My Citizens, few food experiences are as intimately shared between East and West as the mouthwatering expectation of indulging in a classically-prepared roast goose! Whilst Westerners inevitably go to thoughts of enjoying this annually at Christmas dinner a la Dickens, the Chinese in general and the Cantonese in particular will use ANY excuse to indulge in this luxurious meal!
This is especially true as there are specialty restaurants that focus like a laser solely on preparing this most cantankerous (and tasty!) of fowl! In Hong Kong, for example, the unmatched roast goose restaurant Yung Kee has been delighting patrons for more than 80 years and is a city institution and culinary treasure! 😀
Today, it is My honor to share with you a totally authentic method of preparing this savory meal at your own dinner table – it is involved, but it IS possible if you gird your culinary loins and follow the detailed instructions and secrets I ALONE am prepared to share with the goose-cooking tyro! BEHOLD and tremble with wonderment as I share the nearly-lost secrets of creating sīu ngó (roast goose in Cantonese) at home for the benefit of all of TFD Nation!
Roast goose is a dish found in Chinese, European, and Middle Eastern cuisines. The goose is in the biological family of birds including ducks, geese, and swans, known as the family of Anatidae. The family has a cosmopolitan distribution. Roasting is a cooking method using dry heat with hot air enveloping the food, cooking it evenly on all sides. Roasting can enhance flavor.
Many varieties of roast goose appear in cuisines around the world. If your goose is well cooked, it has succulent, tender, dark meat that is rich tasting, but free of fat. A fine roasted goose can be a feast for king and peasant alike, suggested the French writer Honoré de Balzac – he was right.
In southern China, roast goose is a variety of siu mei, or roasted meat dishes, within Cantonese cuisine. It is made by roasting geese with seasoning often in a charcoal furnace at high temperature. Roasted geese of high quality have crisp skin with juicy and tender meat. Slices of roast goose may be served with plum sauce. Roast goose, as served in Hong Kong, is similar to its counterpart in the neighboring Guangdong Province of southern China.
Within Cantonese Cuisine, Cantonese style roasting techniques are renowned as ‘Siu Mei’ 燒味 literally meaning ‘roast flavored’ meats. The first four are classic types of roasting:
- barbecued pork (cha siu叉燒)
- roast goose (siu ngoh 燒鵝)
- roast pork (siu yuk 燒肉)
- roast suckling pig (siu zyu 燒豬)
- roast duck (siu ngaap 燒鴨)
As noted in an excellent article I found on the topic at igafencu.com:
Traditionally roast goose is roasted in charcoal ovens, which give the bird its sumptuous crispy skin and tender meat. However, over recent years however, many regulations set by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department has made it difficult for restaurants to run a charcoal oven. On top of that, the high cost and lack of space has has led many siu mei owners to modernize their cooking methods and recipes to adopt gas ovens instead.
There are only a few places in the city that still uses charcoal ovens, Yue Kee, being one of them insists on keeping up with tradition and as a result has been winning over locals and tourists alike with its aromatic and smoky geese for over 60 years.
Every restaurant that is worth noting has built a reputation on the long-standing secret recipes that has been kept in the family for generations. But if there is something that is fundamental for any good roast goose, it would be the marinade. Stuffed with staple ingredients like salt, sugar, chinese cooking wine, spices, ginger and spring onioin and sealed in with a skewer.
The juices within, called drippings, are then poured out when chopped, and poured over the dish before serving for an extra kick of richness. Some of the richest roast goose in the city with the oldest family recipes are the almost eight decade old Yung Kee and its contender Kam’s whose wonder was the grandson of one of the original Yung Kee members.
A mouth watering goose is not to be served without the iconic plum sauce. Sweet and slightly acidic, the plum sauce acts as a neutralizer to balance out the oil and richness of the goose. Only a fine line or a gentle dip is enough to complement the rich and savory goose. Unlike many other restaurants, Yue Kee makes their plum sauce homemade.
This is an “Ode to the Goose” by Chinese poet Luo Binwang (AD 619–684), which is one of the first poems any Chinese national learns in the early years of their childhood:
咏鹅 – 骆宾王
鹅， 鹅， 鹅，
曲 项 向 天 歌。
白 毛 浮 绿 水，
红 掌 拨 清 波。
“Goose, goose, goose,
You bend your neck toward the sky and sing.
Your white feathers float on the emerald water,
Your red feet push the clear waves.”
As noted on frommetertomeaning.wordpress.com:
Written when he was just 7 years old, this poem conveys a sense of the innocent, yet detailed observations of a child towards the immensity of nature. Later widely acknowledged as the one of four distinguished Tang poets, Luo reveals his brilliancy in poetry at a young age. Although he focuses on a seemingly insignificant part of nature (geese!), the poet reveals his deeper connection with nature through an activation of a plethora of senses.
