It’s true that I no longer lie in bed on Christmas Eve straining to hear reindeer on the roof, but that doesn’t mean I have given up on the magic of Christmas. I’ve just transferred my fantasies from the prospect of new toys to a more grown-up enchantment: the promise of Christmas dinner. So while my practical friends are dutifully taking care of their shopping, I am dreaming up a special meal. To me, that often means a roast bird—especially goose, duck, and even game hens. The rich, all-dark, almost beefy taste of goose makes it perfect holiday fare (plus, who can resist the lure of a traditional Dickensian Christmas?). Whole duck is delicious brushed with a flavorful glaze during the last minutes of roasting. And halved Cornish game hens are ideal individual servings for an elegant meal. In the following pages you’ll find not only amazing recipes but also the best techniques for roasting each bird to perfection. Pair any one of them with your favorite sides, and you’ll create some holiday magic of your own.
Roasting the duck slowly at a low temperature (breast side down first) is the best way to render the fat from under the breast skin. It’s key to remove the rendered fat from the pan partway through roasting, so the duck won’t sit in its own fat as it finishes roasting, which would prevent it from crisping.
This combination cooking method involves steaming on the stovetop and then slow-roasting in the oven. Steaming eliminates the need to remove hot fat from the oven during roasting. Also, it renders a maximum of fat cleanly (without any roasted or caramelized bits), leaving you with lots of pure white goose fat to cook with. After pouring off the fat, the goose roasts slowly for 2 to 2-1/2 hours, making it tender and succulent, with crisp, handsomely browned skin.