I often get requests for fool-proof duck and goose recipes. (From the many requests I’ve had, I do think waterfowl are the one type of game we love to hunt, but don’t exactly care to eat un-enhanced.)
If you like waterfowl, and have a nice young tender bird with good flavor, try the Butterflied Goose Breasts. For less than perfect birds, or a palate that doesn’t favor waterfowl, scroll down to the slow-cooked Oinking Goose recipe. And do check out the Game Care notes that follow. You might just want to do that buttermilk marinade first. Marinating with buttermilk is an easy way to tenderize and calm strong flavors without adding flavors that might conflict with ‘The Recipe’ you’re going to prepare.
Butterflied Goose Breasts
The brown sugar in this goose recipe is a quick fix for that slightly ‘burned’ flavor of waterfowl. (There’s probably a better word for it, but that’s as close as I can get.) But cooking it to medium rare at most, is the real trick to keeping the meat tender and un-gamy. (The more relatively neutral moisture you remove from anything, the stronger the other flavors.) Thing is waterfowl is very easy to overcook since unlike pale meated upland and commercial chicken, the ‘juices’ never run clear. They’re always red, so the ‘doneness’ test a lot of people know, leads to overcooking these wild birds. (Get a meat thermometer, and don’t cook past 170F!)
The other problem is this butterflied goose breast recipe cooks up very fast–like a rather thin deer steak.
So, how do you butterfly a goose breast? Place the goose breast on a cutting board, and set your knife at half the thickness. (You’re not cutting length or width, but rather making it half as thick—but not cutting all the way through.) Keeping it parallel to the cutting board so you have uniform thickness–so the cooking is more uniform. (Check out the photo you clicked on if you’re unsure.) Then, be sure to stop 1/2 inch from the other side. Don’t cut the breast completely in half. It’s always nicer to have a larger piece of meat at the table. Once cut, gently press the fold open so it lies flat, and lightly oil the meat on both sides. That will keep it from sticking to the grill. Finally, rub the top surface with brown sugar.
- 1 goose breast, boned
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- Lightly oil the cooking rack on your grill and preheat to high heat. Bone each side of the breast off the goose carcass. Place each side on a cutting board, and, with a sharp fillet or boning knife butterfly each piece. (See photo below for details.) Then, lay the flap as flat as you can on the cutting board.
- Dry with paper towels, then lightly oil the boned breast meat and rub 2 tablespoons of brown sugar into the top of each.
- When the grill is ready, place the butterflied breasts cut-side down on the grill. Grill about 3 minutes on the first side, one minute on the second for medium-rare. Slice across the grain and serve with potato salad and bread and butter pickles.
**This is designed for snow geese and lesser Canada-sized birds; for greater Canadas you’ll have to add more brown sugar. For ducks slightly less.
Oinking Good Goose
This goose recipe uses maple syrup and sweet pork fat instead of brown sugar to tone down imperfect waterfowl. I’ve used both commercial and wild pork; ducks instead of geese. If wild, the pig should be young and sweet tasting. (Say 150 pounds or less.)
- One boned-out goose (about 1 pound)
- 8 ounces fresh pork, with fat on edges
- 3 slices bacon
- 1/4 cup Dijon mustard
- 1/4 cup maple syrup
- 2 tablespoon Chipotle Tabasco sauce
- 1/2 cup Miller Genuine Draft beer
- Chop all the meat into bite-sized pieces. Measure the Dijon, maple syrup, Chipotle Tabasco, and beer into your slow cooker. Stir, cover, and turn the heat to high.
- In a large skillet, sautéthe bacon over medium heat until lightly browned, then add the goose and pork chunks. Stir them into the bacon and drippings, and brown just very lightly. Step 2 shouldn’t take more than 7 to 10 minutes, in all.
- Turn the slow cooker down to low after the mixture comes to a simmer, about one hour. Cook until tender. Depending on how tender or tough the goose was and how tender or firm you like your meat, 6-10 hours. Serve over rice.
**As written this is a small recipe, so use a small slow cooker. For a 3-quart cooker, triple the recipe.
Making Waterfowl Better
Even good tasting waterfowl–grain eaters, not the bottom feeders–need a little help from time to time. At our house, we age all our birds in the bottom of the fridge for about a week, fully drawn and rinsed, but still in the feather, whether we plan to pluck them or skin and part them out. (The lower shelves of a fridge are about 38F degrees: a perfect aging temp.) Aging tenderizes the meat, and leaving the feathers on while aging any wild bird not only helps keep the meat from drying out, but also provides an instant test for when the bird has aged enough, and is as tender as you can safely get it. How?
There are two times birds are easy to pluck: as soon as they’ve hit the ground, and again after aging. Aging them in the fridge, at 38F, allows for predictable timing, but every bird is different. Age, diet, stress, whatever. But one thing is the same: after a week, test the plucking. If a back feather comes out fairly easily, it’s ready to pluck or skin and put in the freezer—or cook. If it doesn’t, put the bird back in the fridge and check it in 24 hours. Repeat if necessary. We had a bird recently that was apparently quite old—and tough—that took 10 days. We cooked it the next day, and it was very tender.
But over the years, we’ve used two other tricks to improve flavor and tenderness.
The first is buttermilk. Milk has long been used to draw out ‘wild’ flavors from all kinds of game meat, but buttermilk has something that sweet milk doesn’t have–acid—and acid tenderizes meat.
If your usual good game care isn’t working on some of your ducks and geese, try a 24-48 hour marinade in buttermilk. (Followed by a good rinse, and pat-dry with paper towels before seasoning and cooking.)
The other trick is a simple brown sugar rub. It’s a theory we’ve been working on for years, that what we miss in our game meat recipes isn’t only the fat, but also the sweetness good fat gives the meat. We started out adding a bit of sugar to our wild game spice mixes, for venison as well as birds. But then we took it up another step, and just started rubbing about 1 tablespoon of brown sugar into each side of a boned goose breast. For want of a better word, I always feel that even the grain-fed, mild-tasting geese that migrate from Alberta’s barley and wheat fields into Montana have a slightly ‘burned’ flavor. It’s not burned, of course. We cook all our birds no more than 170F, but I have yet to find a word that describes it more accurately. The brown sugar neutralizes that flavor.
So simple and so easy. But it works. Check out the two recipes, above, to see how the theory tastes in practice.
And of course, if you need to marinate all your waterfowl in buttermilk, it’s a sign. You need to move to a better flyway, or upgrade your game care. My Duck and Goose Cookery cookbook has lots of great recipes, but also a big section with photos with tried and true advice, and all the pertinent details for making all your waterfowl taste as good as they can.
Unfortunately it’s out of print though I find copies on the internet now and then for people who have to have a copy.
In the meantime, these recipes are from Rifle Loony News from May of 2010, our online 4xyear online magazine. ($10 for one year, plus access to all back issues.) For book people, we’ve compiled (and corrected) Rifle Loony News into 2 volumes of 5 years each. Follow the links below if you’d like to share in Eileen’s wild game recipes and pre-cooking care notes, as well as John’s reloading and rifle/shotgun obsessions and both of their hunting stories.