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.
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
- 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.
- Preheat oven to 120°C / 250°F.
- If using, cut fat with skin to uniform chunks, about 1″x1″.
- Arrange fat chunks on the bottom of a heavy pan or dutch oven in an even layer, place goose legs on top of it.
- Pour rendered fat and ½ cup of water over legs to cover completely. Add rosemary, if using.
- 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.
- 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!
‘Yellow-billed grey goose portrait on the farm’ photo by Csehák Szabolcs via Shutterstock