For those looking for an innovative approach to this year's Thanksgiving feast, try goose instead of turkey, suggests Navajo chef Freddie Bitsoie, the owner of FJBits Concepts and Consultant, based in Scottsdale, Arizona.
While customarily the bird may not be sold at your local supermarket, it is often available during the holiday season and at a discounted price.
"People can get goose now at a comparatively inexpensive rate," Bitsoie says, "ranging from $25-$30 and on up. It goes on sale during the holidays, so it's a great time to try it. Rather than picking up that turkey, pick up the goose."
Alaska Natives regularly cook goose, says Bitsoie, who tried his culinary skills at preparing it for the first time in October 2011 while visiting the northwestern-most U.S. state, where he was filming a preliminary episode of the show Reservations Not Required. The cooking and travel program, told through the unique perspective of indigenous cultures, is hosted by Bitsoie and scheduled to resume production in 2013.
"I jumped at the chance [to prepare goose]," says Bitsoie. "I had no intimidation going into it. There was nothing to deter me from making the goose; I knew I had to have it."
Poultry, Bitsoie says, is generally relegated to different seasons. "Chicken is very summer-y; in fall, we think of duck," he says. Goose was unknown territory. "I didn't know much about the flavor of goose," he admits.
But he put his kitchen prowess to the test on the rich-tasting, dark meat bird. "I rubbed it with herbs and butter," he says. "It’s a really oily and greasy bird like duck, so you have to trim a lot of the fat off before roasting it."
The bird should also be cooked on a baking rack in a roasting pan to drain off excess fat. "Otherwise it will be swimming in goose fat, and you don't want that," Bitsoie says.
Bitsoie offers a basic recipe: rub down the goose with three table spoons of melted butter mixed with a lot of fresh herbs: three tablespoons of chopped rosemary, parsley and thyme, and two tablespoons of tarragon. Before it solidifies, brush it on the goose as well as under the skin, Bitsoie says. Put extra rosemary stems on top of the goose and season it very well with salt and pepper.
He also recommends stuffing the goose with a 1/2 cup of dried apricots, a cup of dried berries, three chopped onions, two stems of chopped celery and one chopped carrot.
"This will give it a sweetness. Once you plate it, you can remove the berries and celery for garnish. They serve an aromatic purpose; they're not a side dish," Bitsoie explains.
The typical rule of thumb is to roast the goose approximately 10 minutes for every pound. "Once you remove it, it’s going to have a very nice amount of flavor," he says. "Goose is something I think everybody should try; I absolutely fell in love with it."
For alternative side dishes to your goose-centric Thanksgiving feast, Bitsoie recommends making stuffing with wild rice instead of bread, or trying a 50-50 ratio of bread to wild rice.
Reinvent mashed potatoes by adding pureed parsnips—try half a pound of parsnips to two pounds of potatoes. "Parsnips add great harvest flavor to mashed potatoes," Bitsoie says.
Another delicious side dish is a medley of zucchini, squash, sweet corn (a pound of each) and an onion. "Saute that in the pan together until brown and fully cooked. It's an absolutely delicious side dish and a great alternative to green beans or green bean casserole," Bitsoie says.
Last but not least, Bitsoie calls pumpkin bread pudding a "big crowd pleaser."
"Use a basic bread pudding recipe with pumpkin bread instead," Bitsoie suggests. "People can be a little apprehensive at first, but then they love it."