Beginning with a simple word — 鹅 (geese) — repeated thrice, readers recognize the simple, carefree spirit of the poet and can expect a refreshing and lighthearted piece of work. The poet then proceeds to focus on the body parts of geese and connect them to an aspect of nature: 曲项 (curved necks), 白毛 (white feathers), and 红掌 (red webbed feet) are all simple, yet elegant two-worded descriptions of geese; all three body parts directly engage with nature, revealing the close connections between animals and nature.
However, Luo does not simply correlate animals with nature — in reality, he also weaves a tightly-knitted relationship between beauty and nature. The vivid descriptions of the setting serves to portray the gentle serenity of the natural environment. In truth, the childlike observations of nature remind readers to sometimes stop and simply admire the beauty of their natural surroundings.
Goose, an important theme in Chinese poetry, is also an essential part of the many regional cuisines making up the classical Chinese recipe canon. If Nanjing is the capital of duck cuisine in China (Nanjing salted duck rivals Peking duck for popularity in China!), Guangdong Province is no doubt the capital of goose cuisine, where the waterfowls are stewed, braised and roasted to make dishes that are beloved across the country as well as abroad.
Interesting factoids here: in Shanghai, a goose is called bai wu ju (白乌居), because in the Shanghainese dialect, the pronunciation of goose, e, is the same as me, wo, so ‘kill the goose’ sounds like ‘kill me’! Another tip known only to Chinese goose auteurs – geese sleep standing only on one foot – specifically with their left leg, so the left leg is more developed than the right leg, and the true gourmet eats only the left leg as a result.
Now – as to the size of the goose for preparation, you ideally want one no more than 60 days old – ideally 50, according to the connoisseurs like TFD – as the goose is still young enough not to have started flying (which toughens the breast meat) and has much of its youthful and succulent subcutaneous fat that makes goose so deliciously rich and decadent! It must – of course – be free-range, well-treated in its life and cared for with respect and dedication to the animal’s care to ensure a delicious and ethical meal on your part! You can buy an exceptional young goose of about 8-10 lbs. that meets all My criteria at this purveyor.
Of course, don’t forget to save any rendered fat from the bird after you’re done cooking it, which you can use to make the most delicious roasted potatoes this side of heaven! The skin of the Cantonese roast goose – like its cousin, Peking Duck, is craveable and moreish with its glasslike, crackling exterior and juicy, fatty interior. To achieve this with equality to the finest roast goose restaurants, you must emulate their secrets and the biggest one is called ‘crispy skin water’. This, along with the maltose/vinegar solution that gives the beautiful color and air drying, are actually the real secrets to amazing Cantonese roast poultry.
It is made of the following ingredients and ratios: white vinegar (280g), maltose (70g), Chinese red vinegar (30g), and rose water (30g), painted on after sprinkling the goose skin with hot water as noted in the recipe. Do NOT skip this step, or substitute any other ingredients in this, it just won’t work properly (trust me on this one!).
Other ingredients used in my other version of the ‘skin tightening liquid process’ include black cardamom pods, black vinegar, and chen pi (dried tangerine peel). Two outré ingredients you’ll also need include 13-spice powder, and sweet bean paste, plus peach wood chips and top-quality real wood charcoal to replicate the impossible-to-find lychee charcoal and lychee wood smoking chips used in Southern China. The smoking chips and charcoal are only needed if you are using an outdoor grill as opposed to your oven – I provide instructions for both cooking methods (the outdoor version is preferred).
Lastly – an optional but strongly recommended step identical to making Peking Duck – you want to pump that goose full of air to help separate the meat from the skin to ensure palatal perfection and crispy skin. A bicycle pump is perfect, just remember to clip the rear of the goose closed so it swells up like a basketball when you pump it full of air! Lastly, I prefer to use a more subtle dipping sauce than the classic plum sauce or sweet bean paste, as I prefer to taste the goose as opposed to the sauce. That said, feel free to use either if you are so inclined.
Citizens, I recognize this is a lot of work – but you will be making a roast goose that will be the envy of the Gods themselves and with my trademark ruthless authenticity! The Jade Emperor will nod respectfully in your direction, the Kitchen God will report you are indeed worthy and TFD will complete the Holy Trinity beaming down upon your culinary genius with pride!
