Friday, September 29, 2006

Michaelmas 2006

Michaelmas is the Christian Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, Archangels. The cult of St. Michael began in the Eastern Church in the 4th century and spread to Western Christianity by the 5th century; the date of May 8 commemorates the dedication of a sanctuary to St. Michael at Monte Gargano in Italy in the 6th century. The archangel Michael is traditionally seen as the leader of the heavenly armies, and veneration of all angels was eventually incorporated. During the Middle Ages, Michaelmas was a great religious feast and many popular traditions grew up around the day, which coincided with the harvest in much of western Europe. In England it was the custom to eat a goose on Michaelmas, which was supposed to protect against financial need for the next year. In Ireland, finding a ring hidden in a Michaelmas pie meant that one would soon be married.
Remember the Canada goose of earlier posts? I'm quite good at p&d this large game bird now, but actually prefer to lift a piece of breast near the crop, slice slowly and carefully a litle slit and gently widen, and begin to separate with my fingers the skin and feathers from the muscle beneath. Cut carefully down the breast and pull off to shoulders and webbed feet. Release the game bird from its wings and feet at these points, taking the skin off in one flourish. I dont think I shall bother plucking goose again, its really too much bother, a double pluck really...
Either roast off as before and eat; or allow cooked bird to cool then strip meat from bones, mince and throw into freezer until you need to make a particularly flavoursome,autumnal lasagne. Or, after skinning slice off the breasts and follow the instructions below. Joint up the remaining carcass and freeze for a particularly fine game stock base.
Michalemas Goose Breasts with Pineapple, Chilli and Soy (merci beaucoup, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
1 fine goose breast
half a large pineapple
3 tbspn soy sauce
heaped tsp brown sugar
3 garlic cloves, chopped
inch of ginger, grated
1 red chilli, seeds removed and sliced finely
2 scallions, finely sliced
Peel the pineapple and cut two slices about an inch thick. Cut out the core and chop into rough chunks. Chop up rest of pineapple and squeeze to a pulp between your hands, saving the juice for the marinade. Eat the pulp and savour the rich exotic scents filling your kitchen as the juice runs down your hands to your elbows. Mix the remaining ingredients (bar the scallions) into a marinade and soak the goose, slashed across the skin (if using) or the meat about 7 or 8 times. Leave for 10 minutes orf later if you forget it's there.
Wipe off the marinade then sear in very hot pan until crisp and sizzling. If using skin-on breast meat, turn skin upwards in pan, then remove to ovenproof dish covered with scallions. Pour over the marinade, and poach in a hot oven for about 15 minutes at 220c. (I can't bear rare game birds). The meat should be well browned and just a bit pink in the middle. Remove to a warm plate, then get on with the pineapple chunks.
Fry off the pineapple chunks in a very lightly oiled pan, dusting with a little caster sugar as you go. They will brown and caramalise. Pour in the scallions and cooking liquor from the meat, and sizzle until reduced to a syrup - take care not to burn the sauce here. Add the breasts to pan, and turn until well coated in the outrageously fragrant sauce.
Eat, sliced into pretty slices if you can bear to wait that long, and serve over a large mound of my favourite pak choy stir fried to perfection. Because food this good really is food fit for the Archangels.
I decided to cook my Michaelmas goose this way yesterday, wandering round Chesterfield market. Thursday is the flea market, with only a few fruit and veg stalls. The foghorn call of the fruit stall man at the top corner could be heard all over the market, "Four pand a pand. Four pand apples pears bananas a pand. Four pand a pand." The richly scented perfectly ripe pineapples drew me closer in spite of the foghorn, and this feast was born.