This Christmas, give your goose a smoke bath

By Jim Shahin
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, December 21, 2010; 1:59 PM

All I want for Christmas is goose. I learned that at a poker game.

For years, eight or so of us guys would gather around a table once a month to drink bourbon and beer, tell crude jokes, smoke the occasional cigar and watch politically incorrect cinema. Edibles consisted of two flavor profiles: crunchy and salty. Sometimes a third: flamin'.

The Algonquin, this was not.

Somehow, as happens in life and even in poker, we took a notion one year to act like adults. It was around Christmas, and we decided to serve real food, things that actually grew from the earth or were birthed from creatures that did not multiply inside containers kept too long in the refrigerator.

My contribution? A roast goose.

It was the mid-'90s, and I had been smoking meats, including turkey, for a decade. But it hadn't occurred to me to give goose the barbecue treatment.

This is the part of the story where everything is supposed to go wrong: There's a grease fire. The bird comes out dry as wood. Something. But nothing went wrong. I used a recipe from Cajun chef Paul Prudhomme, following it faithfully, and the goose emerged as bronzed as John Boehner.

The motley crew arrived, uncharacteristically cleaned up for the occasion. We threw our coins around and drank our bourbon, as usual, but the air was charged with an electric difference. Civility, I think they call it.

Midway through the game, we took a break to dine. I brought out the goose.

When I set it on the sideboard (actually, a card table that my wife had prettied up with a tablecloth), I could see why the ancient Egyptians considered the goose a sacred animal, the source of all creation; why it, rather than, say, the chicken, laid Aesop's golden egg; why Scrooge, after getting the Christmas spirit, personally delivered a goose to the Cratchets. The bird's taut, long, mahogany body sat in a regal pose under the twinkling Christmas lights hung from the ceiling.

I carved the breast and stacked the slices on a platter. When we sat down to eat, an almost religious hush descended. I took a bite and was transported. The luscious meat was to flavor what Kierkegaard is to philosophy: impossibly deep.

It has been 15 years since that first goose, and I have cooked one for Christmas or a Christmas party every year since.

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