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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » September 30, 2013
Regional and Traditional Products
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September 30, 2013   
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Półgęsek, also known as półg±sek or pier¶nik, was a popular dish in Old Polish cuisine. Today this treat—smoked goose breast—is made in the Pomerania area of northern Poland as a regional product.

In the old days, półgęsek was made from goose breast that was deboned but the skin was left on. The meat was then cured and smoked. In some regions of Poland and Lithuania, półgęsek—which literally means half a goose—was made from whole goose halves (minus the legs and neck). Considered a luxury dish, it was a popular hors d’oeuvre in Old Polish cuisine. Lithuanian półg´sek was the most famous, even mentioned by Poland’s great national poet, Adam Mickiewicz, in his epic poem Pan Tadeusz. The półgęsek-making tradition developed in regions where goose farming was popular. The dish was a delicacy and was found mainly on the tables of the gentry and wealthy farmers. Poorer peasants ate it only as a special treat.
Depending on whether the meat is sewn together or tied up with string, a półgęsek can be cylinder- or spindle-shaped. In cross-section, the pieces of meat are oval or elliptical in shape. The size depends on the goose’s original size. Birds of the Pomeranian Goose breed yield raw półgęsek pieces of 1.5 to 2 kg. The length of a półgęsek after smoking is about 30-40 cm. After curing, drying and smoking, the pieces of meat weigh from 1.2 to 1.8 kg. The color on the outside is golden brown, shiny from the fat. In cross-section the meat is dark red to cherry-brown, surrounded by a light-colored layer of fat and a stripe of darker skin. The consistency is similar to that of uncooked smoked ham, but the flavor of uncooked smoked goose meat is unique. Półgęsek has an intense aroma of smoked meat, retained in the fat surrounding the muscle. The meat can include marbling, which means certain amounts of light-colored intramuscular fat.

In Pomerania, where goose farming developed rapidly in the 19th century, a local breed of geese called the Pomeranian Goose developed. Entire villages in Pomerania that had good conditions for pasturing geese began specializing in raising fattened geese for their fatty livers (foie gras). These were in demand in Germany and France, where they were used for making special patés. Goose farming was a seasonal occupation, lasting from spring to early winter. The traditional slaughtering of flocks was carried out before St. Martin’s day, or Nov. 11. Making okrasa (chopped goose meat for maturing raw), curing and then smoking półgęsek pieces became traditional methods of preserving and preparing goose meat for longer-term storage. This was the start of the tradition of making półgęsek.

Pomerania was famous across Europe for its smoked goose breasts, large amounts of which were exported. The biggest markets at this time were Berlin and Gdańsk. Goose giblets were exported to France (as ingredients for the famous paté de foie gras, among other things), while the meat was used locally. In Pomerania, półgęsek is made from goose breast only, while the wings are used to make broth, the neck is stuffed, the feet are used to make jelly, the fat is rendered, giblets go into patés, and the rest of the meat (from the back and legs) is used for okrasa.

People from Pomerania and the Kashubia and Krajna regions use these traditional methods of preparing goose meat to this day.
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