Smoke and Mirrors: Cranberry Sassafras Root Beer Goose
I have been unfair lately. While it’s been fun brewing feet in malt beverages and fashioning cakes into thinly-veiled approximations of lady bits, the authenticity that makes Salty Seattle Salty Seattle has been lacking. You see, I don’t really eat like that, I eat like the food in this post, and it’s not nice of me to keep it from you for so long. I hope you haven’t forgotten about the part of this site that brings you wildly-experimental yet lustily edible food, because it’s back with a vengeance herein.
I am a fortunate girl. Whenever a spate of emotions crescendoes, I’ve always known I could turn to the kitchen to assuage the overflow that threatens to seep out. The holidays are a naturally-stressful time, and that, coupled with the fact that my heart feels like it’s been pummeled by a lathe the past few months, have made for a season of jejune spirit.
There is a good chance many of you feel similar, while the sources of our angst may be different. We would all do well to take a moment and remember the things that add meaning to our lives, because it’s easy to forget. You are someone’s daughter or son, and they love you, no matter where they are. You are a mother, a lover, a trusted friend, or a resident nut job, and someone appreciates and admires you for it. There is a whole lotta unconditional love floating around this world, and whenever it fleets out of grasp, figure out a way to tap in- it will help immeasurably.
My tap-in is cooking, and I had forgotten that what with all the smoke and mirrors around lately. Thankfully I found this feast- its inspiration- somewhere inside myself, and I think smoke and mirrors is a very appropriate theme. Life can be smoke and mirrors- relationships, jobs, moments forced to crisis, the social milieu, a facebook status update that doesn’t tell the whole story, or a tweet that decocts a life-changing moment into 140 characters. It’s our job to extract truth and beauty from the surface and to distill the undercurrent of veracity beneath.
I want my food to speak to the world. I want to execute the perfect bite that not only causes a deluge of pleasure, but also changes the way we think about life. The relationship between food and life is intrinsic; as time passes, tastes change.
This meal reflects my soul laid bare of smoke and mirrors as a 33 year old woman who has made mistakes, caused pain, endured dissonance, birthed, married, cried, lied, told the difficult truth, and who welcomes the future- whatever it may bring. I know I can handle it and I will do so with strength and grace, and maybe the occasional f-bomb thrown in to keep it real.
The basis of this meal is Stella the Goose, whom I bathed in cranberry sassafras brine then smoked using sassafras wood. I used elements of root beer because what roots in life surely roots in food, and also because it is the perfect liquid to toe the tightrope between sweet and savory.
Root beer is an old-school beverage made from an amalgam of several roots- sassafras, sarsaparilla, and licorice along with wintergreen and birch bark. I also added star anise. It is so satisfying to make- I will go into greater detail in a later post. The roots infuse and ferment along with molasses and yeast over the course of several days to produce a rich, complex flavor profile that changes over time (much like the human palate-hence applicability to the crux of this meal).
Root beer and cranberries marry very well; in fact I made a cranberry glaze using root beer as the liquid and I’m not sure I’ll ever visit classic citrus-cran again. The cranberry glaze basted Stella as well as provided a tart counterpoint to the light-as-air parsnip gnocchi I paired with it.
In keeping with the smoky theme, I vacuum-packed parsnips with smoked organic hay and allowed them to cook slowly en sous vide so that the hay would impart a woodsy, austere aspect that balances the natural sweetness of the parsnips. The resulting gnocchi was texturally delicate yet robust flavor-wise with a heartiness that transcends potato gnocchi, perhaps due to the hay-infusion.
Because this was a holiday feast and I would be in the kitchen for days anyway, I baked brioche both so I could use it in the dressing- it is THE PERFECT stuffing bread- and so wayward starving souls could have something warm, buttery and gratifying to keep hunger at bay while I masterminded my meal.
The dressing was simple, made by sautéing goose gizzard and neck, deglazing with vermouth, then tossing in brioche, goose heart and liver, and a classic mirepoix with thyme. A little smoky goose fat and duck stock pulled it all together in the oven, though it is largely a stovetop dressing if there ever was one, making it an easy dish to augment an oven-heavy meal.
I served the dressing in parfait layers with cranberry-rootbeer foam. This is a great example of something many consider to be firmly embedded in the realm of molecular gastronomy (foam) blending with traditional fare to create an amalgam that is transcendent of either style of cuisine.
The job of truly great food is not to make you wonder how it was done, but to be so good it doesn’t matter- all you can do is relish it. This is why many who practice modern cuisine object to the “molecular gastronomy” label. If you like it, just eat it- don’t be preoccupied with how it was made.
With a further nod to roots, I treated salsify root like the bonnie prince it is and sous vided it then caramelized it in vanilla-laced fat. I cut it into matchsticks and served it “poutine-style” smothered in root beer gravy and goose fat pop rocks made to resemble cheese curds. I made the rootbeer gravy by sautéing mirepoix in goose fat, creating a roux, then adding my fresh-brewed rootbeer along with some duck stock until I’d reached the ideal viscosity and flavor tone.
Neutral pop rocks are available through willpowders.net and to make the goose fat pop rocks I just combined them with powdered goose fat, made by mixing maltodextrin with the fat. The pop rocks provided an effervescent antidote to the rich caramel muskiness of the salsify, not to mention adding an element of surprise. Life is full of surprises, curveballs- it’s an accomplishment if you can mirror that in a dish to great effect.
Losing myself in the kitchen is the transglutaminase that binds the mechanically-separated chicken nugget that is my life.
The success of the elements of root beer juxtaposed with smoke and mirrors has been an enlightening reaffirmation that cooking is my best therapy. Writing is a close second, so no matter how murky the waters, at least I know I’m doing what I love. Now let me show you how to brine and smoke a goose:
Sassafras-Cranberry-Brined Smoked Goose
- 1 young, organic, fresh goose (Stella was a 9 pounder- this is enough brine for a bigger bird too)
- 6 liters water
- 400 grams Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt
- 1 pint cranberries
- 20 grams sassafras
- 3 lightly-crushed star anises
- 40 grams roughly chopped ginger with peep on
- 20 lightly-crushed black peppercorns
- 2 kilos ice (plus more for an ice bath)
- Bring all ingredients but ice to a boil in a large pot with lid on. Remove lid and stir occasionally. Boil for approximately five minutes, or until the cranberries have popped.
- Remove from heat and pour into a container large enough to hold the brine plus the ice. Set the container in an ice bath. Add the 2 kilos of ice to the brine and stir until dissolved and cooled. You may have to put in the refrigerator to cool completely, though I find that the ice bath works fine.
- Either in a container large enough to hold the bird, or in a food-safe plastic bag, combine the goose and the brine. Allow to brine for 24 hours for a 9-12lb goose, slightly more if the bird is larger, slightly less if the bird is smaller.
- Remove from brine, rinse, and let goose dry for 6-10 hours before smoking.
- Stabilize smoker at a temperature of roughly 200°F. I used sassafras wood, but I imagine apple or cherry would work very well also. It is very important to place a grease catcher of some sort on a lower rack under the goose, since geese have so much fat.
- Smoke the goose, maintaining 200°F for two hours, periodically re-stoking with wood. You don’t need to bother with an internal temperature thermometer with goose, since you will be finishing in the oven. After two hours, remove the goose from the smoker (be sure to keep all the lovely fat) and transfer to a 400°F oven to finish the bird. For a 9lb bird, one hour was sufficient, but basically finish until the bird is 165°F internally. Let rest for ½ hour before carving. This will give you time to do something lovely with all that goose fat.