There never was such a goose. Bob said he didn't believe there ever was such a goose cooked. It's tenderness and flavour, size and cheapness were the themes of universal admiration. Eked out by apple sauce and mashed potatoes, it was a sufficient dinner for the whole family; indeed as Mrs Cratchit said with great delight (surveying one small atom of bone upon the dish), "they hadn't ate it all at last!"
This Christmas, as there's only going to be four of us, we've decided to have a shot at goose, rather than turkey. I'm looking forward to this immensely: there's just something terribly Dickensian and Christmasy about our old friend the goose, isn't there?
Up until the 1890's, most people in England didn't eat turkey because it was too expensive. That's why it's such a big deal when Ebeneezer Scrooge orders the massive prize turkey for the Cratchits, who normally would be huddled round their scrappy little goose come Christmas Day.
Coming to think of it, I've got a slight problem with all of this. Scrooge sends the prize turkey round to the Cratchits on Christmas morning. By the time it's been ordered, delivered to Camden Town from Clerkenwell, stuffed, and roasted at the local baker's shop, it's going to be way past the Cratchits' bedtime, and poor old Bob's got to be up the next day at the crack of dawn to toil away in Scrooge's counting house. Heigh ho.
But which one is better? The goose or the turkey? I like turkey, I do. But it has a tendency to become dry and stringy, and by Boxing Day most sane people are fed up with it; even when it's turned into our notorious Boxing Day Turkey Curry.
There's no doubt that a fresh turkey is preferable to a frozen one. If you do have a frozen one, for God's sake make sure that it's thawed properly, otherwise you could find yourself into serious trouble. If you can, try and get the gamey tasting English Black Norfolk, or the American Bronze variety. And some more advice if you'll allow me: stuff the bird at the last minute, rather than the night before.
The immediate problem with goose is that there just isn't going to be enough meat on the thing. If you've got lots of friends and family coming round, then some of them are going to go hungry. It tastes delicious, and has a rich and gamey flavour, but there's also going to be lots of fat. I'm fine with that, but there will inevitably be some poor souls out there who'll run for the hills. Paul Levy also reckons that the goose is really at its prime come Michaelmas (ie September) rather than December.
So my advice on this one: if there are just a few of you- go for goose, and sit back and enjoy the rich and subtle flavours; if you've got a horde coming round, go for turkey, but try and get a properly reared and decent variety, and cook it with care. I know this is expensive, but as it's only once a year, I think it's going to be a good investment.
Alastair Sim with The Ghost of Christmas Present, A Christmas Carol, 1951
I tried these the other day and thought they were good. They're "Improved Recipe Original Organic Free Range Chicken Stock Cubes" by Kallo; gluten and lactose-free, too- whatever that means. No Monosodium Glutamate (boo hoo!), artificial colours, flavours or preservatives.
If you can't be bothered to brew up your own chicken stock (we do this on a regular basis, and freeze it), this could be your answer. They've got an intense chicken flavour and, in my opinion, are most certainly better than the good old Knorr's version- unbelievably championed by than none other than one Marco Pierre White of infamous Wheeler's fame.
I once had dinner with a pair of sophisticated Italian sisters in Milan. They had a thing about "Mr Knorr" (along with the American Campbell's soup) which they seemed to think was the height of retrospective British cuisine. What they didn't realise is that Knorr, in fact, is a German brand, now owned by the Anglo-Dutch corporation, Unilever. And, no- I haven't got shares in Kallo, or had temptation dangled in front of me by some eager PR girl. This is a genuine recommendation.
Rummaging through some old newspaper cuttings from the '90's, I found this old photograph of the famous Ivy restaurant (founded 1917), with a super-imposed photograph of Charles Laughton in the 1933 picture, "The Private Life of Henry VIII".
This is how The Ivy used to be- the favourite playground of the luvvies of the silver screen: Larry, Vivien, Noel, Ivor and Sexy Rexy. I love the wood panelling, the Tudorbeathen leaden lattice windows and the naff neo-classical statues. How I would give my teeth (what's left of 'em) to go back in time and enter those hallowed portals!
In 1990, Caprice Holdings "restored" and relaunched the restaurant; supposedly to its "former glory". I've got mixed feelings about the new Ivy. By then the restaurant, it is true, had become a shadow of its former self, semi-derelict, and in desperate need of a makeover; but the 1990's re-incarnation was, with hindsight, a bit Footballer's Wives, (to be fair, a reflection of the then fashionable age of one Mr Anthony Blair and the cringe-inducing Cool Britannia); service was impeccable, but the whole place lacked the elan and dash of its previous incarnation.
Back in the 90's (as with Terence Conran's "Quaglino's"), it was extremely difficult to get a table; these days, I gather, it's an easier ticket, and reservations can be booked on a few weeks notice.
Here's A.A. Gill's take on the Ivy's Hamburger. I've always had a slight problem with my own home-made hamburgers: I make a delicious mix, but then add too much liquid (or too much beaten egg), so that when it comes to the "pan-frying" bit, the meat crumbles, and doesn't hold together. This is the official Ivy version. Admittedly, it's pretty basic, but I think it's worth publishing online:
Mix up a good quality minced beef, and mould into balls or patties. Put the burgers into the 'fridge to set. Whisk together tomato ketchup with American mustard (French's mustard would be ideal) to make the sauce.
Lightly toast some baps, and keep them warm. Cook the burgers on a griddle or a smoking hot pan (not under a grlll, as this could boil the meat).
Serve the burgers in the warm baps with slices of red onion, gherkin, beef tomato and the Ivy hambuger sauce.
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