Although we can get hold of turkey meat in supermarkets throughout the year, nothing says more about Christmas Dinner than a golden roasted turkey.
Turkeys are native to North America, though they happily thrive in our British climate.
When pioneering Europeans first encountered them, they misidentified the birds as members of the guineafowl family – a species originally thought to come from Turkey, although they are more native to North East Africa. Turkeys were thus referred to as turkey fowl. This came to be shortened to ‘turkey’. In fact, turkeys are more closely related to pheasant, grouse and partridges.
The bird supplanted the main course, pork ribs, for the American Thanksgiving celebration – what we would call Harvest Festival – because it was more readily available at that time of year. In the UK, it became the traditional Christmas roast as far back the 17thC, when it was the go to main course for the rich, while the working class would commonly eat goose.
While it is prepared and cooked in the same way as a chicken, a turkey’s much larger size can often lead to last-minute panics, when it becomes apparent that the darned beast won’t fit in the oven. More importantly, there’s a risk that it goes in that oven too early and comes out dry and tough, or too late, so it is still dangerously under-cooked.
So what is the best way to prepare and cook the perfect Christmas Turkey?
First and foremost, make sure it’s been completely defrosted, should you happen to own a freezer large enough to hold a frozen one! Bear in mind a very large bird will take a long time to defrost.
Make sure you know its weight, so you can calculate the cooking time. (As a general guide, in an oven preheated to 180ºC (350ºF, Gas Mark 4) allow 45 minutes per kg, plus 20 minutes, for a turkey under 4.5 kg; allow 40 minutes per kg for a turkey that’s between 4.5 kg and 6.5 kg; allow 35 minutes per kg for a turkey of more than 6.5kg.) Always test your turkey for done-ness by inserting a skewer at the top of the thigh joint to see if the juices run clear.
If you prefer, you can follow the recipe below.
(recipe courtesy of John Torode)
- Ideally prepare the bird the night before.
- Remove any giblets from the cavity and give it a wipe, then season the inside with salt and pepper
- Mix softened butter with a little more salt and pepper and rub all over the skin
- Leave in the fridge overnight, covered with a double thickness of greaseproof paper to protect the breast.
- On the big day itself, take the bird out of the fridge and leave for an hour, for it to come up to room temperature.
- Meanwhile, heat the oven to 220C/430F/Gas 7
- Put three large onions, halved, in a large roasting tray. Put the turkey on a trivet or wire rack in the tray.
- Pour one cup of boiling water into the cavity of the bird and seal with a skewer. Pour two cups of boiling water into the bottom of the tin, then cover the whole thing with two layers of foil, making sure it is well sealed around the edges.
- Cook for 20 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 200C/400F/Gas 6.
- After 1½ hours, remove the foil.
- Cook for a further 40 minutes and don’t open the oven door until the cooking time is up.
- To test whether the turkey is cooked, insert a skewer or knife blade into the point where the thigh joins the breast – the juice should run clear.
- If it is pink, cook it for another 20 minutes and test again. Leave the turkey to rest in a warm place for at least 15 minutes before carving.
- Strain the juice from the bottom of the tin into a large jug – the fat will rise to the top, leaving the aromatic turkey juice and onion beneath.
- Skim off the fat and use the onion and juices to make a gravy or serve as it is.
You can order a free range Christmas turkey from our very own Beechridge Farm. Order online or on their stall on #FoodieThursdays. Beech Ridge Farm is committed to rearing all its chickens, turkeys, ducks and geese in a totally ‘free range’ environment. So during the day, most of their birds have free run of the farm – just as nature intended.