Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Simple Ways to Put Some Zing Into Your Christmas Turkey

Chocolate Christmas 'Card'
It's the time of year again when many of us will be seeking last minute inspiration for a memorable Christmas lunch - one that doesn't send our stress levels soaring during the preparation and cooking stages.  For those food lovers who want to stick with tradition, a roast turkey is still as popular as ever - at the moment running about 70/30 with rib of beef with the Christmas parties we are cooking for. 
Christmas lunched cooked, boxed and ready to go!
Roast ballottine of turkey breast, stuffed ballottine of turkey leg, apricot and hazelnut stuffing and Gloucester Old Spot/ Berkshire breed cross pigs in blankets 

Getting the timings absolutely right so that you end up serving the perfectly cooked bird.

There are a few basic ground rules to cooking a great roast turkey, but generally speaking, it really isn't rocket science.  Cooking time will, of course, depend on the size of the bird, but as a  rule of thumb, 20 minutes per kilo + 90 minutes is about right. There is a very useful turkey roasting calculator here.

Perhaps the main fear about roasting a turkey is that it will be too dry, but by adding lots of butter, smeared over the skin and stuffed under the skin of the breast, you can add both flavour and moisture.  
Butter, thyme, orange and lemon zest, spices - you name it, it goes under the skin of this turkey ballottine. 
More flavour and moisture can be infused into the meat by stuffing the cavity with lemons, garlic and a bouquet garni of herbs.  

Much is said about brining your turkey - that is what I'll be doing this year for the Christmas Day party, so we'll see the difference!  

Any sausage-meat stuffing should be cooked separately so that it doesn't interfere with the thorough cooking of the bird. Set the oven at around 240 degrees centigrade (220 oC for a fan assisted oven) to begin cooking, to allow the skin to crisp a little, then reduce the temperature for the remainder of the cooking time to 170 oC degrees (160 oC fan).  Basting the bird with its own juices will help. 

Once the juices are running clear when the fleshiest parts (the legs, for example) are pierced with a fork or the point of a knife, then the bird is ready. If the legs are done, then the breast will be cooked too.  

The safest way to make sure your turkey is cooked is with a temperature probe. See previous blog post on temperature probes. It may be the thing that saves your life this Christmas! 

The core temperature should reach 74 oC for at least 15 seconds.  

Resting period

That's the resting period for the turkey - not the cook (that comes later!). Allowing the bird to rest for 15 - 30 minutes, preferably breast down, on a rack, will let the juices permeate the meat, keeping it moist and flavourful. It also allows the meat to relax - so it will taste much softer. 
If you place the turkey breast down while resting the juices flow into the meat rather than onto the tray - simple when you think about it! 
Before serving flash back in the oven for 5 minutes to return it to temperature.  

Potato trivet
Potato trivet with lemon and thyme. You can add other things like cinnamon stick, star anise, celery etc.
Here's another little thing I do to add flavour as the turkey cooks. It also helps to circulate heat more evenly and save the turkey from burning to the bottom of the roasting dish. Oh and the potatoes taste great re-fried the next day with fried eggs by the way, or in a warm potato salad.  
Slice the potatoes raw quite thick and place in the roasting tin with other aromats - lemon, thyme, rosemary etc. I also often use orange slices, cinnamon, star anise etc. All these things waft their aromas into the turkey as it is cooking - lovely!

Pep up your turkey
Turkey ballottine with ras-el-hanout sprinkled on the skin before adding the brest meat. This will flavour the turkey from the top down as it roasts. 
Plain roast turkey can be a little bit on the bland side for you? By thinking a little outside of tradition, you can achieve a Christmas dish that will definitely impress!
Adding Asian or Oriental flavours to a roast turkey crown, for example, will boost the flavour and moistness of the meat, not to mention your status as a talented cook!  Try adding a chopped red chilli, fresh chopped coriander, some chinese five spice, garlic and fresh fine chopped ginger to unsalted butter, season with salt and pepper. Spread this under the turkey skin.  Keep a little of the butter mixture back  and add a tablespoon of cranberry or redcurrant sauce to it, pouring this over the turkey 30 minutes before the end of cooking.  The resulting flavour of sweet chilli will give the breast meat such a lift, your guests will be asking for second, or even third, helpings.

Try a marinade too - I often do one like this with a few more additions (depending on what you have on hand) - like thai fish sauce (yes really!), cumin & coriander seeds, honey, lemongrass etc. Leave that marinading overnight and the difference will be amazing! Another if you want to go more french stylie try honey, mustard, Snowshill lavender, lemon and garlic. Add a bit of the marinade to the gravy before you bring it to the boil to add even more flavour to the sauce. 

One thing I would not recommend however is cooking your turkey in the dishwasher - though it can be done. Apparently. 

Boxing Day turkey carnage

One of the questions a chef is always asked at this time of year is what to do with turkey leftovers. 
If turkey, spinach and cranberry sandwiches or turkey curry just don't fire up your appetite, then how about combining the turkey meat with some more flavoursome ingredients to make one or two more meals for the family? 

We all joke about making turkey fricassee with the leftovers, but adding some tasty porcini mushrooms, tarragon and/ or crispy pancetta cubes to a creamy, wine infused fricassee sauce will give you a seriously sophisticated supper dish.   

Or fry up the leftover turkey into a base of a paella fit to suit a king (or queen)!

Thai style turkey burgers? Add Thai spices to chopped cooked turkey and mix with coriander, parsley, onion, breadcrumbs and a dash of coconut milk before forming into patties for frying.  These Thai style turkey burgers will become such a family favourite that you will find yourself serving them all year round.

Why not make a Boxing Day variation of our ever popular salad of grilled butternut squash (can be roasted - even earsier) with pomegranate, feta, olives, red onion - with the addition of cooked turkey. Drizzle a nice sharp orange dressing over, pop some crispy bread in the oven and lunch is served! 
Pizza for Eat, Pray, Love press night
Or you could get the bread dough out and throw together a turkey pizza - adding leftover cheese of course and whatever else your Boxing Day tastebuds can take! 


The nicest thing about all of these tasty suggestions is that they are really very simple to achieve, with short preparation times and no fuss cooking.  The result is less stress and more time to spend raising a glass of champagne with the family.  Cheers and a Merry Christmas!


Related posts


Christmas 2007 
Christmas Day 2008
Christmas Day 2009
Christmas Day 2010
Christmas Sandwich buffet - fun style!
Turkey ballottine 
Frangipane Mince spies
Gloucestershire Echo article, Christmas 2007

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