Once I lived in a place where winter temperatures regularly dipped below freezing, and my best friend was my goose down comforter. My downstairs neighbor was a Renaissance English scholar, and every year he did the whole Dickens Christmas feast complete with goose. I had my own Christmas celebration, but he'd give me the goose fat and any of the leftovers, which I used in my New Year's Day cassoulet, prepared from Julia Child's lengthy recipe.
It wasn't until I moved to sunny Southern California that I made a roast goose myself for the first time. I love it, but it always takes a round of phone calls to find out which butchers, if any, have a fresh goose, preferably one raised somewhere cold so it developed a good layer of fat. Once, I ordered a terrific (and very expensive) goose from Healthy Family Farms at the Santa Monica farmers market, but when I called the next year, owner Sharon Palmer told me she wasn't going to raise geese anymore: They're too mean!
Is there anything more festive than a crisp roast goose in all its considerable glory? Luckily, roasting a goose is not quite the production a turkey is. It's basically very simple. Air-dry the bird in the refrigerator for a day, bring to room temperature, salt and pepper it all over and stuff it with a quartered apple, orange, onion and a few sprigs of thyme. Prick the skin all over so it can release the fat as it cooks, and roast in a 350-degree oven on a bed of chopped onions, carrots and celery. Add a half-inch of water to catch the fat. Use a turkey baster to siphon off some of the fat as the bird roasts. It's done when the thigh reaches 165 to 180 degrees, about 21/2 hours for a 10- to 12-pound goose.
I follow Kurt Gutenbrunner of Wallse in New York and author of "Neue Cuisine: The Elegant Tastes of Vienna" in all things goose. And I like to serve it with the traditional sides he recommends: spaetzle and braised red cabbage. Last year I made his roasted apples stuffed with marzipan too.
Roast goose is a beautiful match for mature Pinot Noir, Rioja or Chinon. This year I'm pulling out a 2004 Luciano Sandrone Barolo "Cannubi Boschis."