15 December 2012

Cooking a Christmas Turkey successfully!

That is, in a way which leaves you with cooked, succulent, tasty meat that won't have you either reaching for the wine glass for some lubrication, or calling to God on the great white telephone owing to it being under-done.

Well, you can't ask for more than that, really - can you?

I must come straight out and say that the lovely people at Knorr were kind enough to send me the wonderful Foreman & Field box of goodies that enabled me to post up this "how to" blog post.  I have been the fortunate recipient of a number of these boxes - and would like to just say a public thank you to Knorr and to Jen Harris at Golin Harris, their P.R. people, for all the terrific produce that has graced my cooker in the past year.

I wasn't expecting such a huge box this year, but in it came with hubby buckling at the knees under the weight.  Impressive, eh?

Inside the box, there was the following :

·         SELDOM SEEN FARM TURKEY 4.5-5.5kg
·         LONGMAN’S FARM BUTTER 250g
·         1 X ORANGE
·         12 x LUXURY MINCE PIES
·         2 Knorr Chicken Gravy Pots.

Well, the turkey speaks for itself - and I'll deal with that in detail in a minute or so.

The Longman's Farm Butter is unsalted and is the most glorious, creamy butter.  I have to admit that I felt it would be a shame to use it in this way and it is far nicer enjoyed on crackers with cheese, or on hot toast, so I used a supermarket unsalted butter.  Sssssh!  Don't tell!

The Emmett's bacon is so intensely smoked, it has an amazing aroma and three rashers is very definitely all that was needed!  I have intentions of using the remainder of the bacon in a French Chicken with peas & bacon recipe, in which it should be glorious.

Now, a word about the Christmas Stuffing.  It comes already frozen, so don't try and freeze it again - and use it as soon as you can.  Last year's pack got left in the fridge for 2 days and was simply horrid - it wound up in the bin.  This year's pack got cooked off on the day of delivery and the cooked stuffing balls are in the freezer.  It has a lovely flavour, being mixed with pork sausage meat, chestnuts and cranberries - but it very definitely won't wait.

The herbs and the orange are, well, herbs and an orange.  ~shrug~  What can I say?  Oh, except to say that the Foreman & Field parsley seems to be the nicest smelling parsley I've come across to date.  It's so fresh!

The mince pies are definitely to.die.for.  There is a hint of either vanilla or almond in the pastry - can't decide which - that marries the pastry up with the mincemeat so well!  I'm going to be using two of these in a frozen yoghurt recipe.  Hopefully, I'll make that tonight.

As for the dessert wine, well, I have yet to try that one - but it's from the Tenterden Vineyards.  What's not to like?

Now the recipe below follows Marco Pierre-White's recipe which is available from here where there is a printable version.  One thing I would mention, is that my timings are slightly different from his, for some obscure reason.  I followed the recipe that came in the box - but the recipe online is slightly different.  So you might like to just make a note of the timings I used, provided your turkey is also in the 4.5-5.5kg range.


See that plastic bag peeping out?  Remove it!
So.  It's just you and the turkey.  It is sitting there, somewhat malevolently, in its wrapping, looking at you in that "go on - I dare you!" kind of way.  So you need to grab hold of any nervousness you have over the issue and throw it behind you, because - this time - you're going to win.

First job - unwrap your turkey and have a good look at it.  Is there anything that needs removing?   There may be whole feathers that might have been missed in the plucking or the bag of giblets that will be tucked into the cavity.  Believe me, roasting a bird with its plastic bag of giblets still inside, does not make for a tasty bird.  No. No.  So, for goodness' sake, just have a peep (out of one eye, if you're squeamish) and check.  One smooth move from the bird to the bin will take care of those giblets.  For those who either a) don't mind the smell of them cooking or b) have no sense of smell, put them in a bowl and use them to make the gravy with.  Be my guest.

By 'eck, 'twas a buxom bird!
Next thing, is to rinse out the cavity of the bird.  Now remember, you don't want to be splashing potentially germ-laden dilute turkey blood everywhere, so have the water running fairly slowly and be careful.  Once your turkey is rinsed, pat dry with some kitchen paper (yes, inside as well - you don't have to look) and leave it on the side while you splash some sink cleaner around your sink.  Best to do that now - you never know who might come along and want to dabble their fingers in it, otherwise.

Back to the turkey.  Or in fact, back to the flavoursome butter mixture that you're going to be putting under the skin of the turkey breast, that will both flavour the bird and keep the breast from drying out in the oven.  In this instance, I'm using orange, rosemary, parsley and bacon.  Don't feel you have to do the same!  You can use whatever combination of herbs, herbs plus bacon, bacon plus fruit, an assortment of spices, BBQ sauce - whatever floats your boat, to mix with the butter.  However, the butter is a necessary thing, as that's what keeps your turkey moist.

So - assuming you're using the same as I did - get a bowl and grate just the zest from the orange into it.  Don't include any of the white pith in there, as it is bitter and nasty.  Take three of the bacon rashers and remove the rind.  Chop the bacon finely and add to the bowl.  Take the rosemary and pick the leaves from all but three stems.  Chop the leaves very small and place them into the bowl.  Cut the stems from the parsley and chop the leaves finely - and put them into the bowl too.  Add a good pinch of freshly ground black pepper and 200g of unsalted butter.  Using your hands, scrunch everything together until well mixed.

Next, decide which roasting tin you are going to use for the turkey and line it with a doubled over piece of silver foil.  I added the bacon rind and parsley stalks to the tin, just to capitalise on any flavour that was going.  I always think it's a terrible shame to throw potential flavour in the bin!

Right, so now it's time to get up close and personal with this turkey.

