Give goose, duck, other poultry the star treatment for holidays

“Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat.

“Please put a penny in an old man’s hat.”

— Old English nursery rhyme and song

Goose used to be the poor man’s holiday fowl, which is why, in “A Christmas Carol,” a newly enlightened Scrooge sends a boy for “the prize turkey … the big one” at the poulterer’s on the next street for the Cratchits’ Christmas dinner. But this, along with much else, has changed since Dickens’ time, and with turkey now an everyday sandwich filler, many people are turning to other types of poultry this season.

Tim Jensen, owner of Village Meat &Wine at 5025 S. Eastern Ave., said he goes through 10 or 15 cases of geese at this time of year, and they’re packed four to a case. “It’s something different,” he said. “It’s a changeup from beef,” which he said is the No. 1 Christmas beast overall, primarily in the form of standing rib roasts.

Jensen orders 6- to 8-pound geese, which he said is a more accessible size than the birds that can reach 10 to 14 pounds.

“They’re fatty, but they’re pretty easy,” he said. “I refer people to Cooks.com. There’s a lot of options out there on how to sear the skin, how to sear the fat, how to catch the fat,” which some cooks like to save for other uses.

Among other fowl, Jensen also sells duck, pheasant, guinea hens and capon, and said Cornish game hens also are popular at this time of year.

Ron Lutz, owner of The Butcher Block, with three stores around the valley, agreed that his customers like to gobble goose.

“That’s a big one for Christmas,” Lutz said. “It’s a popular tradition.”

Lutz said his geese run 9 to 12 pounds, and he also has capons, at 6 to 9 pounds, and pheasants, which are 3 to 4 pounds. And quail, he said, which run about four to a pound. Overall, he said, they’re about twice the price of chicken.

Geese and capon, which serve multiple people, are not usually found in restaurants, but Las Vegas chefs use other smaller poultry. Marc Vetri, whose Vetri Cucina opened recently on the top floor of the Palms, serves a stuffed guinea hen with mushrooms.

“It has a little more flavor than regular chicken,” Vetri said. He said he likes goose and duck but doesn’t think of them in the same vein as guinea hen.

“The others are red meat-ish,” he said. “Definitely a certain level of, like, wildness.”

He pounds the guinea hen breast until slightly thin, then rolls it around forcemeat (made with the bird’s thighs plus fatback, pistachios and seasonings including nutmeg), prosciutto and foie gras. It’s rolled, wrapped in nettinglike caul fat, seared and roasted.

“We’ve got a lot of flavor going on there,” Vetri said. “It was one of the first dishes that I made at the original Vetri” in Philadelphia. “It’s one of the things that stuck.”

Gerard Morgan, chef at Beauty &Essex in The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, is doing a variation of duck a l’orange for Christmas Eve and Christmas.

“Duck is more of a Christmas dish,” Morgan said. “I love duck, and it gives us a more traditional look back on Christmas. I want to showcase what we’re doing; Beauty &Essex doesn’t always do the traditional aspects.”

His version of duck a l’orange has the meat rolled into a cylinder, then served on a creamy polenta flavored with orange, five-spice mix, blood orange chips and frisee.

Morgan said he prepared a lot of pheasants when he cooked in Florida, especially in the winter.

“It’s not too gamy,” he said. “Almost a sweet flavor. And we did white Alba truffle shaved on it.”

Ronnie Rainwater, chef de cuisine at Delmonico Steakhouse in The Venetian, is going down the size scale for Christmas with a duo of quail.

“This is the first year we’ve done quail for Christmas,” he said. “I’ve been trying something a little bit different, trying to stay with our Southern roots a little bit — something kind of hearty, something kind of homey, which is what the holidays for me is all about.

“We do the traditional turkey for Thanksgiving, and by the time Christmas comes, we’re all turkeyed out.”

The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson. Las Vegas Sands operates The Venetian.

Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at Hrinella @reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0474. Follow @HKRinella on Twitter..

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