Incorporating the spoils of your recent hunt in a family feast can put a lovely rustic spin on your holiday meal. Wild goose or wild turkey can make an especially appealing centerpiece for your table, but those with any experience cooking and eating these game meats will warn you that the taste and texture of these fowl are very different than their domesticated counterparts, which tend to be (un)naturally juicier because they’re often pre-soaked and injected with plumping preservatives. Standard methods of preparation that work just fine on regular geese and turkey may yield dry, flavorless meat also due to differences in the wild birds. The breasts of domesticated turkeys, for example, are usually fuller. There’s less meat on the wild bird and what’s there boasts a chewier texture. Furthermore, in the case of wild goose as well as wild turkey, other appendages (most notably the legs and thighs) are leaner with more tendon than fat or muscle. Many recipes involving these birds forgo the use of this meat altogether, as transforming it into something tasty is a bit of a gamble.
Fortunately, using proper preparation techniques plus a little effort, creativity and willingness to try unconventional spices and seasonings, you can serve a wild goose or turkey at Thanksgiving or Christmas that will put the supermarket versions to shame.
Instead of breasting, the meat retains more moisture with a plucked bird, and it’s best to pluck and clean your wild turkey or goose as soon as possible. “Dry-plucking” is somewhat time-consuming but is less messy than “wet-plucking,” in which you steam or scald the bird and then remove the feathers. Regardless of whether you’re cooking whole or just parts of the turkey or goose, consider using a moist heat method such as braising or stewing to ensure maximal juiciness. Deep-frying is also an option that’s especially suitable for wild turkeys. If you don’t wish you cook your bird via deep-frying or moist heat, consider taking the additional step of brining your turkey or goose overnight to prevent the dryness that often results from grilling, roasting or baking.
The aforementioned preparation and cooking methods result in satisfying meat with a rather straightforward game flavor. There’s plenty of room for improvement and innovation, however, if you involve complementary fruits and vegetables, spices and seasonings and even a bit of booze.
Try putting a sweet berry spin on wild turkey by cooking the bird in a roasting bag and dressing it with a raspberry sauce made from raspberry jam with a little orange juice and vinegar that’s boiled down until thickened. The acid from the fruit and vinegar enhance tenderness of the turkey and provide a wonderful tangy complement to otherwise dominate savory dark meat flavors.
For a more low-key, less labor-intensive wild goose main course, try slow cooking the bird in a crockpot. This method of preparation is particularly useful if your family’s eating style on holidays involves more individual grazing (pun intended) than group sit-down dining. Slice the goose breast meat into cubes, then soak in your favorite poultry marinade (teriyaki, lemon and rosemary, even just Greek dressing) for 4 to 5 hours. Remove and brown the cubes with butter in a saucepan, then transfer to slow-cooker and simmer for seven to eight hours until meat is tender. Serve over rice or egg noodles.
Finally, there’s actually nothing like a little hard stuff to make your bird soft and tender. Cook pre-brined turkey or goose breasts on a skillet or cast-iron pan using plenty of butter, then finish with bourbon or whiskey glaze. The trace of those spirits on the succulent meat will get you and your guest in the spirit this holiday.—Joanna O’Leary