Although still the number one choice for the Christmas table, poor old turkey gets a pretty bad press. Deemed too large, too dry, or too bland, many of us are turning to whole turkey crowns or even a stuffed boneless option.
Yet a whole turkey is a glorious thing. Too large? Well, it doesn’t have to be the size of a small cow; it probably wouldn’t fit in the oven anyway. And lots of leftovers are no bad thing. Too dry? Not if you cook it as we do. Too bland? A decent free-range turkey is full of flavour nearer to duck than chicken. If you are not familiar with the rich and savoury meat of a well-bred turkey, then this year could be the time to try.
Buy a decent bird. Local, free-range, and from a proper butcher. Make sure you order it so that you aren’t running around on Christmas Eve with nary a turkey in sight.
Most meat is best cooked from room temperature but turkey seems to carry with it the ominous threat of food poisoning brought on by year on year of badly defrosted frozen turkeys. A fresh turkey will cook beautifully, and far more quickly, from room temperature but as many people find this off-putting we will stick to classic temperatures and timings.
For a turkey under 6kg, cook for 30 minutes per kg/12 minutes per lb at 200C/400F/Gas 6
For a turkey over 6kg, cook for 35 minutes per kg/15 minutes per lb at 180C/350F/Gas 4
Cook in a pre-heated oven, probably with the shelf on the lowest rung.
Before the turkey heads off for annunciation in the oven, you may wish to stuff it. Stuffing the inside of the bird is generally frowned upon, purely because it takes longer for the heat to penetrate through to the centre. You could, however, put a bay leaf and half an onion inside without causing a mass pandemic. Stuffing goes in the cavity under the neck flap (that bit of skin at the back end of the chicken). It is large enough to lend flavour and moisture to the bird, whilst giving a little piece of stuffing attached to the breast slices. Any other stuffing can be cooked on a tray in the oven.
Now that you have your bird, stuffed it, and worked out how long it needs the oven for, you need to think about how to cook it. Our answer to this, and the way we have cooked turkey for years, is to cook it upside down. We cannot lay claim to any great inspiration however as any avid Nigella fan will be able to tell you. She did nick it from another well-known cookery writer though, and what we are aiming for here is turkey perfection, not a bun fight over who thought of it first. Quite simply, the upside-down method works. The entire bird stays moist and deeply flavoured.
Rub the turkey all over with butter, season with salt, and place breast side down in the roasting tray. 30 minutes toward the end of your calculated cooking time, turn it breast side up to brown the skin. Cooked this way, you get all the lovely brown skin and fat from the back of the bird too.
You know the turkey is cooked through if you insert a skewer into the thickest part of the thigh and it runs clear. Cooked in this way, you may not get any juices running at all, yet the flesh still remains exceptionally moist. It will only need to rest for as long as you need to get everything else ready, although it will come to no harm either.