This dish is crave-worthy in every way: Exotically rich and darkly delicious with a bone-sucking boldness that you will remember for a lifetime. It’s wild geese swimming in an aromatic stew of wine-infused flavor so soul-satisfying and filling that it will make your knees wobble, and your belt unbuckle.
And it all started with an invitation from my friend Donnie Bacque. Along with Darryl D’Avy and Chris Dautreuil, he invited me to join them for a morning goose hunt at our friend Stephen Abshire’s camp on Forked Island in lower Vermilion Parish. His lodge along the Intracoastal Waterway has perfect goose-hunting fields, and with the expert calling of guide Jeff Leblanc, we limited out on specklebellies in no time at all.
The high-pitched cry of the greater white-fronted goose (specklebellies in these parts) is highly distinguishable from its brethren, and hunting them takes expert finesse. Specs are more skittish, and to bag your limit is a challenge for even the most experienced hunters. Here in Acadiana, they are prized over all geese, and once you have your first bite of this goose and gravy recipe, you’ll know why.
So with two fat specklebellies in hand, it was time to fire up my black iron pot. I began to think back through my recipe memory bank and remembered a recipe for coq au vin—stewing down a tough old bird (rooster) in red wine—that results in a gravy that is as good as the meat itself. Yessirree!
The key to wild goose versus a store-bought domestic goose is the difference in the fat content; wild goose is surprisingly lean, whereas the goose you purchase in your supermarket has thick layers of fat to render out. In fact, in this recipe, I introduce fat from applewood smoked bacon to brown the goose and seal in the juices. Additionally, I find overnight brining with apple juice, salt, and sugarcane molasses brings moisture to the birds, and I urge you to take the time and brine.
This wild game dish is a hearty meal for big appetites, so make sure your guests are hungry when called to the table. But rest assured, the boldness of this goose and gravy creates an aroma that is so spellbinding, you won’t have to call them more than once.
- 2 (4 to 5-pound) wild specklebelly geese, cleaned
- 3 quarts apple juice
- ½ cup sugarcane molasses
- 1 cup salt
- ½ cup black pepper
- 1 (750 ml) bottle red wine
- 6 strips smoked applewood bacon
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 large yellow onions, peeled and chopped
- 1 cup chopped celery
- 1 cup chopped green bell pepper
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
- ½ cup packed chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 2 tablespoons Acadiana Table Cajun Seasoning Blend, see recipe here
- 8 cups dark chicken stock
- 2 cups apple juice
- 4 tablespoons dark roux
- 2 cups sliced andouille sausage
- 3 bay leaves
- 4 tablespoons corn starch
- 4 tablespoons cold water
- 8 cups cooked long-grain white rice, such as Supreme, for serving
- Rinse the inside cavity and the skin of the geese thoroughly with cold water. Inspect each goose carefully and with a pair of pliers remove any feathers remaining. If the head is still on the goose, remove it.
- Make a brine by adding the apple juice, molasses, salt, and pepper to a large pot over high heat. Bring to a boil and continue cooking until the salt dissolves, about 10 minutes. Let cool.
- In a large container, add the two geese and pour over the brine. If not totally cool, add some ice to cool it down. Add enough water just to cover the geese (you might need to weigh down the geese since they tend to float). Place in the refrigerator overnight.
- Remove the geese from the brine and pat dry with paper towels. With a butcher’s knife or heavy-duty kitchen shears, cut each goose into 6 or 8 pieces.
- In a medium saucepan over high heat, empty the bottle of red wine and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium and continue cooking the wine at a rolling boil until the alcohol cooks off and it reduces by half, 10 to 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and pour off 1 cup of the wine for later, and reserve the remaining reduced wine for other cooking uses.
- In a large cast-iron pot or Dutch oven with a heavy lid over medium-high heat, add the bacon strips and cook until the fat renders and the bacon begins to crisp, about 10 minutes. Remove the bacon, chop into pieces and reserve for later.
- Add the geese skin-side down to the hot bacon grease and brown, 5 to 8 minutes. Remove the meat to a platter.
- Add the onion, celery, and bell pepper to the grease and cook until the onion turns translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, rosemary, parsley, and Cajun seasoning, and cook for another 3 minutes.
- Add the stock, apple juice, 1 cup of the reduced red wine, and the roux. Bring to a boil and stir to combine. Lower the heat to a simmer and add the geese back to the pot along with the andouille, chopped bacon, and bay leaves. Make sure the pieces of geese are mostly immersed in the liquid to ensure even cooking (add more chicken stock if necessary). Cover the pot and cook until the meat is tender, about 2 hours. Uncover and stir the pot every half hour and skim the grease from the surface.
- Turn off the heat, remove the bay leaves, taste the gravy, and season with salt and pepper to your taste. The gravy should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. If needed, make a slurry with cornstarch and cold water, and add it to the pot (bring it to a boil) to thicken.
- Serve the goose and gravy over steamed white rice, and serve with the biggest, boldest Cabernet you have.
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