This expression now seems ambiguous, even ironic, but we should rethink in the light of new research – which will affect the way we eat, share food and run a B&B.
Our ancestors treasured fat. ‘The Fat of the Land’ means the very best of what the land can offer. We have a complicated relationship with it, but it now seems clear that it is not our enemy; far from it. Some fats are especially valuable for heart health and brain function and there is a lot of interesting research to be read and yet to be conducted.
The one thing that all seem to agree is that processing is harmful in nearly every case. At Tyrannell we keep any fresh fat in small quantities in the fridge with larger amounts in the freezer to prevent damage to the molecules from the air and over time; a cold temperature slows the oxidation.
We do not use ‘low-fat’ or ‘low saturated-fat’ spreads or cooking fats or oils for our breakfasts, opting only for the most natural and simple produce: butter, and olive oil.
We find that products which claim to be healthy contain the very trans-fats which are the most dangerous. Moreover, according to Mercola, some companies have attempted to get around public hostility to trans-fats by including soybean oil and other alternatives which sound promising but which have numerous undesirable health-effects.
So, we try to keep it simple, and if we think we’re eating too much, we use a smaller knob of butter.
Cook your Goose
Once a year we treat ourselves to a goose. Geese are special birds; they can only really be reared in a seasonal and extensive regime and so they are not only almost always free range but also available exclusively in the autumn and winter periods – the Michaelmas term- hence the link with Christmas. Our favourite way to ‘cook our goose’ is in two phases.
First: carefully remove the two legs and wings. Chill or freeze until later. Now pierce or slash the skin of the breast and slowly roast the body on a grill above a deep roasting pan. You will find a standard recipe in any good, traditional cookery book.
During roasting the precious fat will continuously drip out and it is a good idea to pour it off two or three times. Be careful – several sheets of newspaper in front of the oven door will help as you tilt the pan. I have a broad, short-handled four-tined fork to hold the meat steady and a large strainer jug into which I pour the dripping.
Enjoy your roast goose with potatoes and simple green vegetables and a gravy made from the giblets.
Meanwhile the dripping will be cooling and separating in the jug. Goose fat never sets hard – even in the cool Tyrannell kitchen! it is important, though, that you allow the meat juices to jell at the bottom. To keep well the fat must be completely pure. Use the jelly in a minestrone soup.
When you are ready, gently spoon or pour the fat into suitable large jars for storage. I have two heavy glass ones with cork tops which are perfect. I sometimes collect close to a litre – enough to last a whole year.
Now for the legs. Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall has a classic French recipe for confit of goose legs on the River Cottage website and we always use this. You will need some fat from your stock but, after the confit, you can use it again as it all runs off in the final cooking and then makes delicious roasties.
Confit de Jardin or Garden Pests, French Style
Ivor coined this title as a joke. The dinner guests knew us well…
In the manner of a Confit de Canard take your squirrel, rabbit, pheasant, pigeon and any other edible game. See Pest of the Week for the ones which are the main concern at Tyrannell. Skin and cut the carcase into joints – leg, shoulder and saddle works for the squirrels – and pack into an ovenproof glass dish as tightly as convenient.
Cover with a cure made from salt, spice and herbs – garlic and thyme are our favourites. To 25g or 1oz salt add three crushed cloves of garlic and the leaves from several sprigs of thyme. Bay and ground pepper are pleasing additions. Turn every day for three days. Scrape off the cure as best you can, rinse the dish and replace the meat. Cover with saved fat. Any kind will do but goose and duck are especially delicious.
Cook in the cool oven for many hours – it needs little attention – turn if it dries on top and wait until the meat is falling apart. Shred the meat as you would for pulled pork and, if you would like to serve immediately, give it ten or fifteen minutes at a high heat to let the fat drip off and add a crisp finish.
Otherwise you can carry on with the confit and pack into kilner jars, or similar, and cover with fat then a firm lid before refrigerating for several days.
If the meat is thoroughly covered and no air is present the confit will last quite some time. It was traditionally kept in a cold larder or cellar, covered with a lid of paper tied with string. Being more cautious you might like to go for three to four days in the fridge, three to four months in the freezer.
A Serving Suggestion
Empty the jar of confit on to a wire rack over a roasting tray and spread out. Place in the middle of the hot oven until all the fat has dripped off and the meat is slightly crispy.
Some mash, made with a combination of root vegetables such as parsnips, celeriac, swedes and potatoes, is a lovely accompaniment.
The fat can be used again for roasting potatoes and the dripping in soups but be cautious – it will be a little salty.