Magic in the mountains

Gin-macerated cherries, great in stuffing for roast goose.
Gin-macerated cherries, great in stuffing for roast goose. Photo: David Reist

Everything is ticked off for the year: didn't misplace any kids, check; did that thing with the pig, check; had lunch at Momofuku, check; managed to not hit any wildlife or farm animals on the highway, check; turned off ''in-app purchases'' from all i-devices, check. All that remains is the task of planning Christmas lunch.

It will be a small affair for us this year as we rotate away from the wild family event with all 40-odd offspring. It's fun, but we don't do it every year, leaving time in between for everyone to make up again. So this year, it's just the five of us, if our daughter gets back from the three-week Euro trip with which she finished off her gap year and our finances.

For these close family affairs, we head up to the Blue Mountains rather than the coast. Don't get me wrong - I like the coast, and it would be darned un-Australian to dis the beach.

But the pines, the cooler weather and the nativity scenes decorating so many houses up in the mountains give the feeling of tradition. It's my father-in-law's place, so it's open house on the liquor cabinet and we love setting up Christmas lunch with the fine china and cut-crystal glassware, with row on row of Lladro porcelain figures beaming down on us.

Clearly, the house was built by a person of Swiss extraction, heavy on the woodwork, lots of thick, handmade shelves to display clocks and Matterhorn ornaments. Each morning when you open the blinds on the huge, vaulted windows you expect to see Jungfraujoch in the distance.

So it's a traditional lunch. I'm on the lookout for a side of salmon to cure so we can start with gravlax, rye bread and a bowl of sour cream and chives. It might not be Swiss, but near enough.

A good thing about an antipodean Christmas is that cherries are in season - unless they are ravaged by storms just at harvest, which has been the pattern of recent years. Cherries are perfect just to snack on, but they're also good as a savoury ingredient with a roast. You can bung them in the stuffing in place of cranberries, but if you do, they're better macerated or pickled. This doesn't take long. So for us, it's gin-macerated cherries in the stuffing for a roast goose.

Roast goose

1 x 2-2.5kg goose

160g salt

2 lt water

½ cup poaching liqueur from the cherries (recipe below)

cherry stuffing (recipe below)


1 cup red wine

1 cup reduced goose stock

4 sprigs thyme

30-40g butter

Cut off the wing tips and wishbone of the goose, and pull the neck out of the skin, leaving enough skin so you can fold it under the bird once you stuff it. Chop the wingtips and wishbone and make a stock out of them (use leeks, onion, carrot, thyme, pepper and white wine with the bones).

Warm the water to dissolve the salt, then cool. Place the goose in the brine, making sure it is fully submerged (make more brine if necessary). Leave in the fridge for 24 hours, remove and pat dry.

Place the goose on a rack and paint it with the liqueur from the gin-macerated cherries (above). Leave it uncovered in the fridge for at least 24 hours, dousing it in more fresh liqueur every time you think of it.

Take out, and with a large needle, prick the skin all over - take your time here.

Cram the stuffing into the neck cavity and pull that flap of skin over it and tuck it under the bird, secure with a skewer. Heat the oven to 80C. Place the bird still on a rack over a roasting tray in the centre of the oven and cook for six to eight hours or until the internal temperature reaches 65C (in the thickest part). Remove from the oven and pour off and collect any rendered fat. Cover with foil to rest.

Heat the oven to 230C. Baste the bird again, then back in the inferno on the roasting tray to crisp up that skin.

To make the sauce, pour off any fat from the roasting tray. Heat the tray on the stovetop to a sizzle on the hob and deglaze with wine, reduce this down and add the stock and fresh thyme. Cook down a little to a thick sauce. Off heat stir in the butter.

Serve with roast potatoes and other vegetables.

Cherry stuffing for a goose

2 tbsp goose fat

4-6 eschalots, chopped finely

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 thick slice cured pork: pancetta, guanciale, diced

60ml orange muscat or white dessert wine

100g preserved cherries, drained well and chopped (you can use dried or pickled, or make you own using the recipe below)

300g minced pork

1 goose liver, chopped, optional

1 tbsp fresh tarragon

2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped

½ tsp fresh thyme leaves, chopped

zest of one orange

80-100g breadcrumbs

1 egg, lightly beaten

salt and freshly ground black pepper

In the goose fat, fry the eschalots, then add the garlic and pancetta. Cook for five minutes. Add the wine and cook to a thick sauce. Add the cherries. Set aside.

Clean the pan and get it really hot. Add the pork mince and brown off quickly before it starts to sweat. Add the browned pork to the eschalots and cherry mix. Fry and add the liver, if using. Add the herbs, zest and three-quarters of the breadcrumbs. Mix well, add the egg and seasoning.

Check the texture, it should be firm, and use more breadcrumbs if necessary. Fry a little off in goose fat to see whether it tastes good - if it does, it can only get better when cooked inside a goose.

Gin-macerated cherries

300g cherries, pits removed

30g sugar

1 orange, zest grated finely

1 lemon, juice and zest

45ml gin

Wash the cherries and mix the other ingredients together, bring to a simmer to dissolve and add cherries, bring to simmer again and remove. Seal in sterilised jars, leave for four or five days before using - just in time for the Christmas goose.

Bryan Martin is a winemaker at Ravensworth and Clonakilla,