “They’re afraid to cook it because they don’t know how to cook it.”
He said a goose should be cooked medium to medium rare, only about 160 degrees, and likened more to red meat than poultry.
“I try to tell them to think of it as lamb,” he said.
Though it’s a “labor of love,” for Czack, roasting a goose in the oven is the only way to prepare it.
“You’re going to spend some time in the kitchen,” he said. “You’re not going to put the bird in the oven and go watch the football game.”
Before embarking on the quest to provide your holiday guests with a unique dining experience, Trafton said to make sure they’re aware and ready to enjoy a bird that’s quite different than most poultry.
“[Duck is] a bit heartier, it’s almost like eating a steak,” he said. “Duck breast is really dark and the texture is different. Really rich flavors.”
Rocha agreed that duck is similar to beef, with the breast served medium rare. He said that when cooking a duck, the best method is to break it apart and cook the sections separately.
“Roasting in the oven [whole] is going to give you an overcooked breast and undercooked leg and thigh,” he said. “Normally when I have duck I remove the breast and pan-sear [it]. … The legs and thighs are braised in water, slight amount of water, for an hour and a half or so until tender.”
Regardless of which bird suits your needs, if it’s locally raised Rocha said to soak it in water for at least an hour, if not overnight.
“[It] gets the skin to plump up and keeps it from drying out,” he said. “They do tend to cook faster than commercially available birds.”
Once you take the bird out of the oven, flip it over so it rests on the breast.
“That way all the juices go into the breast,” Rocha said.
So whether you want to stick with chicken or shake it up with a Christmas goose, do your research before diving in and make sure you do what is best for your situation.
“We’re full of suggestions,” Trafton said. “But do what you’re comfortable with.”
Place your orders
For the holiday season it’s always best to place your orders as soon as possible. And make sure to check with the farmer or butcher that the bird is the appropriate size.
“It’s really important to ask those questions on what the recommended serving size is per adult eater,” Trafton said.
He noted that for a turkey they recommend one and a half pounds per person, but for duck or duck breast you’d want to go a bit higher.
“With duck and geese, they’re more fat than anything so the overall meat you get is pretty minimal, [and] with all that fat it’s going to be rich,” he said.
Czack agreed that for geese, taking note of the size is key.
“Farms in general are very hooked on what’s called the pilgrim goose,” he said. “It’s a perfectly fine goose, but it’s not going to feed a family. For Christmas you generally have the family together still so you need a larger goose.”
Of course flavor is a major component in choosing the right bird and although a common assumption is that heritage birds have better flavor than commercial birds, Czack said that’s not necessarily the case.
“While there are differences in flavor of every bird out there … it’s not the breed that makes that flavor, it’s the age of the bird,” he said.
He said a goose slaughtered at 16 weeks is called a “green goose,” which is typically what you’ll find at the supermarket.
“Look for a farmer who doesn’t do green geese, and there’s a lot of us out there, people who are letting their geese develop fully through the year to maximize flavor,” he said. “And meat is like red wine, once you acquire a taste for better meats you’re not going to go back to supermarket.”
Rocha said that they have plenty of chicken this year and he expects a good supply of ducks for Christmas as well, but it’s always best to call ahead or stop by to chat at a winter farmers market.
“If [people] visit local farmers markets … all this stuff, meat parts, are available,” he said. “That’s the best way … because I’m face to face and show you examples in person.”
Kellie Brook Farm will be at the Rollingsford, Exeter, Newburyport and Greenland winter farmers markets this year.