The Secret to Making the Best St. Martin’s Day Goose Legs

grey goose

On November 11 Saint Martin of Tours is celebrated throughout Christian parts of the world. Many customs are attached to the Roman soldier-turned-monk who is also a patron of my country. Some of these traditions are living part of our folklore to this day ever since medieval times, but the most popular of all is no doubt the Martin Day Feast.

The eating. Because of course.

This religious observance marks the end of the agrarian year and was the last chance to rejoice before the 40-day Advent Fast, so it is no surprise people shaped the festivities to be about eating, drinking and general merriment.

Legend has it that humble Martin hid in the goose pen trying to avoid being ordained bishop, but was betrayed by the cackling of the birds. This is how the goose became the symbol of the Saint. Anser anser domesticus is also the bird of the Roman god Mars and has even been worshipped, but that never stopped anyone from eating the poor things.

And indeed: domestic geese are fully grown and ready to be slaughtered precisely this time of the year, making them the star of the holiday table. A traditional Hungarian St. Martin’s Day menu is goose with braised red cabbage and mashed potatoes, a rich wintery dish followed by the new wines of the year. Which also happen to be ready now. Am I the only one sensing a conspiracy theory here? 🤔

We also have a saying that goes like this: those who do not eat goose on Martin’s will be starving throughout the next year. That’s serious sh*t, folks! I therefore believe it’s in public interest I share how to make the best leg of goose (pssst: duck is all right if you can’t get goose).

There is only one secret: confit.

Confit is an age-old process for preserving food, created as a matter of necessity before the days of refrigeration. The fancy French word (simply meaning to preserve) may be pure gibberish to my grandma, but she knows the how-to all right: pieces of pork not going to be cured (ham) or smoked (sausages) ended up in a big, heavy pot, cooked to melt-off-the-bone tender, and kept under their own fat for months to be thoroughly enjoyed.

How is this extended shelf life possible? By slow-cooking in a liquid (fat in this case) that is inhospitable to bacterial growth and then packed completely submerged in that liquid, creating an impenetrable, airtight barrier.

The difference between deep-frying and confit is in the temperature. Confit is a low and slow process – we’re talking hours here. During the course of cooking, the fat temperature will not rise above 95°C (200°F). It’s hot enough to break down tough connective tissue and tenderize the meat to perfection.

There’s no need to heavily flavor the goose: salt on its own is enough. Rub some freshly ground black pepper in the skin and pop a sprig of rosemary in the pot if you must, but no more.

What you will also need is rendered goose or duck fat, and quite a lot of it: enough to cover the legs completely. Here in Hungary, this liquid gold is available in most supermarkets, I hope you guys can buy it too.

And if you really want to make the most of your goose confit – and why wouldn’t you – try to find goose or duck skin with fat (it’s what you get by carefully removing all of the skin and fat from a whole bird, cutting close to, but avoiding the meat – also commercially available here). The tasty bonus is fritons, or goose cracklings, a highly addictive, crispy snack. After cooking, reserve the flavorful fat in the fridge for another use.

Goose Leg Confit

Fall-off-the-bone goose legs, the ultimate St. Martin’s dish.

Ingredients

4 goose legs

25 g salt

freshly ground black pepper to taste (optional)

1 sprig of rosemary (optional)

1 l goose or duck fat

500 g goose or duck fat with skin

Directions

  1. The day before making this dish, check goose legs for remaining feathers, wash them and pat dry with paper towels. Rub salt and pepper (if using) into the skin, cover and leave to cure in the fridge overnight.
  2. Preheat oven to 120°C / 250°F.
  3. If using, cut fat with skin to uniform chunks, about 1″x1″.
  4. Arrange fat chunks on the bottom of a heavy pan or dutch oven in an even layer, place goose legs on top of it.
  5. Pour rendered fat and ½ cup of water over legs to cover completely. Add rosemary, if using.
  6. Cover dish with a lid or foil and place in the oven to cook for about 3 hours or until meat easily comes off the bone. The skin on the legs and the cracklings should be dark golden.
  7. To crisp up the skins before serving, remove legs from fat and pan fry skin side down over medium-high heat for 5 min. Turn the legs and transfer the pan to the oven for 20 min. Enjoy!

Love,

Fruzsi

‘Yellow-billed grey goose portrait on the farm’ photo by Csehák Szabolcs via Shutterstock

Making Jam Then and Now

flatlay jam

Strawberry season is at its peak, and all the other fruits will soon start arriving to your farmers market. Do you make jam?

By the way, what is jam? If you think this question is plain silly, you were not paying attention to the news. The heated debate over EU regulations concerning preserves, marmalade, fruit-spreads, jams and jellies is far from over, some describing those rules as an example of unnecessary red tape and “gold-plating” of European Union directives.

After reading numerous articles and even a guideline leaflet on the subject, I still haven’t the faintest idea how my grandmother’s apricot jam would be correctly labeled under European law, were it ever to be sold commercially.