Battle on – the GeneralissimoPrint
The Hirshon Cantonese Roast Goose – 燒鵝
- 1 8-10 lb. young goose (weight before removing giblets, neck)
- Several small metal skewers (if grilling)
- Combine equal parts oyster sauce, sweet bean paste, and ground scallion, 1/4 part sugar, 1/4 part 13-spice powder, 1/2 part garlic paste, 1/2 part ginger paste
- For the skin-tightening dip:
- 6 cups water
- 3/4 cup soy sauce
- 3/4 cup maltose
- 3 star anise
- 3 black cardamom, crushed or split
- 3 cloves
- 1/8 cup Chinese black vinegar
- Several thick slices of lightly-smashed ginger
- 4 Tbsp. Dried tangerine peel (Zest-only fresh orange peel also works)
- Crispy Skin Water – combine white vinegar (280g), maltose (70g), Chinese red vinegar (30g), rose water (30g)
- Hot Water
- Dipping Sauce (per person):
- 1 Tbsp. sugar
- 1 tsp. sesame oil (TFD endorses only Kadoya brand!)
- 1 tsp. soy sauce
- 1 tsp. shaoxing wine (preferred) or dry sherry
- 1 tsp. cornstarch
- If grilling:
- Peach wood smoking chips, soaked in water for one hour
- Hardwood charcoal
- Once the goose is defrosted (if frozen), trim off the excess flaps of fat at the neck and reserve, and tip the wings, as the extreme ends of these are virtually useless and will char in the oven. Save all these for broth making and extracting the delicious fat!
- Remove the neck and pack of giblets from the cavity – these can be used as you see fit (I’m talking goose stock here, Citizens!). If you have access to a bicycle pump, pump the goose full of air through the neck hole, with a clip pinching the back end of the goose closed so the air can swell the bird. This is an optional but strongly-recommended step!
- Combine the skin-tightening dip ingredients into a large pot and heat to boiling.
- Combine marinade ingredients, smear it throughly on the interior of the goose.
- Once the interior of the goose has been throughly coated with the marinade, shove a clean wine or brandy bottle (labels removed, please) into the rear of the bird, then set it upright so that no part of the skin needs to touch anything.
- Put the bird, bottle and all, into a very clean sink in a disposable foil pan.
- CAREFULLY ladle the boiling hot liquid over the bird, making sure to pour it over the ENTIRE skin of the bird. Decant the liquid from the foil pan back into the pot, and bring it back to a boil. Repeat the procedure twice more. This tightens the skin, which will help it become crispy. and is a necessary step!
- When this has been done, and the base of the bottle has been cleaned off, place it in your refrigerator in another disposable foil pan for two days to dry THOROUGHLY.
- After 48 hours of drying in the fridge, take it out and put the bird in your clean sink once again in another disposable foil pan. Sprinkle hot water on the goose one time only, then paint the crispy skin water all over the bird. Let each coat of crispy skin water dry, then repeat a total of 2 times. Put the goose back in the fridge for another 3 hours or until COMPLETELY DRY.
- If cooking indoors: Heat your oven up to 425 degrees Fahrenheit (220 Celsius, more or less).
- Cook the bird in the oven (ideally, vertically on a vertical roaster in a pan or on a wire rack if that’s all you’ve got), and roast for about twelve minutes per pound. Rotate the bird a couple of times. For the first hour of roasting, it might be best to cover with aluminum foil to prevent excessive darkening.
- If, at the end of cooking, there are parts which still look pale, it is perfectly all right to ‘retouch’ those areas with a butane kitchen torch, or kick the broiler on and watch it CAREFULLY.
- Remove the bird from the oven, and let it stand for about thirty minutes. Reserve the juices in the bottom of the pan!
- If cooking in an outdoor roaster or grill – heat the charcoal thoroughly (TFD strongly prefers hardwood charcoal as the best, easily-accessible substitute for lychee charcoal). Soak peach wood chips in water for at least an hour. Skewer the bottom end of the goose closed so it stays tightly-sealed, you want those tasty juices to stay in the bird for dousing the cut-up bird pieces!).
- Cook the goose on the grill (ideally on an s-hook, if possible) adding peach wood chips as needed to get a good smoke on.
- Set the goose over the fire for about 40 minutes until the skin turns a maroon color. During the process of roasting, rotate the sides of the goose twice to allow for even heating.
- To serve, remove the skewers, tilt the goose to collect all the droppings. Then, either waste a lot of time carving it for an American – British – European presentation, or place it on the chopping block/board and chop it Chinese-style, which is much more efficient and much easier indeed.
- Serve with TFD’s preferred dipping sauce or any leftover sweet bean paste (or plum sauce) if you so prefer. If there are any drippings in the carcass, be sure and pour them over the chopped meat before serving!
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