The Golden Goose

By Helga and Larry Hampton [email protected]

Helga and Larry Hampton, a German-American couple, have had a villa in the Algarve since 1972 and since 1990 have spent the majority of their time in Portugal. One of Helga’s major interests is cooking. One of Larry’s main interests is eating, and finding lovely wines to complement, Helga’s meals. In their new monthly column, the couple share their passion for good food and wine with our readers.

Christmas is approaching fast and with it a time of cheer, celebration and conviviality.

The run-up to what in many houses is a family-oriented Yule-time, here in the Algarve is characterised by hectic social engagements, with Christmas lunches and dinners by all the clubs and associations one belongs to.

The talk around our table recently has been about Christmas traditions with an emphasis on culinary habits in the various countries. And where can you find a more interestingly diverse group of informants than at any dinner table in the Algarve community?  

Often there are five nationalities represented around a table of eight. So, a lively conversation about Christmas food?  Not unless you persevere, because the quick answer is: turkey on Christmas Day, albeit with a lot of different trimmings.

I am astonished – turkey in England, turkey in Germany, turkey in Portugal! The American beast has taken over much of Europe – is that what is called globalisation? Turkey, together with tomato, tobacco, corn and potatoes were unknown in Europe before Columbus found the New World, which then enriched the olde worlde with this unknown bounty and a bit of Inca gold and Aztec silver between the spuds.

But, Danish friends don’t “do” turkey – they have Fleskestein to look forward to at Christmas. This is a pork dish, lovingly prepared and served as the centre of a great feast.

The Swedes also have pork and fish dishes on their Christmas buffets. The Scandinavians really know how to feast.

Our Dutch friends somehow keep themselves out of a conversation of this type; their most important Christmas Day really is December 5, St. Nicolas Day, and there are no special culinary delights connected to this children-centred occasion.

They and the Italians fall out of the continental European norm. Italy celebrates the 12 days of Christmas – December 24 to January 6 – and Italian children get their presents on Epiphanias, the day when the Three Kings came to Baby Jesus in the Manger.

In parts of Italy, the famous Seven Fishes Dinner is served as a Christmas tradition.

The Germans around our table often admit that, yes, turkey has made only a recent entry into many Christmas kitchens, but more usual is still a Christmas goose.

Eine gut gebratene Gans ist eine gute Gabe Gottes (A well-roasted goose is a great gift of God), the Germans alliterate.

Our British tablemates then chime in and agree: “My grandmother used to do goose on Christmas Day. She did it on the open fire hearth which scented the entire house and she had to scoop up the fat from time to time. We loved it.”

I come from Bohemia (now the Czech Republic), where Austro-Hungarian traditions formed life and culture. When I was a girl it was definitely goose that was brought to the laden Christmas table and it still is today.

As everybody who has visited Prague knows, roast goose is on the menu of every respectable restaurant – all year round.

Goose, this white-feathered farm waterfowl, raised in the open air, is a delicacy and of great nutritional value. It is also very easy to prepare as a festive golden roast, giving the extra bonus of goose grease, which is cherished by top chefs.


Cooking tips:

– A 12-14 pounds (6- 7 kg) goose will amply feed 10 people.

– Season liberally with salt and pepper and the grated rind of an orange

– Stuff with a simple stuffing or fill cavity with unpeeled apple slices or a combination of both

– Set breast-side up on rack of a deep roasting tin

– Use ladle for basting and to scoop out surplus fat during the roasting process.

– Use this fat for the roasting of your potatoes and parsnips

– Roast in a pre-heated oven at 350F- 200C for 20 minutes per pound.

– Let rest for 30 minutes before carving.

– Besides potatoes and parsnips, serve braised, sweet-sour red cabbage.

In Prague you will probably not get potatoes – the Czechs are very partial to dumplings to scoop up the delicious sauce. And don’t shun the crispy skin – hmmm.

If the American turkey seems destined to bring European countries together, I say, Europe, yes!  But I’ll take a Bohemian Christmas dinner any time! Even my American husband prefers to keep turkey for the very American Thanksgiving table and relishes goose for Christmas.


The richness of goose meat requires a wine with a balance of opulent texture and acidity to match and offset the fat in the dish. Big and boisterous won’t work here, even when the meal is prepared with fruit – and Helga’s goose will have an apple based stuffing.


It is, however, the perfect time to break out that bottle of old Cabernet Sauvignon or Bordeaux (from a great vintage like 1998, 1989 or 1982) that you have been saving for a special occasion.

Or choose a Rioja crianza or reserva or Barolo that have spent at least seven to eight years in the bottle. All of these bring a big tannic structure and richness that benefits the rich meal.

The robust wines of the southern Rhône, especially Chateauneuf du Pape, punch up the goose’s savoury charms and are also a terrific match.

One’s knee-jerk reaction when faced with a goose is that a robust red is essential, BUT the Alsatians know better. A surprisingly excellent match for a roast goose with apples are the dry Rieslings or even Gewuerztraminer from the Alsace.

These may not have the tannic structure of a red, but their intense minerality and high acid have long been the foil to hearty winter dishes and work perfectly with the fatty content of the goose. The sweet spiciness of the white wine harmonises beautifully with the apple and potato. Try it.

However, I am more of a traditionalist. I first took bottles of Batasiolo Barolo and Ibarloza Rioja crianza (both of which I had personally obtained at the producers’ wineries) out of my cellar.

Barolo (or, for that matter, Barbaresco, which is made from the same grape) and Rioja (ie: the temperanillo grape) have the structure and acidity to cope with the rich flavour of the goose.

But they don’t go well with red cabbage and, as Helga makes a divine red cabbage for most festive occasions, I put those bottles back and went looking for an appropriate Portuguese red.

I hopped down to our local São Brás Intermarché and poked around in their excellent wine department. And voilá! I discovered a lovely single varietal Syrah named Bombeira do Guadiana produced by Herdade da Bombeira.

This small (60,000 bottles a year) winery is right on the Guadiana River in Mértola and must be the most easterly Alentejo winery of all. After tasting the wine in situ I picked up a few bottles (€ 16.89 per bottle) and put them to the test. Wonderful, and a real find.

The spiciness of the Syrah, together with the robust full bodied flavour given by ten months in oak, was perfect. But it is essential to decant the wine to let it breathe for 45 minutes before you drink it.

If Syrah is not your thing, but you want to stay loyal to Portuguese wines, you could do a lot worse than choosing a single varietal Cabernet Sauvignon – Fiuza & Bright, Ermalinda Freitas, Adega de Pegões, Chocapalha, Quinta da Bacalhôa and Quinta da Pancas all make excellent ones for a reasonable price.

The important thing is to enjoy what you are drinking – and to enhance and complement the festive food you are eating.

And finish off your meal with a lovely Quinta de São Francisco aguardente vinica velha (€26 in most wine shops). A great digestivo!

Happy Christmas!