Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Epic Meal Time: Cabane à Sucre

That's "sugar shack," for all you anglos out there. The cabane à sucre, or sugar shack, is a long and glorious Canadian tradition. During the age of New France and onward, the settlers would spend the spring months tapping the maple trees and living in the bush. They then ate game, fowl, fat, and other delicious items you can find in the Great White North. All with a hearty helping of maple syrup, obvi.

Have you ever heard of Martin Picard? He is the chef at Pied au Cochon in Montreal ("pig's foot," y'all) and he has made an illustrious career based on the sugar shack alone. In honour of upcoming Canada Day, and my francophile leanings, here it is. Epic Meal Time: My Goose is Cooked.

The first most important thing to do is have a wonderful grocery store that carries goose. Farm Boy carries whole young Outaouais goose (that is a region in Western Quebec and Eastern Ontario). The other day I was there and I saw one and I couldn't resist. I've been eyeing them for months and this was the only one in the entire store. Also it was on sale, only thirty bucks. Done.

I started forming the menu in my mind. It would be traditional, totally French, luxe, hearty, and sumptuous. The star (other than the goose, obvi) would be a foie gras stuffing. But do you think I could find foie gras anywhere in this bumpkin town? No. I called four different grocery stores. One poor young soul repeatedly said, "I can't understand what you're saying," as I screamed "FOIE! GRAS!" over the phone to him. Another young lady said, "Well we have something kind of like...No. We don't have anything remotely like that."

Okay, well we will do without the foie. Instead I opted for ground cherries, which are another Quebecois ingredient. They're kind of like little gooseberries but sweeter. They went in my stuffing. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

First you have to thaw your goose about two days. When you get ready to dress it, prepare yourself. It's horrific, because don't forget about those "long-necked geese" that Peter, Paul & Mary (or whoever) sang about. Indeed, pulling the neck out of the cavity is like pulling out a crowbar of flesh. Gah! Not to mention that the "neck skin" hangs off the body like a fleshy sock. Cut off the sock.

Okay, now we proceed as though it were a duck. Score the skin in a criss cross pattern. Salt, pepper, a little thyme, a little sage, set it aside. In a deep pot, sautee your celery and onions (but oops, I forgot onions) until they are soft. Add in your cubes of bread. Now add in your ground cherries. Add a little poultry seasoning, melted butter, salt, pepper, and sage. Let it cool down enough to handle and then stuff the bird.

Preheat your oven to about 420 and let the bird have ten minutes on a roasting rack under that heat to render the fat. Then turn it down to about 350 and let it be. Baste it every fifteen minutes or so with the drippings. I added a little white wine and water to the roasting pan ahead of time, but I probably didn't need to. The goose yielded about a litre of fat that I basted with.

Meanwhile, I started a glaze. The cabane à sucre tradition is to put maple syrup on EVERYTHING. So I melted down a jar of maple jelly (it's a little less sweet) with some butter, star anise, peppercorns, and a bit of balsamic vinegar (more for deep colour than anything else). I basted with this in addition to the fat.

Cook your bird for twenty minutes per kilo, plus ten minutes, plus thirty minutes of resting time. Flip your bird halfway through for extra crispy skin if you have the wherewithal, but I didn't. As it's resting, start your veg. I decided to do honey braised leeks.

Get half a stick of butter melted and hot. Throw in your leek slices (after washing!!!) and then drizzle in some honey. Please don't use the Billy Bee. This is serious stuff. I spent $6.99 on a piece of honeycomb once, and thank goodness I finally have a second occasion to use it. Buy the good stuff. Sautee the leeks until they are quite soft and flavourful.

When you go to carve the bird, be aware that geese have very shallow breasts. Carve at a wide angle to get the most slices. Serve with your leeks and a simple green salad.

Phew! Alright Quebec, you win.
Happy Birthday, Canada!

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