Exotic things must be eaten

They are a familiar sight in Dutch parks and polders: Egyptian geese – recognizable by their rusty brown plumage and striking reddish-brown circles around their eyes. And there are quite a few Indian stories about these exotic birds. Every bird watcher has a strong story of hunted coots and the shells of competing species that they keep on their webs until they drown. They would have developed the aggressive behavior to protect their chicks from Nile crocodiles and tropical snakes – or so the story goes.

They are certainly not afraid. But the persistent image of the Egyptian goose as a ruthless killer is grossly exaggerated, experts say. The fearless Egyptian goose originates from (sub)tropical Africa. Due to its flamboyant appearance, it was brought to Europe as an ornamental bird in the eighteenth century. It went well until a pair of Egyptian geese escaped from a city park in the Hague region in 1967 and began to breed in the open, says ornithologist and ecologist Rob Lensink. He specializes in exotics and did a lot of research on Egyptian geese. “The same thing happened in Brussels in the 1970s and also in Groningen in 1980. These three populations have mixed and are the source of the entire Egyptian goose population in Central and Western Europe.” They have meanwhile already spread as far as southern Sweden.

Until the 2000s, the number of Egyptian geese increased by as much as 28 percent per year, Lensink calculated. The conditions in the Netherlands are perfect: lots of water and, above all, lots of food in the form of large, protein-rich pastures, which are actually intended for the cows. “The Egyptian goose is a huge opportunist in this respect. They breed in the tropics in the season with the most rainfall, because then there is the most vegetation. They are very flexible in this regard. Here we have year-round rainfall and food, so they can continue breeding in long time. Sometimes they raise two clutches a year,” says Lensink. Even when there is snow, sometimes the Egyptian goose is already breeding.

Once they have found their breeding ground, it is defended with teeth and claws. But it has nothing to do with crocodiles, says Kees van Oers, behavioral ecologist at the Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW). “The Egyptian goose sits on the eggs for a month, and then the chicks need another two months to become independent. It is relatively far. So they have lost a lot of energy to raise their offspring. It is a well-known biological principle that the more energy a species puts into its young, the more valuable those young are and the more fiercely they are defended.”

Van Oers immediately admits that the Egyptian goose is a heat pet compared to other species. “Because there is much less food available in his native habitat, he has learned to fight hard for it.” There are even pictures of Egyptian geese literally bullying a bald eagle away from its nest.

Still, the bird NGOs in the Netherlands are not at all worried about the presence of the Egyptian goose. In principle, Vogelbescherming Nederland is not against fighting exotics. For example, they are keen to see another African vagrant, the sacred ibis, disappear from our landscape because it poses a major threat to the young of our protective spoonbills and other shorebirds. But she sees no reason to assume that other species are really bothered by the Egyptian goose.

Sovon Bird Research also sees no evidence of this in their annual waterfowl counts. Nowhere are there any crashes in the populations of other waterfowl such as coots and grebes anywhere near Egyptian geese – despite all the tall tales.

They cause economic damage. Especially on agricultural crops: they eat the grass that is for the cows and milk production. In addition, they also pose a danger to aviation. “An aircraft engine is bird-proof, including mallards,” says Lensink. “If a goose flies in, it can cause major damage.” The province of North Holland, which has a relatively large number of geese and which also includes Schiphol, estimates the total damage caused by all species of geese together in 2020 at 10 million euros.

Also read: Our exotic

Lensink currently estimates the Egyptian goose population in the Netherlands at a minimum of 60,000 individuals, but probably more. The population has grown much less rapidly since the turn of the century than before because a number of provinces began shooting Egyptian geese in the late 1990s. But it is still growing – despite the 30,000 birds that have been shot by hunters on average in recent years, according to the Hunters’ Association KNJV.

Of course, it is much more sustainable to eat the wild birds than meat from the (bio)industry: the Egyptian geese are there anyway, and we have to get rid of them anyway, so the ecological footprint is a little bit compared to meat, which is special bred for consumption.. But then the question is: is it little to eat, such an Egyptian goose? Can you do something about it?

An old kitchen proverb says: put the goose in the oven with a brick; when the brick is cooked, so is the goose. the Egyptian goose (Alopochen aegyptiaca) is actually a duck, or more precisely a half-goose (from the subfamily Tadorninae). But because of its large build, it is often counted among the geese. He also acts like a goose in the kitchen. Wild geese in particular are notoriously tough creatures. But it has a lot of flavor. So yes, it can be tasty. But you need to know how to prepare it.

Toughness and taste often go hand in hand. It has to do with the function of the muscle. Every animal has two kinds of muscles: ‘lazy muscles’ for the short, quick work and ‘working muscles’ for the hard, long work. Lazy muscles are lighter in color because they contain relatively many white muscle cells. Working muscles are darker because they are mainly composed of red muscle cells.

The white muscle cells burn glycogen. They use oxygen supplied by the blood for this. But they can also live without oxygen for a while. They deliver a short intense effort, then have to wait quietly until the lot is full. Working muscles do not have the luxury of having to work constantly. Red muscle cells therefore have their own fuel supply in the form of small fat droplets. And they can temporarily store oxygen with the protein myoglobin, which, like the hemoglobin in the blood, contains iron – hence the red colour. All these substances in the red muscle fibers – the fats and proteins and the many breakdown products from the constant combustion – have much more flavor potential, explains kitchen scientist Harold McGee in his standard work On food and cooking.

A chicken does not fly, it only uses its pectoral muscles to flutter now and then. The chicken fillet is therefore pale and has little taste

So there is literally more flavor in a working muscle. A chicken does not fly, it only uses its pectoral muscles to flutter now and then. The chicken fillet is therefore pale and has little taste. A chicken walks around a lot. Chicken thighs are therefore always slightly darker (more red muscle fibers) and tastier than fillets – real satay is made from chicken thighs. A duck is made to fly. A (tame) duck breast is really red and therefore tastes much meatier than chicken, as a result of the tasty combustion in the red muscle cells. You can imagine how many flavors are in the chest of a mallard or Egyptian goose that has traveled many kilometers.

The problem with working muscles is that they also need to be very strong to transmit a lot of force. Therefore, they contain a lot of connective tissue; to hold the bundles of muscle fibers together, and in the tendons that connect the muscles to the bones. The connective tissue or collagen makes these muscles tough. The only way to make it edible is to cook very long and slow. The collagen then dissolves into a wonderfully filmy, soft and sticky gelatin.

The legs can be stewed in red wine and stock (which you can pull off the carcass again). If you pick off the cooked meat and mix it with the sauce, you make a kind of ragú that you can use as a pasta sauce. Because the meat of the Egyptian goose has such a concentrated flavor, you can season a large plate of tagliatelle with a little sauce.

The breasts are too good to stew. They dry out quickly, because venison has so little fat – after all, it always does on the road and build up few reserves. But when you bake them, you want to keep them red. Because waterfowl in particular can quickly develop a watery aftertaste if it goes too far. But even if you bake them very nicely even medium-rare, they will never be really tender at the end: the muscle fibers are still pulled together in clearly visible bundles, and there is still a thick, tough membrane running through them.

The best method to enjoy the deliciously sweet, rich, meaty flavor of the Egyptian goose breast is to remove all the membranes in and around the muscle and cut strips of it “perpendicular to the thread”. That is, across these muscle fibers. Then the strips do not consist of long stringy fibers that remain between your teeth, but of all short pieces next to each other that you can easily split with your teeth. Then you have made very tender shawarma strips. Because of its concentrated flavor, Egyptian goose can also have quite a bit of strong spices and garlic. A shawarma sandwich has never tasted so good.

And sustainable.

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