If it's soft texture and white, slender meat you're after, something with minor presence on the back of which you can clearly taste relishes and gravies, veg and stuffing, then go for a good turkey or, even better, a first-rate chicken - that is the guaranteed path for success. If, however, you like your meat just a bit tougher but with considerable flavour, a hint of game and a succulent, meaty aroma with lots of fat, and that's well paired with sweet and sour, then we vote for goose. After all, it used to be the Christmas bird of choice in Britain, and it is remarkably tasty. The quince can be baked at the same time as the bird, just underneath it in the oven. Or, if you can, leave it overnight in a very low oven (110C). This slow cooking gives it a crimson colour and a deep flavour. Allow it to cool, then just warm up with the cranberries. Serve with roasted potatoes and french beans.
1 medium goose (5-6kg), with giblets
2 bay leaves (preferably fresh)
2 carrots, roughly chopped
2 onions, roughly chopped
3 celery sticks, roughly chopped
3 lemons, halved
3 medium onions, peeled and halved
Maldon sea salt and black pepper
2 large quinces (about 500g each)
70g caster sugar
1 lemon, juiced
2 cinnamon sticks
3 bay leaves
500ml chicken stock
1 tbsp maple syrup
350g fresh (or frozen) cranberries
Fresh herbs, to serve
- Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6. Put the giblets in a medium pan with bay leaves, carrots, onions and celery. Cover with water, bring to a boil and simmer for a couple of hours.
- If the goose is trussed, remove the string and free up the legs and wings. Prick the skin all over to assist the melting down of the fat. Trim off any visible excess fat, especially in the neck area. Put the lemon and onion halves in the cavity. Place the goose, breast side down, on a wire rack over a large roasting tin. Cover with foil, leaving the base uncovered to allow the fat to run out. You will need to drain the fat regularly during the cooking, every half-hour or so, or it will burn. To this end, have ready a large, heatproof bowl with a sieve over it. By the end of the cooking, you'll have a substantial amount of pure goose fat for roasting potatoes and other vegetables. Also, line the bottom of the oven with foil to protect it.
- Once all the preparations are done, put the goose tin in the top part of the oven. After 30 minutes, lower the heat to 180C/350F/gas mark 4, roast for another hour, then remove the foil and turn the goose over so its breast faces up. Cover again and roast for another 75 minutes. Drain the fat occasionally throughout.
- For the final cooking stage, remove the foil (but keep it handy), sprinkle the goose with lots of salt and pepper, and roast, breast up, for 45 minutes longer. Baste the breast from time to time with hot fat. To check that the goose is cooked, pierce the thickest part of the thigh with a skewer - the juices should come out clear.
- When done, remove the bird from the oven, cover it loosely with the reserved foil and leave to rest for 20 minutes before carving.
- The moment the goose goes into the oven, start preparing the quince. Peel the fruit but keep the skin. Cut each in two vertically and then every half into three. Remove the core, and put the segments and peel in an oven tray. Add the water, half the sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon sticks and bay leaves, cover with foil and bake under the goose for two hours, by which time the quince should be tender. Discard the peel and set aside the tray, covered, until needed.
- For the gravy, pass the giblet stock through a fine sieve into a medium pan. Add the chicken stock and place on medium heat. Bring to a boil, then simmer to reduce to a light gravy consistency, about 20 minutes. Add the syrup and season to taste.
- Just before serving, prepare the cranberries. Put a big frying pan on a high heat. Add the cranberries and remaining sugar, stir, then cook, shaking the pan regularly, until the fruit is soft, three minutes or so. Add the quince to the pan and keep warm.
- Line a serving platter with lots of fresh herbs, place the goose in the middle and pour the quince and cranberries over the top. Serve with the hot gravy on the side.
- When carving, pull out the legs and cut through the joint to remove. Slice the meat parallel to the bone. Next, cut 1cm thick slices from the breast, and finally, use your hands and a small knife to shave off all the other hidden bits (there will be lots).