See, this is because our lekvár (pron. lehk-waar) is quite unique to this region. To try illustrate the difference: jams are gelled to a quite clear consistency, fruit pieces are still identifiable. Lekvár on the other hand takes longer to make, is homogenous and thick like a puree.

You must have noticed the worldwide revolution going on in the home canning and preserving front lately. I’m also trying my hands at making small batch jams, something I honestly never thought I’d do. But let’s take a short trip down memory lane to see how we got here.

What used to be necessary frugality for our grandparents in order to save as much food as possible has turned into a creative activity, yet not so long ago during the 90’s and early aughts, granny’s jams were far from trendy.

Post-soviet era Hungary, social gap growing swiftly. I was a kid then, and I used to look at those 25 oz. jars neatly labeled and lined up on the shelves of the village pantry – I know how bad this sounds – as a sign of not being well-off. My classmates ate jams bought from the store (which now also carried Kellog’s, I mean wow!) in pretty little hexagon bottles, their relatives not bothering with at-home preserving any more.

Little did I know (and care) at the time that most of those products have never seen actual fruit; all I remember is finding our homemade apricot and plum jams uncool. Well, times have definitely changed! I’ve tried many different flavors since, and as much I liked most of them, I’ve established that none are a match to the classics when it comes to crepes (What Nutella? Please…) or carnival donuts.

Anyway. The jam making frenzy of today is different from our ancestors’ ways in many aspects. First of all, fortunately it’s not about what we’re going to eat during a long winter any more. It’s rather a culinary hobby and the result of the demand to know what’s in our food.

I respect tradition, but I also like to create new and unique flavors in my kitchen through experimenting with fruit combinations and adding spices. Standing-next-to-the-stove-stirring-all-day jam making and 1:1 fruit to sugar ratios are a thing of the past. Modern jams are made quicker thanks to natural gelling agents with less sugar needed. Shorter cooking times also preserve more of the goodness of the fruit, result in better color and a more intense flavor.

So far I’ve cooked up a festive plum jam, a cardamom and vanilla flavored apricot jam, a strawberry and raspberry jam with ginger and a nicely tart vanilla-infused triple berry (raspberry, blueberry and blackcurrant) jam. Next up, strawberries with a hint of lavender. I’ll let you know how it turns out!

Last summer I did a blog series on the principles of home canning based on USDA’s Complete Guide to Home Canning. If you feel like jumping on the bandwagon, feel free to refer back to my posts on food safety, sterilizing jars, ensuring the quality of your canned goods, and the steps of filling the jar properly.

Love,

Fruzsi

‘Sweet jar raspberry jelly homemade’ image by mrsiraphol / Freepik

Carnivals & Donuts

traditional hungarian farsangi fank

In Christian parts of the world, carnival celebrations are held during the period between Epiphany (January 6th) and Ash Wednesday (March 1 this year). Hungary, a mostly Catholic country is no exception, but our carnival season is far from average.

As Farsang (far-shaangh) is the last merriment preceding the 40-day piety of Lent, it is marked by many festivities, balls and costume parades aiming to scare winter off to finally welcome spring.

Our celebrations are a unique mixture of Christian and pagan traditions. Look no further than old folk custom Busójárás masquerade of the city of Mohács, Cultural Heritage acknowledged by UNESCO.

The carnival feast also includes a lot of excess eating and drinking as you’ve guessed, the most delicious of the treats being without any question farsangi fánk – the Carnival Donut itself. Even if you watch what you eat, it’s a must this time of the year!

You might say donuts are nothing special and indeed, they are all around the world. I’m not going to post a recipe either because chances are you have one already. Instead, I’m going to share how we do them here, the farsang-way.

It is fairly unclear how doughnuts got to our kitchens. The two most well-known theories are either adapting French beignets, or the product of a Viennese baker named Krapf (donuts are still called Krapfen in the germanosphere). The rich but relatively cheap pastry was first mentioned in 1603, becoming really popular throughout Hungary later, in the 19th century.

hungarian carnival donuts

It’s not my intention to break anyone’s spirit, not at all! But if you’ve never worked with yeast dough before, this pastry is probably not the best place to start. Traditional farsangi fánk should be airy-light inside and golden brown outside with a nice, white ribbon around its midsection. Fulfilling all the criteria is easier said than done: making a perfect donut is quite a fastidious task requiring an experienced hand.

For the delicate leavened pastry with high yeast content, all ingredients should be room temperature. The rising needs to happen in a warm place and the dough has to be handled with extra care not to break it (rolling-pin forbidden!). And even then, the temperature of the frying oil could make or break the results.

If you manage to succeed against all odds, these carnival specialties are then eaten warm and simple: no glaze or filling, just a dusting of powdered vanilla sugar. No holes either, a dent is made in the middle instead to accommodate a generous spoonful of homemade apricot jam.

hungarian donut with jam

We had ours with my spicy plum preserve this time and as you can see, the ribbons were far from perfect, but the happy faces definitely make up for all the misery. Also, a family tradition from grandmother to mother to daughter is continued.

Are there unusual carnival traditions where you live? Let’s hear about them!

Love,

Fruzsi