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When I told one of my besties, Sue Hall, about this recipe and sent her a first photo, she said, “And so where in the h-e-double hockey sticks are you getting wild goose?” I said, “I have someone shoot them for me.” “Of course you do,” said she.
Longtime readers might remember my good friend, Lee Lehmkuhl, who, as an avid and excellent hunter and fisherman often gifts me delicacies such as elk, wild duck, wild goose, pheasant, tuna, halibut, and so on. Pam, my good friend and Lee’s wife, excels at organizing, storing, cooking, and sharing the bounty. It was just by
chance a stroke of love that I had two big wild goose breasts in the freezer.
Even before my husband and best sous Dave and I returned from a long cruise out of Boston to Iceland and back, I promised myself I would spend some time learning about Icelandic cooking.
While we ate many wondrous meals on the Holland America ship, ms Zaandam (and this trip, the chefs highlighted seafood oh-so-well), we also made it a point to eat on shore in each city we visited, as possible — particularly while in Iceland where I was smitten with the food.
You might guess many dishes were fish-based on an island (and they were) but just as many starred lamb- see above– their main meat. If “meat soup” was on the menu, there was no need asking what the meat was; it was lamb.
There are under 400K people in Iceland and there are, in summer, twice as many sheep! I saw a little ground beef (everyone loves a burger) in the shops but very little chicken, for instance. If you were a knitter, you were in luck because Icelandic groceries often sell wool, too!
Vegetables, mostly grown in greenhouses or imported due to climate and landscape, appeared less available in restaurants, though I saw a decent small selection in the grocery stores I visited. See above. As a vegetable fanatic, I made sure to order whatever came with salad or potatoes, which were the common choices:
While we did not make it to upscale restaurants for dinner as we were usually sailing on to the next port, it felt right to visit local cafes or mom and pop spots for lunch to get a feel for daily life. We ate with great interest everywhere and were not disappointed ever. (Everyone spoke excellent English and the menus were in Icelandic and English.)
There was an elegant simplicity to nearly every dish we tried and so I ordered a simple Icelandic cookbook while we were still at sea. Upon arriving at home, I was thrilled to see it feature some of the dishes we had sampled as well as other local specialties I could now dream about.
Today, Iceland's geographic isolation—plus strict government environmental regulations—helps it produce some of the purest foods on the planet. Grass-fed cows with a lineage that goes back to the Norwegian herds brought by the Vikings in 874 AD make milk that's high in beta carotene, creating exceptional butter and cheese as well as the yogurt-like skyr. Family farms sell tender meat from lambs that have grazed in the mountains all summer on moss, scrub and wildflowers. Fish farmers raise arctic char without chemicals or antibiotics in eco-friendly saltwater tanks. (FOOD + WINE)
Water fowl are favorite prey of Icelandic hunters and I found several goose recipes between the book and online sources. The only problem was deciding which to use to “cook my goose.” Since wild duck and goose are notoriously lean compared to their domestic counterparts, I have several times cooked them wrapped in bacon or ham and I chose to do the same this time with luscious results. By the way, I can’t help but think this would be a perfect small group holiday meal:
Gjörið svo vel. (Here you go.)
Listen to a little Icelandic folk music while you read over the recipe. It’s not difficult, but it helps understanding the process before beginning. The Smashed Potatoes and Peas can be made a day or two ahead if you like. They keep well in the fridge and warm up something lovely. You’ll want to make them another time, I’m thinking.
Njóttu matarins. (Enjoy the food/Bon appétit.)
Wild Goose Breast on Smashed Potatoes and Peas with Bacon and Mushroom Sauce
- 2 wild goose breasts
- Kosher salt and fresh black pepper
- 8 pieces thick bacon–4 left whole for the goose and 4 diced for the sauce
- 4 ounces (110 grams) button mushrooms, sliced
- 2 large fresh thyme sprigs or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 shallot, sliced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- Crushed red pepper
- ¼ cup (2-ounces/50 ml) brandy
- 1 cup (8 oz/200 ml) goose or chicken stock
- ½ cup (4 oz/100 ml) whole or whipping cream
- 1 tablespoon softened salted butter (The butter and flour below are for a beurre manié to thicken the sauce/see notes* below)
- 1 ½ tablespoons unbleached, all-purpose flour
- 2 cups fresh baby spinach leaves
- Smashed potatoes and peas (recipe in notes below)
- Currant jam in a bowl for serving at the table. (Can sub Cherry or Plum Jam.)