Take a deep breath - this won't hurt a bit!
Turn it so that its neck end is towards you (that'll be the opposite end to the legs!) and pull the neck flap out from under the string that is trussing it.  You will probably need to trim off the majority of the length of this flap, in order to gain access to the breast meat under it.  This is where poultry shears come into their own!

What we're aiming to do, is to create a pocket between the skin and the breast meat.  You can do this by pushing your fingers through the membrane that connects the two - yes, I know it's gross but it's over quickly!  I found that my little fat fingers didn't reach far enough along the breast, so I used a blunt ended tablespoon and pushed that in as far as it would reach, bowl side up.  The object of the exercise, is not to pierce the skin at all - otherwise all your butter will run directly out as soon as it melts.

See?  Short fat fingers - no hope of reaching far enough!
Make a long pocket across the top of both breasts.  It is easiest to do them separately, as the skin is joined along the breastbone and trying to pierce it there is almost impossible to do without breaking the skin.

Once your pockets are done, divide your butter mix into two and squeeze one half into each pocket.  You'll find they arrive in one lump, but by smoothing with your thumb along the top of the skin, you'll find you can encourage the lump to thin out and before long you'll have both breasts looking all buttered up and lovely.  There's just one thing left to do, which is to take a cocktail stick and use it to "stitch" the neck hole shut.  This will stop the solids inside the flavoured butter from escaping.

A fine bit of cocktail stitchery!
Cut the remains of the orange in half and insert each half into the cavity.  The orange will provide lovely orange-scented and flavoured steam which will also keep the meat moist.

Tuck the remaining three sprigs of rosemary down the side of each leg - between the leg and the breast - and tuck one into the cavity, for luck. 

Almost looks attractive, now!
The next thing is to think about what you want on the skin of the turkey.  I gave the whole bird a good coating of rapeseed oil, as a little oil helps to brown the skin and keep it crispy.  By all means use olive oil, or peanut, or just plain vegetable oil - it really won't matter.

I then seasoned the bird with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and added a final flourish with a few pinches of Sumac.  Sumac has a fresh citrus flavour and would go very well with the orange, I felt.  You could easily add more herbs, or more spices - whatever will go with what you've used in the flavoured butter.

So there you have it!  One turkey, all ready for the oven.

The last thing to do before committing it to the heat, is to place a large piece of silver foil over the top - effectively sealing the turkey in - and crimp it closed all around the roasting tin.

You should have your oven pre-heated to 220degC/200degC(fan)/425degF/Gas 7 - yes, that hot! - so place your turkey in the middle of the oven for the next 30 minutes.

What your turkey should look like, once you uncover it!
Once 30 minutes are up, leaving the turkey undisturbed, simply turn the oven temperature down to 170degC/150degC(fan)/300degF/Gas 3 for another 2.5-3 hours.

I gave my turkey the full 3 hours, at the end of which you remove the turkey from the oven and remove its silver foil cover.  Baste the turkey with the cooking juices that will have accumulated in the pan (we tipped ours out into a jug and poured it over - it was a two man job, but worth doing!) and replace it - without the silver foil lid - for another 30 minutes at an increased temperature of 200degC/180degC(fan)/400degF/Gas 6 to gain that lovely golden colour.

See?  "Lovely golden colour" - I wasn't joking either!
At the end of the cooking time, remove the turkey from the oven and leave it to sit in the roasting tin for 15 minutes, to rest, covered with foil to help it keep warm.  During this time, the juices in the meat are allowed to redistribute themselves around the meat and it may well suck up some of the cooking liquid that is in the tin.

Turkey - meet platter.  Or should that be "turkey meat platter"?
Once the 15 minutes are up, decant the turkey from the tin onto a warmed platter.  Re-wrap it in its silver foil cape and leave it to rest for another 30 minutes.

By this time, it is quite right to feel as though you've been faffing around with this damned turkey ALL FLIPPING DAY!  Believe me, it is worth it though.

Just look at that and think of the admiration of your peers - this, too, could be yours
I saved the cooking juices from the roasting tin to use in the gravy making.  I just skimmed the fat off and popped it into the fridge until I needed it.  If you are serving your turkey immediately, then there's no need to do this - just use it how you like in the gravy.

Congratulations!  Your turkey is now ready to carve!


  1. And then there was the year my dear Sister cooked her first bird, well into her 30's. Left the gibblets inside, the stay-fresh pad on the bottom of the bird, and of course, she left on the plastic loops that tied the legs together. We ate it and it was good. This year, I am brining my bird for tenderness and to see if it affects my tolerance to turkey. Regardless, we're doing a duck with it! Great Blog, again, Jenny!

    1. Yup, I think we can all tell a tale similar to that, if not of ourselves then of someone we know! I think my favourite turkey story was when my friend Marilyn went back to the kitchen, having laid the table ready for Christmas dinner - and found her Greyhound and six Jack Russells in a turkey feeding frenzy. LOL The Greyhound had dragged the turkey from the worktop and everyone tucked in, regardless of the fact that it was newly out of the oven! They had a steak & kidney pie from the freezer with their vegetables, instead. lol

  2. wow thanks so much for your indepth guide to cooking the turkey and preparing it. i will print this out and have it in the kitchen with me.

    1. You are welcome Tamalyn! I hope it helps. :)

  3. So glad you posted about this - I am cooking my first ever turkey for Christmas - one thing a friend of mine did recommend was to roast it breast side down - apparently the breast meat doesn't dry out then. Hope you have a lovely Christmas

    1. I've never tried roasting a turkey that way round, but have to say that doing the "putting half a pound of butter under the breast skin" thing certainly kept our turkey plenty moist! LOL Flavouring the butter also helps to flavour the turkey meat, which makes it all the more interesting.


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