Cornish hens can build up juices beneath the skin during cooking, causing the skin to balloon. To prevent this unsightly occurrence, take some precautionary stabs. Before cooking, carefully prick the skin (but not the meat) on the breast and leg with the tip of a knife.
A goose has a thick layer of fat right under the skin that must be rendered in the oven; if not, the skin will be flabby and the meat greasy. First, prick the goose skin all over, especially around the breast and thighs (a trussing needle or skewer will work here) without piercing the meat—these holes provide an exit route for rendered fat. Using rubber gloves to protect your hands from possible splashes of boiling water, lower the goose, neck-end down, into a stockpot filled with simmering water, submerging as much of the goose as possible until “goose bumps” appear, about 1 minute. Repeat this process, submerging the goose tail-end down. Dry the goose with paper towels, then set it on a rack in a roasting pan and refrigerate for 1 to 2 days. The boiling and drying process tightens the skin so that during roasting the fat is squeezed out. This technique can be used with duck, too.
Raw chicken is slippery, which means that halving whole breasts can be a hazardous job. How to ensure a firm grip? Use a folded wad of paper towels to hold the chicken in place as you cut. You can also use a paper towel to firmly grasp chicken skin when removing it from the meat.
Preparing a turkey for stuffing and trussing can be a slippery, messy affair. To contain the mess, work on a clean, thick, slightly damp large towel. The towel keeps the bird from slipping and sliding and impedes cross-contamination with the sink, cutting board, or counter. After putting the bird in the oven, simply roll up the towel and toss it in the laundry.
Duck breast is fantastic grilled, but its abundant fat can be a problem, causing flare-ups that result in charred and ruined meat. Instead of removing the skin entirely (the meat can dry out), cut the fat with tact. With a sharp chef’s knife, trim any overhanging skin and fat from around each breast half. Slide your fingers under the remaining skin along the length of the breast to loosen. Turn the breast half on its side and slice off some of the skin and fat so that only a strip of skin (1½ to 2 inches) remains in the center of each breast half. Using a paring knife, score the skin on each breast half diagonally 3 or 4 times to allow the fat to melt during cooking.