- PREP AND COOK THE GOOSE BREASTS: Preheat the oven to 300 ° F. Set rack at center. Sprinkle goose breasts all over lightly with salt and pepper and wrap each in two pieces of bacon, securing with four toothpicks on each breast. (Remember how many toothpicks you used!) Heat a large oven-proof skillet over high flame and add breasts to dry pan. Brown well on both sides. Place in oven for 20-25 minutes or until instant read thermometer reads about 160 °F. Remove to cutting board. Let rest for 2-3 minutes. Reserve drippings on cutting board (if you have some) and drizzle on goose while plating. Remove toothpicks. Slice thinly. Cover and place on stovetop to keep warm if sauce isn’t done yet. (Warm plates/shallow bowls in oven as possible.)
- MEANWHILE, MAKE THE BACON-MUSHROOM SAUCE: In a large skillet over medium flame, cook the diced bacon with the mushrooms and thyme sprigs until the bacon is crisp and the mushrooms tender. Stir in the shallot, garlic, and a pinch of crushed red pepper. Pour in the brandy and simmer until the brandy is reduced by half. Pour in the stock and cream. With a table fork, mash the butter and the flour. Sprinkle into the sauce and heat gently, stirring a time or two, until thickened. Remove thyme sprigs. Taste and season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove from heat. If goose is not yet done, cover to keep warm or reheat gently when needed. When seasoning this sauce, remember it will go over a larger amount of food it will need to flavor; you may want to increase the salt and pepper a bit extra to compensate just as you would for gravy and mashed potatoes. Or try a sample and see what you think. You can also pass the salt and pepper at the table if needed.
- PLATE AND SERVE HOT or warm: Add a cup of spinach leaves in a circle or at edge to each plate. Sprinkle very lightly with salt and pepper. Spoon smashed potatoes and peas into the center. Fan sliced goose breast over the potato mixture (add drippings if you have some) and ladle the bacon-mushroom sauce over the goose and bacon. Serve with currant jam at the table.
- ADD THE POTATOES TO A 4 OR 6-QT POT, cover them with water plus an inch or two, and add a teaspoon of kosher salt, half-teaspoon of pepper, and a pinch of crushed red pepper. Cover, bring to a boil, reduce to simmer, and cook uncovered until nearly tender—about 20 minutes. Add the peas (fresh or frozen) for the last few minutes. With a slotted spoon, skim off the peas into a cup. Drain the potatoes, return them to the pot, stir in a tablespoon of olive oil, and mash briefly. Add the peas back in, cover, and set aside.
- MEANWHILE, HEAT THE OTHER TABLESPOON OLIVE OIL IN A MEDIUM SKILLET over medium flame and add the onion. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and pepper and cook, stirring regularly until nearly soft – 8-10 minutes. Add the shallots and garlic. Cook, stirring, for another 2 or 3 minutes. Stir in the lemon zest.
- TIP THE ONION MIXTURE INTO THE POT WITH THE POTATOES AND PEAS and stir briefly. Stir the herbs in gently. Taste and adjust seasonings. Cover to keep warm while goose breasts rest or cool and reheat when needed. (Can cover and refrigerate overnight. Keeps well.)
I added thyme as Arctic Thyme (stronger than our English or German thyme) is native to Iceland and widely used in cooking, for teas, and for medicinal purposes. It grows wild and the sheep eat it and are later roasted with it, as well. We saw a good deal of it everywhere we traveled.
WHAT’S A BUERRE MANIÉ (bur man-yay) or kneaded butter? You know how to thicken a sauce or gravy or stew with flour or corn starch or maybe with roux, but a buerre manié is a bit different. Mash up equal amounts of softened butter and flour and stir it into a simmering sauce. In a minute or two, et voila! A beautiful thickening occurs. Serve it up right then, though; the thickening doesn’t keep forever. I like it for two reasons: 1. it tastes good and 2. you can do it at the last minute as a saving grace to thicken up and make silky any sauce or soup or stew. Pronounce it here.
SO WHAT DOES WILD GOOSE TASTE LIKE?? While I read that Icelandic wild goose has a rather strong and gamey flavor (you can brine it to temper the gaminess), our young wild geese here in the States do not. If you’ve never eaten goose, the meat is all dark and to my mind tastes like a cross between beef and pork, leaning toward beef.
AND WE’RE SERVING JAM WITH GOOSE? I wondered but since I had the jam, I served it and liked it. Think cranberry sauce with turkey for comparison. Or mint jelly with lamb.
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LIFE GOES ON:
Here in Colorado, there’s a distinct feeling of change in the air. Even on warm days, the bite has gone out of the sun and the mornings are chilly-willy. Photo above courtesy KKTV in COS. Yes, there’s snow on THE PEAK.
Takk fyrir (thank you so much in Icelandic) for keeping me company in the kitchen for more than a week as I wrestled this recipe and post into being.