I feared my goose was cooked.
A few weeks ago, during a meeting in which our staff was discussing holiday recipes, I was somehow assigned the task of roasting an entire Christmas goose and writing about it. Never mind that I have never roasted a goose before, nor have I even roasted a turkey. I don’t own a roasting rack or a dining room table. My kitchen would be envious of my broom closet.
But I am eager-to-please to a fault, and so I agreed to the goose-cooking scheme. The story was assigned. I had my deadline. Now I had to find a goose, cook it, and not set my house aflame.
The more I stared at the story’s deadline on the calendar, the more daunted I became. Who cooks a whole goose? This was some Dickensian shit, not a modern cooking project for a woman who buys her rotisserie chicken from Costco. I was developing even colder feet. But maybe I wouldn’t be able to source a whole goose, I reasoned, and then I could wiggle out of the assignment. Living in Montana, though, of course there were no fewer than two local grocery stores—not even specialty butcher shops—more than happy to supply me with whole, Hutterite-raised geese. I bought the biggest bird they had, invited nine friends to my upcoming feast, and sat down to formulate a plan.
Step one: Google goose-roasting.
My research quickly revealed that what makes roasting a goose trickier than roasting other poultry is its high fat content. Fat bubbles out of the bird’s crisping skin like crude oil out of Texas shale, pooling in the roasting pan and raising the specter of grease fires, scalding, and other worst-case calamities. I would need to develop a fat management plan.
I dove deeper, consulting cookbooks and websites and The Takeout’s butcher-in-residence, Rob Levitt. “Rob,” I emailed, with palpable anxiety, “How do you prefer to roast a goose? Do you brine? Do you blanche? Do you carve the breast off separately?” His email came back swiftly: “You know, I haven’t roasted many geese.” I felt truly alone in that moment.
But Rob did have some tips for me, and between his pointers and this recipe from Serious Eats’ J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, and this Gordon Ramsay video, and a few other sources, I cobbled together a goose-roasting plan. I even wrote down a step-by-step, three-day goose-roasting itinerary, combining the best of multiple methods. I would blanche and dry-brine the goose before roasting, per Serious Eats’ instructions, to remove some of the fat before it even hit the oven. Then, I would glaze the bird with Ramsay’s Chinese five spice-infused honey. Then, I would use its fat and some hard cider to make gravy a la this BBC Food recipe.
I woke up the morning of my goose dinner party like a soldier on the morning of a pivotal battle. I had my marching orders and was armed with a borrowed roasting rack.
My 7-pound goose roasted for three hours, emerging dramatically from the oven just as guests began to arrive. If you’re the type of cook who lives for the oooh’s and aaaah’s of your guests, the goose delivers. Deeply brown, aromatic, elegant atop its nest of fat-basted root vegetables, the goose is regal and exotic. It needs to rest for 30 minutes, uncovered, mostly so your friends can admire it. A roasted goose is, in a word, audacious.
In another audacious move, I served the goose on paper plates (I admit I only own six dinner plates). Friends perched on couches, bar stools, chairs, and even sat on the floor to put their plates atop our coffee table. It was a bit ramshackle, but entirely festive, all of us digging into this decadent meal while holiday music played and my dog patrolled diligently for dropped scraps.
At long last, I reached my verdict: the goose was succulent, like the prime rib of poultry. It wasn’t gamey so much as it tasted beefy, if you can imagine that. The glaze had imparted a spicy-sweetness, and the skin had crisped well enough. In fear that I would give all my guests food poisoning, I kept the bird in the oven maybe 15 minutes too long, but that was my only critique. My friends loved it, especially the novelty of eating a giant goose leg, Medieval Times-style.
There was but one critic, my friend Ryan’s five-year-old son, who I suppose was playing the part of Tiny Tim in our Christmas Carol scene. His son turned his sweet little face up at me, a sole bite of goose missing from his plate: “This is the worst chicken I ever ate.”
Luckily for him, I’d also roasted a chicken as a back-up plan (and because a 7-pound goose didn’t seem like enough food for 10 people), which was met with better reviews from our youngest guest. We ate our goose, we drank our wine and beer, we balanced all that richness with some crisply bitter radicchio salad. It was a feast, making up in festivity and warmth what it lacked in proper dining accoutrements.
Now, a few days removed from the goose feast, I’ve distilled the lessons learned, primary among which is: It is not unreasonable to roast a whole goose. It sounds Victorian, but it’s entirely achievable and, if you like dark-meat poultry, entirely delicious. The only additional step separating my goose-cooking method from my go-to Zuni Cafe method of roasting chicken is the two-minute blanche before roasting the bird and the honey-spice glaze, which took maybe 10 extra minutes to make. Just a bit of extra effort yields a distinctive holiday feast that your guests won’t soon forget. After all, who the hell roasts a whole goose?
The most difficult part, it turns out, is the anxiety beforehand. Let me absolve you of that, and ask you to consider the vaunted Christmas goose.