Smoke and Mirrors: Cranberry Sassafras Root Beer Goose

posted in: Cooking, Savory, Sweet | 30

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.

goose in cranberry sassafras brine

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.

smoked goose with mache

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).

parsnip gnocchi with root beer cranberries

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.

smoked hay-infused parsnip gnocchi

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.

brioche rising

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.

goose organ stuffing

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.

brioche stuffing with cranberry root beer foam

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.

parfait

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.

salsify root, unpeeled and peeled

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.

"poutine" of salsify, root beer gravy and goose fat pop rocks as "curds"

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)

To brine:

  • 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)
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Remove from brine, rinse, and let goose dry for 6-10 hours before smoking.

To smoke:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
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  10. I love how you plated something so gamey and barbaric to eat, into something so sophisticated. The flavor pairings are very palyful. very nice!

  11. you had me at smoked goose! the flavors you assembled here play together like a symphony, with a few refrains, like the cranberries. Musical.

  12. What planet are you from?? I thought I was adventurous making a goose confit salad with persimmons and pomegranates. But goose brinded in sassafras then smoked with rootbeer ingredients is simply not earthly. Then smoked parsnips for your gnocchi and homemade brioche for your stuffing, I am beyond impressed. When I am in Seattle I will look you up for a cooking class. I definitely have something new to learn.

  13. Stella looks amazing. Im glad you find your feet when cooking. I kind of feel the same way, like I can always chop an onion and let everything go in my mind (or I’ll chop a few onions furiously and not let so much go).

  14. As always, great words and food photography that simply floors me. Seriously, some of the best photography out there. Well done indeed.

  15. “transglutaminase”?
    Love your wrting even if some of your words are not in my dictionnary, not that they need to be.

  16. Sweet George lady, that is some spread. And I thought our table in Kentucky was outrageous (who’d ever thought of cooking food in a sauce made from Red Hots anyway?) It’s nice to come back to Seattle and read of a more refined madness. Love your blog, it is directly fed into my mind now. I may have to spread the word on sassafras (by the way, in full disclosure I’m the Communication Hero for Full Circle), see if I can get the farm to grow some. Thanks for the ideas!

  17. Beautifully cooked, beautifully described! Thank you, you’re an inspiration!

  18. I, too, ‘lose myself’ in the kitchen and feel very fortunate to have found such a relatively healthy way of venting stress and spreading love. I’ll start throwing this and that in a pan or a pot and will then realize that hours have gone by. Also, because I cook like jazz, capturing exact amounts and steps, etc. has been really been difficult as I’ve started blogging. This post is just loaded with so much! So as not to take up tooooooo much space :), I’ll just end by saying that your flavors are super creative and the presentation is very beautiful!

  19. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Chef John, Barbara Kiebel, The Local Dish, Ken Leung and others. Ken Leung said: RT @SaltySeattle: Goose, Poutine, & Gnocchi using the Elements of Root Beer and Smoke: http://t.co/RowaeM9 [...]

  20. I can really relate to this post – I turned to the kitchen and food in earnest after my Mom died, and whatever wretched things – or really, whatever beautiful things – life has thrown at me since, I always know that time stops when I am cooking, yet simultaneously food – how I think about it and how I make it – allows me to chart the passage of time. Recently, when my dog passed away, my time in culinary lab was literally the only relief I could find. It is such an amazingly lucky thing to have a mental and physical creative space that you can turn to … This post is just genius, I love it.

  21. That is so impressive! What an amazing looking bird. *Jealous*

  22. that bird is beautiful…i think i need more perfectly cooked goose in my life ;)

  23. I love you Ms. Salt and I can’t wait until I get out of the Deliverance-like hell I am living in right now and back into a kitchen. It has been 17 days since I touched a knife. I’m dying.

  24. This is fabulous – from start to finish – absolutely amazing!

  25. LOVED this! What an artist you are!! You not only bring beauty and creativity to the food, but the story, emotion and love that it was created in! Can’t wait to read more!

  26. I think you’re an incredible woman of immense proportions. This is what keeps me coming back, not just your muffcakes or your incredible fare (both of which are amazeballs, of course).

    Keep doing what you do, lady, you do it more than well & you ARE my hero. So much love!

    Jax x

  27. Sharon Crosetto

    That truly looks amazing-you have a way with catching the moment

  28. You’re truly amazing. Speechless and eagerly awaiting more.

  29. What a stunning meal. I can only imagine the aroma of the Smoked Goose and Gnocchi while you prepared this meal and no doubt the taste are just as exciting. You can smoke and mirror me any time.

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