Turkey is a popular bird of choice for a festive meal, but what makes the perfect roast turkey for Christmas? Well, a happy, well-bred one if you can find it. Free-range would be better, but you should also look out for organic birds.
When choosing your turkey allow about 350g-450g per person if it weighs less than 4.5kg. If you’re buying a bigger bird, allow 200g-350g per person, but please, make sure it will fit in the oven. I know this to my cost!
If you have the oven room, it is easier to roast a bird unstuffed. However, nonmeat stuffing tastes best cooked in the bird. If you are stuffing the bird’s neck with meat stuffing, calculate the cooking time according to the weight of the bird once it has been stuffed.
When roasting, allow 20 minutes per 450g, plus an extra 20 minutes. If the turkey weighs more than 6.75kg, allow 15 minutes per 450g, plus 15 minutes. Basting a turkey provides a crispy, golden skin, but it does not add moisture or flavour to the interior of the turkey. Basting should be kept to a minimum so that the oven door is not opened too often.
The more times the oven door is opened, the longer the cooking time will be due to loss of heat.
How to liven up your turkey
Inject you turkey with loads of flavour by mixing soft butter with herbs & spices.
Anything from parsley, garlic & lemon zest to Ras al Hanout or even curry powder.
Smother the Turkey with the flavoured butter and place in the fridge for 2 hours before cooking. When cooking it will help to self baste the turkey adding flavour and a beautiful golden colour.
My classic roast turkey with chestnut-sausage stuffing
5-6kg oven-ready turkey
3 garlic cloves, crushed
Large handful of chopped mixed herbs such as parsley, thyme, rosemary and bay leaves
1 onion, roughly chopped
2 carrots, roughly chopped
For the chestnut and sausage stuffing:
2 tbsp vegetable oil
a small bunch of fresh thyme
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
75g chopped bacon
750g pork sausages
150g baby spinach leaves, chopped
200g peeled whole chestnuts, roughly chopped
For the gravy:
1 tbsp soy sauce
A large glass of red wine
500ml chicken or turkey stock
1 tbsp cornflour, mixed with 1 tbsp water
For the stuffing:
* Peel and finely chop the onion then gently soften in 1 tablespoon of oil with the chopped bacon, stirring often, for about 5 minutes. Strip the thyme from its stalks. Add the thyme to the onions and cook for about 5 minutes more. Stir in the spinach leaves, lemon zest and leave to cool.
Meanwhile, slit the sausage skins and remove the meat to a mixing bowl. Add the cooked onion mix.
Bring 100ml water to the boil and pour over the couscous, cover, leave for 8 minutes then mix with a fork. Add the couscous and lemon juice to the sausage meat, season generously with salt and pepper then mix together evenly.
For the turkey:
* Heat the oven to 160C fan/gas mark 4.
Fill the cavity of the bird with stuffing at both ends. In a roasting tin, make a bed for the turkey with the chopped onion, carrots and garlic cloves.
Smear the bird all over with the butter. Sprinkle with herbs and season with salt and pepper.
Preheat the oven to 200C/180C Fan/Gas 6.
Roast the turkey for 15 minutes, then turn the oven down to 180C/160C Fan/Gas 4 and roast for 2 to 2 ½ hours. Baste with the cooking juices every 30 minutes; it is important to do this quickly so as to not let the turkey cool down, as this could alter the cooking time.
Insert a skewer or meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh. If the juices run clear (or the temperature reads 60–65C), you know it’s done. If not, return for a further 30 minutes. Remove to a serving platter and leave in a warm place, not covered, for at least 45 minutes before carving. This “relax” is part of the cooking process and essential for juicy meat.
For the gravy:
* Meanwhile, for the gravy, skim off the fat from the roasting tray with a spoon. Place the tray on a medium heat and deglaze it by pouring in the red wine and chicken stock. Using a whisk, scrape free all the caramelised bits on the bottom of the tray. Bring the mixture to the boil, and then carefully pour it into a saucepan through a fine sieve. Bring to the boil and add the soy sauce and cornflour. Simmer for 5 minutes, season, and strain into a jug.
Carve the turkey and serve on warm plates with the stuffing, hot gravy and vegetables of your choice.