If someone tells you that Canada geese are not worth eating, don’t be fooled; they can make a meal fit for a king if you are a little creative
Every so often, we are graced with the sight and sound of Canada geese on our Wiltshire rough shoot, which always adds to the excitement of the day. Sometimes we’ll try to manoeuvre for a stalk, or get Guns under a regular flightline. At other times, the geese will simply take us by surprise.
If they are on, our regular guests are never shy about having a pop, knowing full well that yours truly is always delighted to take a goose home for the pot. And indeed I am, though there have been several occasions when I’ve ended up with — literally — rather more than I can chew.
Like the time when a skein of eight came honking from afar, giving the boys hunkered around our main flightpond plenty of time to ready themselves. The geese had circled out wide before banking round for another look at the pond. Eventually they committed and dropped their paddles and stooped into a sudden volley of gunfire.
Before they knew what was what, seven fell from the skein, crumpling into the shallow water and creating a succession of mighty splashes. Despite not being lucky enough to dirty my own barrels at geese that night, the challenge of preparing one for the table was too much for some and I ended up taking four of them home, which was rather more than I’d bargained for.
Sadly, and unjustly, Canada geese are often passed off as not worth eating. For those of you starting out in game cookery or a shooting life, please don’t be fooled. If someone tells you that Canada geese are as tough as old boots and not worth the trouble, it is more than likely that the person is either a poor or uneducated cook, or that they are simply passing on a bad news story picked up from elsewhere.
So long as it has been shot cleanly and handled and hung properly, a Canada goose can make a meal fit for a king. To North American hunters, these hulking hounds of the sky are known as “flying beef” — a nod to their fine eating qualities. In Britain, the Canada goose population has boomed. The birds are now widespread and have become increasingly accessible to inland shooters. For anyone who shoots over a large enough flightpond or over ground bordering a watery landscape, it is well worth keeping a handful of non-toxic loads in your pocket.
Wild geese are generally long-lived birds and it helps to know how to age them, for young birds and older birds should be treated differently in the kitchen. Comparing them with beef, you can treat meat from a first-year goose like steak; whereas for that of an older bird, we are talking brisket.
It is easy to tell a young Canada goose from a mature adult. Aside from softer and more pliable bills and feet, the youngsters have lower-contrast feather markings with blurry and pale edges to their brown back and wing feathers. Though it is still dark, the neck of a young Canada goose is generally paler than that of an adult. The colour of the feathers around the base of the neck blend into the paler breast feathers. On an older bird, the neck is virtually black and there is a sharp edge where the dark neck feathers meet the breast.
A carefully plucked young Canada goose makes a delicious roast, but they are lean birds and require regular basting. I like to stuff them with lots of fruit — usually plums, damsons and orange segments — along with a handful of peeled shallots, a couple of bay leaves and sticks of cinnamon with several star anise. As the fruits, spices and juices from the goose melt together, they produce a wonderfully fragrant sauce that can be thickened to make gravy.
With older birds, I usually just take the breasts off and treat them as I would meat from a shoulder of venison. For an older goose, long and slow cooking is definitely the order of the day. Or they can be minced to make goose burgers. There are stacks of great wild goose recipes online. It is simply a case of getting creative in the kitchen.
“To North American hunters, these hulking hounds of the sky are known as ‘flying beef’”
Mike Short is an ecologist at the GWCT. He is a keen angler, deer stalker and forager and helps to run a wild bird rough shoot in Wiltshire.
Canada geese are frequent visitors to our shores and, young birds or old, make delicious eating