The Way We Live Now
The booing of geese is quite obviously a very un-Anglican activity. But I think even Anglicans are still permitted to cook them ‘Take a friend’s advice,’ says Eliot’s Second Tempter to Thomas. ‘Leave well alone, or your goose may be cooked and eaten to the bone.’
In any case, with the defection of the Episcopal Church of the United States from anything approaching Catholic Orthodoxy, no-one will be wanting to eat turkey this Christmas. It is a tragically American bird – bloated, insipid and of a repugnant texture. Instead there is the glorious goose – rich, flavoursome and quintessentially European.
The goose, moreover, is a very ecumenical bird. The humble potato roasted in graisse d’oie is worthy of a papal table. Foie Gras, as the Protestant Sidney Smith wisely remarked, when eaten to the sound of trumpets, makes Ambrosia redundant.
So let it be a goose for your Christmas table, and here is what I advise:
First course: A Tartar of Smoked Salmon
Most supermarkets and many fishmongers now sell off-cuts of salmon remarkably cheaply (mostly tail pieces, but perfectly good). Allow a generous couple of ounces per person. Chop finely and add to it a quarter of its own weight in finely chopped cornichons (not cocktail gherkins, which are too sour), and rinsed capers preserved in brine. Add more chopped parsley than you first thought of, grated lemon rind to taste and enough beaten raw egg to bind. Either press into a suitable mould well greased with olive oil, refrigerate and turn onto a sizeable plate surrounding it with rocket dressed with lemon juice and walnut oil, or pile into the small dishes which cookery writers quaintly call ‘ramekins’ (rhymes with ‘lambikins’!) and serve a similar salad separately. You will need some toast. Brioche is good for this, or one of those walnut and pear breads which people like Tesco do nowadays.
Then a warming Parsnip Soup, I think – not the curried one invented and popularized by the redoubtable Mrs Grigson, but a lighter version.
Boil your parsnips in a light chicken stock (cubes will do!) and puree them in the blender. Peel and grate about an inch of green ginger per person. (Hull, which is a sad place these days, still rejoices in a street called ‘Land of Green Ginger’). Fold the ginger into the parsnip puree, at the same time amalgamating with it generous quantities of crème fraiche d’Isingy. Grind in prodigious quantities of black pepper, thin with chicken stock as required, and serve very hot.
Then, after the Incarnation itself, the prime cause for our joy: the Christmas Goose.
This should be roasted on a trivet, over a dish of water which will collect the fat. Prick your goose all over, remove any internal fat (setting it aside for roast potatoes on another occasion!) salt the skin generously and leave overnight. I always do this just before the Crib Service at 5.00pm on Christmas Eve.
Chop the neck into several pieces. Place all the giblets except the liver into a pan with dried sage, thyme, basil and a little sea salt. Cover with water and simmer until you have a rich stock. Set aside. Crush a good palmful of juniper berries in a pestle. Throw into the bird, with a good pinch of sea salt. Roast at a high temperature for about forty-five minutes, reduce to gas four and test regularly. About fifteen minutes from finish, pour good balsamic vinegar over the skin and raise the heat.
Meanwhile, trim the liver. Fry one circle of sliced bread per person in good butter. Cleanse the pan. Add more fresh butter. Very lightly sauté the liver cut into an appropriate number of slices. Lift the liver slices gently onto the bread. Sprinkle with raspberry vinegar. Keep warm.
Now reduce the giblet stock further, adjusting the seasoning. At this stage a glass or two Madeira does not go amiss – in the gravy, that is.
Serve the goose and liver with spinach, plainly cooked and dressed generously with crushed garlic and a small quantity of melted butter.
It is possible to get quite Dickensian about this very English delight. But it is only one of a number of similar winter dishes using dried and candied fruit to be found across Europe. You might celebrate the fact by having a little Panforte di Siena (a delicious Italian variant to replace the petit fours or Belgian chocolates with your coffee).
You will have made your pudding last year; but have a thought for the sauce. Claret sauce is what I recommend. Put a bottle of reasonable claret (or, as I do, a nice Occitanian Cabernet Sauvignon) in a pan with an orange sliced and a lemon quartered and sugar to taste. Simmer slowly with six cloves and a stick of cinnamon. When a suitable coating texture has been reached, check the citrus content – adding more lemon if required. Pour at the dramatic moment over the flaming pud.
You will, no doubt want mince pies to conclude. And you will, of course, have made sure that they contain filet steak as required.
This is your opportunity to patronize a failing industry and eat a serious English cheese. The only possible accompaniment to mince pies is good white Wensleydale. (The Wensleydale to die for is the blue – but not now!). For white Wensleydale you can now trust most supermarkets. For blue buy only Mudd’s from Paxton and Whitfield (or your local cheesemonger). Serve the pies hot and the cheese cold and separate; never insert one within the other as is sometimes done.
Wines with this lot are not difficult. But you may think me eccentric.
Go for Alsace! The salmon and the soup will take a Riesling nicely, and a Gewurztraminer is my favourite with goose (but something light and red – a Morgon, for example – may be more conventional). With the pudding a nice Muscat. And a good port with the pies. NB this is not a time for trotting out all those exotic liqueurs bought on trips with Ryanair. A good cognac with the coffee, if you please!
Conversationally, the gathered company will, I am sure, want to spare a thought for poor Rowan, who will be eating, no doubt, the breaded nut cutlets appropriate to a hairy leftie, and drinking deeply from the poisoned chalice which he has so nobly taken up.
In the circumstances some might almost find a clandestine relationship with Mrs Grigson preferable.
Joyeux Noel to you all!
Geoffrey Kirk is Vicar of St Stephen's Lewisham in the Diocese of Southwark
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