Friday, 22 May 2009

The Landes Grey Goose, Aquitaine Foie Gras and Recipes

Geese in the Landes are fed on Landes grown maize and in certain parts of France, goose fat still takes the place of butter or oil in cooking, particularly in the South Western regions of Aquitaine, Gascony and Périgord. Traditional dishes include pommes sarladaises (potatoes cooked in goose fat), Confit (from the French verb confir, which means to preserve), which is essentially goose cooked slowly and then cooled in its own fat and Cassoulet, a classic French bean stew which is flavoured with Confit.

The Grey Landes Geese have the Toulouse Goose and the White Poitou Goose in their ancestry. The Poitou is said to have been introduced in Poitiers under the Dukes of Aquitaine by some Dutch gentlemen who settled in that town. The Landes grey Geese were bred for their flesh, feathers and down. Traditionally the fattened geese were taken to market on Saint Martin's Day (11th November). Long after Saint Martin's death, two legends were told connecting Saint Martin with geese. One legend says that on hearing that he was to be the new Bishop of Tours, Saint Martin hid in a goose barn, thinking he wasn't worthy of the honourable office. The loud honking of the geese betrayed him, though. Another legend says that noisy geese disturbed a service Saint Martin held, which annoyed him so much that they ended up as a roast on the table and have done so ever since.

The Martin's goose was said to have healing powers. Its fat (rubbed in) was thought to help against gout and its blood against fever. A feather from the left wing, burnt and mixed with wine, was believed to be a miracle cure for epilepsy. Even the wishbone of a goose had a meaning: if two people held one end each and broke it, the one with the larger end was thought to have their wish fulfilled. If the bone was pale and white, the winter was expected to be meagre and cold but if it was of a red colour, supplies were expected to last through the winter. It is said, too, that one can predict what sort of Winter one will have by the conditions of St. Martin's Day: "If the geese at Martin’s Day stand on ice, they will walk in mud at Christmas."

For gastronomes, the Landes, with Gascony, is France's largest foie gras producing area. Foie gras is a popular and well-known delicacy in French cuisine. It is the liver of a goose (or duck) that has been specially fattened through force feeding the bird maize or corn – and as such is controversial. Its flavour is described as rich, buttery, and delicate, unlike that of a regular duck or goose liver. Foie gras is sold whole, or is prepared into mousse, parfait, or pâté, and is often served as an accompaniment to another food item, such as steak.

Foie Gras has been produced since the time of the ancient Egyptians who noticed that migrating geese built up energy reserves to prepare for the long flight by fattening themselves. After the Egyptians, the Greeks and the Romans continued goose and duck fattening. The word liver (foie in French) comes from the Roman population, who used to eat fattened geese liver with figs: ficatum. Pliny the Elder in the 1st century credited his contemporary, Roman gastronome Marcus Gavius Apicius, with feeding dried figs to geese in order to enlarge their livers.

After the fall of the Roman empire, goose liver temporarily vanished from European cuisine. Some claim that Gallic farmers preserved the foie gras tradition until the rest of Europe rediscovered it centuries later, but the medieval French peasant's food animals were mainly pig and sheep. Others claim that the tradition was preserved by the Jews, who learned the method of enlarging a goose's liver during the Roman colonisation of Israel or earlier from Egyptians. The Jews carried this culinary knowledge as they migrated farther north and west to Europe.

Roast Goose with Pears

1 goose
salt & pepper
2 tsp ground ginger
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1 orange, sliced
1 stalk of celery, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 onion, chopped
8 pears, peeled, cored and quartered
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
6 tbsp sugar
1 ½ cups pear liqueur
2 ½ cups chicken stock
1 tbsp flour

Pre heat the oven to a slow/medium heat. Remove the giblets and neck from the cavity. Pull out any lumps of fat. Using a sharp fork, pierce the skin of the goose all over. Rinse the goose inside and out; pat dry with absorbent paper. Sprinkle inside and out with salt, pepper, and 1 tsp ginger. Poke a few slits in the skin of the cavity. Place garlic slices into body cavity slits. Place the carrots, onion, and celery into the body cavity.

Tie the bird up. Place the goose on rack, breast side up, in large roasting pan. Place the orange slices on top of the bird. Roast the goose 1 ½ hours, basting with drippings. When the wings begin to brown, cover with aluminium foil. Turn goose over, breast side down. Cover the wings with aluminium foil. The roasting pan will have accumulated lots of fat; spoon 6 tbsp into a metal bowl and reserve.

Roast for another 1 hour and let the goose rest, covered, for 10 minutes. Meanwhile prepare the pears so they can be roasted with the goose. Toss pears and lemon juice in large bowl. Pour 6 tbsps goose fat into large baking dish. Place the pears in baking dish and toss with fat. Add sugar, ½ cup liqueur and remaining ginger to pears; toss. Bake pears alongside goose until very tender and golden, about 1 hour. Spoon the pears into a serving dish with a slotted spoon to reserve as much liquid as possible. Pour the liquid into a saucepan, add the stock and remaining liqueur. Bring to a simmer and reduce by half a cup. Sprinkle in flour while whisking and continue to cook a few more minutes so it is slightly thickened. Serve goose with caramelized pears.

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