My fondness for roast goose is not, I fear, shared by many seasonal cooks. The problem is not flavour but design: goose is a bird with a big, oven-filling ribcage, but it is distinctly meagre in the meat-to-bone ratio, and tends to run to fat. In contrast, that fiendish American interloper, the turkey, feeds a lot more mouths for its size.
But leaving aside practicalities, a gourmet will always go for the goose. Roasted long enough for some of the fat to percolate through its silky, sweet flesh, and served with potatoes crustily burnished in that same fat, a gently piquant gravy and a limpid spoonful of redcurrant jelly, and there is no finer feast.
At least two of London’s finest chef-patrons agree with me. At this time of year, St John, Fergus Henderson’s groundbreaking British restaurant, offers not just roast goose, served as a main course, with the goose fat perking up the garlic-and-sage-spiked mash, but, before the main event, goose liver on toast, then a salad made with dandelion leaves, watercress and the bird’s crisp, torn-up legs; wisely, pudding is a simple sorbet. The “Christmas Feasting Menu” runs from December 1 until lunch on the 24th, and is cooked for a minimum of nine guests.
Adam Byatt, whose Trinity restaurant in Clapham Old Town has been a treasure for the past 13 years, and boasts a Michelin star for its technically assured cooking, also serves a fine goose. In his bright and airy “Upstairs” dining room, tables of four or more can enjoy the roast bird with goose-fat roast potatoes, confit leg and plenty of trimmings. Start with a gin-cured version of gravadlax and finish with a wedge of Stichelton (similar to Stilton but made with unpasteurised milk) with port-roasted figs.
In Hong Kong, meanwhile, goose is a sacrament, worshipped at many restaurants around town. The Cantonese have a way with roast meats, and – at Ho Lee Fook, the buzziest basement in town – executive chef Jowett Yu wet-brines his goose with sweet, woody spices, glazes it, dries it, then roasts it twice, before serving it with a thin, soy-enriched gravy. You can order a quarter, a half, or the whole bird for about £75: a paltry sum for such a feast.
Geese are much thinner on the ground in New York, but Gramercy’s Le Coq Rico is the hotspot for all things avian: on Christmas Eve, goose is roasted stuffed with pork, liver and a pinch of spice. Founding chef Antoine Westermann earned three Michelin stars in Strasbourg, where they know a thing or two about geese, and new executive chef Guillaume Ginther has kept the tradition going.
Home cooks will find the recipe for Fergus Henderson’s “beak to tail” goose menu in the splendid new The Book of St John (Ebury Press, £30), co-written with his business partner Trevor Gulliver, as well as recipes for 100 other dishes, all delivered with Henderson’s customary authority and quirky wit. Or should you prefer someone else to rattle the festive pans, it would make a perfect gift.