Why you should go for goose for Christmas lunch this year

Cats could also be laborious to herd, however geese are tough too. I uncover this after I go to Richard Botterill on a moist, blustery morning in November close to the village of Croxton Kerrial in Leicestershire. Botterill is posing for a photograph in the course of a area and the photographer asks me to usher some geese into shot. A literal goose chase ensues with the birds outflanking me at each flip.

Botterill’s 520-acre farm specialises in free-range poultry, together with 1,500 geese reared virtually solely for the Christmas market. Each morning, rain or shine, the geese are let loose to graze in pastures. “We keep them in flocks of 400 or 500,” says Botterill. In the space, the luxurious inexperienced panorama is punctuated by a area of sensible white, a flock of geese feeding already.

Botterill’s household have been tenant farmers on the Belvoir Estate for the reason that Nineteen Thirties. Until the Eighties, that they had targeted on crops, however when the arable market slowed, Botterill’s father Gerald began rearing geese. “We needed to do something to pay the rent,” displays Richard over a cup of tea in his heat, tidy kitchen whereas we wait for the rain to abate. “Although there wasn’t a huge market for geese then, they fit with what we were doing — we always had excess grain, so it was good to feed it to the geese.” 

Richard Botterill’s 520-acre farm specialises in free-range poultry


Richard Botterill’s 520-acre farm specialises in free-range poultry © Charlie Bibby/FT

When the solar lastly breaks via, we pull on boots and cross the farmyard. As we method the goose pen, we’re met with a cacophony of clucking and chattering. Five hundred birds transfer in a choreographed gaggle inside a spacious, muddy yard, impatient to be let loose. Botterill opens the gate and we step inside. The flock surges away from us, prattling extra loudly. “They know exactly where they’re going,” the farmer says with delight. “When I let them out, they’ll make their own way to the field.” 

Moments later, a wonderful haze of white feathers and orange beaks goes waddling at appreciable pace down the lane. If it weren’t for the rumble of a neighborhood bus ready patiently, I would assume I’d been transported again in time a century or two. The geese pace up as they method the sector, dashing ahead gleefully as soon as they’re on the grass, stretching and flapping their wings, honking loudly. “They are like kids,” laughs Botterill.

Medieval data point out that consuming goose has all the time been seasonal. “Green” or younger geese had been consumed pastures and cooked at about 12 weeks in early summer time. “Stubble” geese had been fattened on fields after harvest and eaten on the finish of autumn and early winter. Geese had been roasted at Michaelmas in September to mark the top of the rising cycle and to usher in luck.


Beyond producing meat and entrails, geese additionally offered feathers for quills, bedding and arrows. The fats was valued for culinary functions, for making ointments and as a lubricant. “Geese are a fowl of great profit many ways, as first for food, next to their feathers and lastly for their grease,” wrote Gervase Markham in his 1614 guide, Cheape and Good Husbandry.

Botterill processes a goose

Botterill processes a goose © Charlie Bibby/FT

From the seventeenth century, goose was the chicken of selection for Christmas. Before railways, flocks had been walked from the jap counties of Norfolk, Suffolk and Lincolnshire to London, their toes lined with tar to guard them. “’Tis very frequent now to meet droves, with a thousand, sometimes two thousand,” recorded creator and journey author Daniel Defoe in 1724. According to George Dodd’s 1856 chronicle, The Food of London, London’s largest market for poultry, Leadenhall, bought 888,000 geese each year in comparison with simply 69,000 turkeys. “Enormous supplies” had been required for Christmas with “broad-wheeled waggons” carrying “three tons of goose-flesh”. 


This Christmas, a mere 250,000 geese might be consumed in Britain. By comparability, about 9 million turkeys might be eaten. John Franklin, chair of the British Goose Producers, thinks the dominance of turkey is partly right down to familiarity. “Goose has that darker, stronger taste and is just less known,” he displays over the telephone.

Charles Dickens has loads to reply for in the case of geese shedding the poultry reputation contest. When Scrooge bounces away from bed, a redeemed character, in A Christmas Carol, the very first thing he does is purchase the wretched Cratchit household an enormous turkey to exchange the a lot smaller goose they had been in any other case going to eat.

“I shouldn’t really say this,” says Botterill sheepishly, “But even a big goose doesn’t feed that many people, eight at most.” A giant turkey will feed 16 comfortably.

Feathers are saved to sell to a bed manufacturer

Feathers are saved to promote to a mattress producer © Charlie Bibby/FT

Geese are ill-suited to intensive farming. “They are very independent, they strut about,” Botterill explains affectionately. “Where they are aloof, turkeys are the opposite.” Modern breeds of turkey also can produce eggs and meat all year spherical, whereas geese stay seasonal. Females lay batches of about 15-20 eggs from late February till May, and the goslings hatch a month after.

Yet for Shaun Hill, owner-chef of The Walnut Tree restaurant in Abergavenny, Wales, there isn’t any contest. Goose is his Christmas chicken of selection. He cooks one each year for his household, serving it with lingonberry sauce, braised pink cabbage and roast potatoes. “I love it,” he tells me one Saturday earlier than night service. “I like it because it’s a genuine seasonal treat. I love the flavour, the fabulous skin. I just love it.” 

Botterill buys one-day-old Embden goslings from a provider in Germany. All 1,500 arrive on a lorry on the finish of April. “At this stage they’re ugly ducklings, not fully feathered,” he says. They spend a month inside whereas their feathers develop. Then from June, they enterprise outdoors on daily basis.

