There's a tendency in France for the same spécialités to appear each year when the various seasons and holidays make their appearance. In most homes on Christmas Eve, for example, a little repast called le réveillon is eaten after the midnight mass. It consists of headcheese and sausagesthe kind that are sliced coldwith perhaps a pâtè made of game, all served with crusty bread and good vins du pays. A household not following this custom will serve these delicacies as an hors-d'oeuvre at the dinner next day, but those who enjoy them before going to bed usually skip them at the noonday feast. Soup is always served, pot-au-feu, of course, and we knew that the piece of beef cooked in it had been put away and would appear the day after Christmas with sauce piquante or lyonnaise.
Here is a favorite Christmas menu that I remember well.
Beignets de Salsifis
Farce de Marrons
Céleri-Rave et Betteraves à la Vinaigrette
Oeufs à la Neige
Tarte aux Pruneaux
Many families favored turkey, some capon, and others rabbit or hare. Potatoes were seldom served. When one has them every day in the year, and as a rule three times a day, who wants them with the holiday goose? Green salad, unfortunately, was out of the question in winter, so our salad was knob celery and beets, both root vegetables that could be stored. Thus our vegetables were distributed through the meal, as you can see, leeks, carrots, and turnips appearing in the soup and beets and celery in the salad, not all of them served with the goose. When we were eating la pièce de résistance, we didn't like it overshadowed by a vast array of vegetables.
Before the goose is cooked, the stuffing has to be made, and that brings up the matter of the chestnuts. Many people tell me they have trouble in getting the shells off, but it is easy enough when done this way.
Preparation of Chestnuts
Cut a small incision through the shell of each chestnut with a very sharp knife. Put them on a pan in a very hot oven (450° to 500°F.) or under the broiler heat for 5 or 6 minutes, or until they open. If they are well roasted, the shells and the skin underneath will slip off. Put the shelled nuts in a saucepan with enough water or white stock to cover and add 2 or 3 stalks of celery. Bring to a boil and cook for 20 or 25 minutes. Cool the nuts in the water until ready to use.
In preparing goose, always remember that every bit of goose fat should be saved. It is an excellent fat of many uses, second only to butter in the opinion of many Continental gourmets. After Christmas, we always had goose fat spread on the bread we carried to school for our lunch, and my mother also used it in cooking potatoes and many other vegetables like Brussels sprouts and red cabbage. If you remove it from the pan as the goose is roasting and before it cooks too long, the fat can be kept in a jar in the refrigerator for several weeks.
Here is the way my mother cooked the Christmas goose:
Chestnut Stuffing for Goose
Melt 3 tablespoons goose fat in a saucepan, add 2 tablespoons chopped onions, and cook until the onions are golden. Add the chopped goose liver, mix it well with the hot fat and onions, but do not cook it. Season with salt and pepper. Run 1/2 pound fresh lean pork and 1/2 pound fresh fat pork through the meat grinder or use 1 pound fresh sausage meat. Season it with 1/2 teaspoon salt mixed with a little Parisian spice or a tiny pinch of poultry seasoning. To this add either 3 tablespoons brandy or 4 ounces Madeira or sherry. Add the onion and liver mixture, 1 well-beaten egg, 2 to 3 dozen cooked chestnuts, depending on the size of the bird, and 1 teaspoon chopped parsley. Mix all together well.
Clean and singe the goose. Stuff it and sew the vent. Truss the bird to hold legs and wings close to the body and rub the outside with a clove of garlic and a little salt. Put the goose in a roasting pan on its side and brush it with 2 tablespoons goose fat. Pour 1/2 cup hot water in the pan and cook in a moderately hot oven (425°F.), allowing 15 to 18 minutes for each pound and basting frequently with the fat in the pan. If the water evaporates and the juice which comes out of the bird seems to be getting too brown, add a little hot water to the pan. Skim off some of the surplus fat from time to time.
After 1 hour, turn the bird to the other side and continue to turn it about every 1/2 hour. Lay it on its back for the last 15 minutes to brown the breast. The bird will be done when the juice which follows the fork used to test it is clear and no longer pink. Remove it to a serving dish.
Skim all the fat from the juice in the pan, add 1/2 cup water or white stock, and cook the gravy, stirring in all the brown crustiness that has formed around the pan. Serve this gravy separately. During the last 1/2 hour of cooking the goose, broil or sauté small sausages to garnish the platter. Two dozen cooked chestnuts or mushrooms sautéed in goose fat may be placed around the bird.
When the goose is cleaned and prepared for the oven, the neck, wings, heart and gizzard are left out. These parts were always made into a stew called abattis and served for lunch the day before Christmas.