Wednesday, December 15, 2010

I Got My Christmas Goose Early!

Despite what you hear in carols, cooking a goose has become a relic of Christmas' past. The lack of demand led to diminished availability and, until recently, you couldn't get one if you wanted to. Fortunately there is a small farm in Reardan, Washington, outside of Spokane that has started to raise them for just these occasions.

Geese are in the same family as ducks, with the same "red meat" only they are larger and have a slightly gamier flavor. Since they are still hard to come by they are very expensive, but I really wanted to offer them this holiday season so I had to come up with something that was both economical and intriguing. It finally came to me this past weekend after picking up some pho for takeout.

The Vietnamese noodle soup was a perfect muse for the Christmas goose on many different levels. The broth base is supposed to be rich and flavorful; an easy task for the bones leftover from carving out the meat, which also allows me to use every part of the bird, thus lowering the cost of the final product. Also, traditional spices like cinnamon, clove and star anise used to give the broth it's distinct aroma are the same that many of us relate to as Christmas flavors. Once I made these connections in my mind, the idea just snowballed.

In addition to the spices, the broth is flavored with charred onion halves, called an onion brule, to help add color and flavor, a western technique taken from the French colonization of Vietnam back in the 19th century, much like using pate and a baguette in a bahn mi sandwich. I used the same technique on two large, peeled knobs of ginger split lengthwise to soften their spice and bite, with more flavor coming from green cardamom pods, fennel seeds, black peppercorns and fish sauce. I allowed the ingredients to simmer and meld together all day while I prepared the laundry list of components that comprise the dish.

There's julienned leeks and carrots, chopped napa cabbage, vermicelli noodles, fried tofu, Thai basil, and fried garlic and shallots (subtle yet necessary ingredients that aren't always added to some pho but are essential, in my opinion). On the side I offered the typical condiments of Sriracha hot sauce, hoisin sauce and cute little key limes instead of regular ones since they're in season.

Last, but not least, I used all of the meat that I cut and scraped from the bones to make a "meatball". I say "meatball" because since it's common for the meatballs served in pho to be sliced I just made long logs out of the ground breast and leg meat that I mixed with sauteed ginger, garlic and scallions, soy sauce and breadcrumbs to help hold in some of the succulent fat and flavor. After shaping them onto pans I roasted and cooled the meat before slicing it into little discs, saving myself a lot of time.

To serve a pho at a restaurant like ours in a pho-centric city like Seattle takes a lot of balls (pun intended). I have shied away from trying it in the past because there are so many good places here that serve it, but with a dish as delicious as this one that crosses cultures while focusing on such an iconic ingredient, I have to say... it's perfect!!

For the second part of my three week holiday dessert cocktail offering I am honoring another great interpretation of a classic Christmas sweet: the gingerbread cookie.

I never grew up making a gingerbread house, nor did I ever hear of someone doing so until I started working at the '21' Club in Manhattan, where a pastry chef told me about the intricacies of the art from his past experience. New York City is an amazing place to be during the holiday season, but if you work in the service industry you are very busy from Black Friday through New Year's Day. Needless to say, I never got the chance to learn how to make a gingerbread house.

Here in Seattle things are a little calmer this time of year and I actually got the chance to make my first gingerbread house this past weekend after eating my takeout pho, but I refuse to post pictures since I bought a pre-baked kit. Maybe next year...

Instead of the gingerbread house I am offering something much more manageable than a house - a tasty cocktail made by shaking Absolut Vanilla vodka, gingerbread liqueur, half and half and Kahlua with ice and straining it into a martini glass that is garnished with a skewer of assorted gum drops!!

It is surprisingly light despite the dairy and Kahlua, and isn't too sweet, even with the gum drops!

Happy Holidays from all of us at Table 219!!

With Love,


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