Once right this moment’s geese are feeding fortunately within the area, we return to the farm. I’ve requested to look at a goose being slaughtered and processed. I brace myself. Until now the day has been bucolic. “No one enjoys this part, but it is a necessary fact,” says Botterill grimly. “We’ve looked after these birds for months, so we want this bit to be the best it can.” 

He takes me to a constructing with 4 rooms. There is a lairage about six metres sq., the place the geese are held with out meals 12 hours forward of being slaughtered. This ensures they’re calm and their vents are clear. This house opens on to a room the place the birds are dispatched.

Botterill places on a water-resistant apron, protecting gloves and a tough hat and goes to fetch the goose. “I have a licence to kill,” he says with out a shred of humour. Holding the chicken firmly, he suggestions it headfirst into certainly one of 14 giant, pink plastic funnels connected to a round metallic body. The goose’s head hangs out the top of the funnel. Botterill administers the stun gun after which cuts the chicken’s throat. The goose is lifeless inside 10 seconds. Botterill locations a plastic bag over the pinnacle to catch any blood earlier than lifting the limp physique out of the funnel and turning on certainly one of two deafeningly loud defeathering machines. Working with skilled pace and precision, he strikes the goose throughout the rotating metallic plates. Loose feathers are sucked alongside a tube and saved for sale to a mattress producer. The goose is all however bare inside a couple of minutes.

Carcass hangs upside down from a shackle attached to a track in the ceiling

Carcass hangs the other way up from a shackle connected to a monitor within the ceiling © Charlie Bibby/FT

Botterill hangs the carcass the other way up from a shackle connected to a monitor within the ceiling and rolls it alongside to the subsequent room. Inside are two metallic tanks stuffed with scorching, liquid wax and lengthy metallic troughs for catching waste. Botterill plunges the goose into the primary tank, ensuring to maintain the pinnacle aloft. He holds it there for a second after which returns the wax-coated chicken to the shackles. “With dry-plucking we don’t use water to remove the feathers,” he says whereas we wait a couple of minutes for the wax to harden. “This helps with the cooking and keeping the quality of the birds but it’s much more manual.” He assessments the wax and punctiliously however firmly begins peeling strips away from the carcass.

Over three days main as much as Christmas, the farm will dispatch about 1,200 geese and a couple of,100 turkeys, with 15 non permanent workers working 12-hour shifts. “Without them, we’d be scuppered,” says Botterill. “They are really skilled and totally essential.”

It takes about 45 minutes to course of a single chicken. With all its feathers and down eliminated, Botterill unhooks this one from its shackles and hangs it in a chilly room. Here it will likely be aged for two weeks. Botterill removes his laborious hat, protecting coat and apron, and we go again for a ultimate cup of tea earlier than the flocks are gathered in from the fields.

In 1989, the Botterills began promoting geese to Tim Wilson, farmer and proprietor of The Ginger Pig, a high-welfare butcher’s in London. The partnership has endured and, right this moment, the Botterills are The Ginger Pig’s sole goose provider.

Lynsey Coughlan, the butcher’s operations director, waxes lyrical about Botterill’s birds. “I like to take orders myself at Christmas, to touch base with customers,” she enthuses over the telephone.

“And the minute I hear goose coming I think ‘Yes! Talk to me!’” Goose eaters, says Coughlan, are usually critical about cooking and need to know all the things in regards to the chicken they buy.

“Richard does everything right,” she says. “There’s no major secret but he produces beautiful tasting birds.”

© Charlie Bibby/FT

According to Botterill, the key is a mixture of permitting the birds to develop to maturity over eight months, processing them on web site and dry plucking and hanging them for two weeks. His geese price £20.50 a kilo at The Ginger Pig. By distinction, a frozen grocery store turkey could be as little as £3.25 a kilo. “You get what you pay for,” says Botterill with a realizing smile. “They are the sum of their parts. It’s expensive and a lot of manual work.”

Two weeks later, he sends me the very goose I noticed slaughtered. It arrives, weighing 4.5kg, together with a bag of giblets for gravy and a 500g sealed bag of creamy, white fats faraway from across the intestine ball. Christmas has arrived early. I rustle up eight mates and proceed to repeat Shaun Hill’s festive menu, minus the lingonberry sauce. The goose doesn’t disappoint. The flesh is succulent and deeply flavoured. The pores and skin is lip-smackingly salty, wealthy and crisp. I can’t assist feeling that if I had been a Cratchit that Christmas morning, I’d have needed Scrooge to ship alongside two geese as an alternative of 1 turkey.

Roast Goose

Serves eight to 10


  • First work out timings. The chicken cooks for quarter-hour in a scorching oven (240C), then for 25 minutes per kilo at 190C. Rest for 30-60 minutes.

  • Start with the stuffing. Fry the onion within the butter till smooth, take away from the warmth and blend with all the opposite stuffing substances. Season with salt and pepper and put aside.

  • Prick the goose throughout utilizing a skewer. Cut the citrus fruit in half and rub over the pores and skin, squeezing the juice as you go. Stuff half of the squeezed lemon and half of the orange within the goose’s cavity.

  • Season the goose generously with salt and pepper then fill the cavity with the stuffing, ensuring to depart some house for air to flow into. Cook any leftover stuffing individually.

  • Roast the goose (see step 1).

  • Baste 3 times throughout cooking.

  • Remove from the oven and permit to relaxation.

  • Save any surplus fats — it should preserve for months within the fridge.

  • Polly Russell is a curator on the British Library. Follow her on Twitter @PollyRussell1 and Instagram the_history_cook

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