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A little pricey but worth it: the pure joy of gobbling down goose

August 20, 2021

Chinese poet Luo Binwang's (AD 619–684) poem "Ode to the Goose" is the first poem learned by many Chinese children, and goose is not only an important theme in Chinese literature but also in the culinary tradition.

Goose is among the pricier poultries compared to chicken and duck, though the most expensive part of a goose is unexpectedly its head.

In November of 2020, five braised shitou goose heads made by five vendors were auctioned off at the Chenghai Shitou Goose International Online Festival for 66,500 yuan (US$10,258), with the most expensive one reaching 14,800 yuan (US$2,283). The money from the auction was donated to a foundation to support goose farmers in Chenghai in the city of Shantou, Guangdong Province, who were going through a difficult time.

The shitou, or lion-head, goose is a specific breed in the Chaoshan (Chaozhou-Shantou) region of Guangdong. Hailed as the "king of goose," it's the largest cultivated goose breed in China – adults can weigh from 9 to 12 kilograms.

In Chaoshan, there's a folk saying "no goose, no feast." In other words, a proper feast must have goose dishes.

Shitou geese are known for their large dewlaps and black crown –­ root of the lion-head moniker. The head is undoubtedly the most valuable part, because it's large and offers a lot more meat than other parts of the body. For epicures, the head is the most delicious part of a goose and the perfect companion to wine or spirit.

The market price for a shitou goose head (which usually includes the neck) can easily reach 1,000 yuan, while for other meat – like chicken, duck, rabbit and pork – the head is usually a cheaper cut.

In Chaoshan cooking, geese are usually braised in rich stocks, making the best use of both the meat and offal parts. The premium braised goose goods use adult male geese above the age of three, and the famous dish "eight treasures of goose" rounds up the best parts of the poultry – head, neck, gizzard, liver, intestine, feet and wing – all cut, sliced and served in a platter.

The fresh goose is rinsed thoroughly and pat dry, then rubbed with salt to cure it for 30 minutes. The stock is the secret to the delicious goose treasures, featuring a special spice pack, light and dark soy sauce, sugar, salt and special nanjiang (southern ginger) in the Chaoshan region, with a base stewed with dried scallops, ham, chicken and pork bones, pork skin and more. Goose fat is an interesting component in the stock, as it floats on top to seal off the air while providing extra fragrance. The goose is simply boiled and braised in the stock until the skin becomes glistening with amber color and irresistible aroma.

The Chaoshan-braised goose liver usually ranks second in terms of popularity. Though the larger-sized goose liver is more expensive, the goose liver in Chaoshan cuisine is of normal size and form, unlike foie gras, the fattened goose liver in French cuisine. The braised goose liver is sliced in 0.5 centimeter pieces for the best texture and flavor.

The feet of the goose is another delicacy that's a little time-consuming to enjoy, yet entertaining to pair with wine or spirit. Marinated goose feet and braised goose feet are two top recipes, the former was mentioned in "A Dream of Red Mansions" by Cao Xueqin.

In Cantonese cuisine, roast goose is a staple and one of the most popular siu mei dishes. Unlike braised goose that uses a mature, large breed, the roast goose recipe calls for a small to medium-sized goose with dark brown plumage from Qingyuan, and preferably younger birds between three and four months old for more tender, juicy meat.

Before roasting the goose, the whole poultry is marinated in a brine and then air dried, an essential technique to achieve crispy skin and moist meat.

When enjoying the roast goose, a sweet and sour plum sauce usually comes in handy to tone down the richness with the much-needed acidity and fruity flavors.

Another dip to go with the roast goose is the original sauce gained from the making of the delicacy, which is extra rich and intensely flavored. Roast goose with rice makes for a quick workday lunch.

In Shunde, Guangdong Province, there's a famous dish called drunken goose, but it's entirely different from the drunken crabs/shrimps/chicken (which soak the cooked meat in a wine or liquor-based brine and is served chilled).

The drunken goose is prepared by first cooking the goose meat with sauce, rice wine, spices, herbs and ingredients from traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Before the dish is ready, a bottle of rice wine is poured into the stew and covered with a lid.

The next step is to light it on fire, and guests can watch the flame dance around the pot. The rice wine intensifies the flavor of the goose meat, and the dish is ready when the alcohol has evaporated.

In the northern provinces, goose stew is a nutritious dish and winter classic. The goose meat is dense compared to chicken and duck, so stew is an ideal way to cook it.

The goose can be cut in chunks and briefly poached in water to remove blood residue, then stewed with ginger, garlic, Sichuan peppercorn, scallion and soy sauce. For richer gravy and flavor, water added to stew the goose can be replaced with beer. Vegetables such as eggplant, potatoes, long beans and chestnuts can be added to make a complete meal.

Goose can also be simmered into soups with TCM ingredients like dangshen (Codonopsis pilosula), jujubes, goji berries and simple seasonings like salt and ginger. The recipe is considered very nourishing and the flavor is light and umami.

Goose eggs are also eaten in China, though not as common as the eggs of chickens, ducks and quails. Goose eggs are larger with more intense flavor that may be offputting for some people. They are considered extra nutritious, and usually scrambled or boiled and then seasoned with a vinegar-based dressing.