Over the years (20+) of hosting Christmas dinner for a small army, I have refined my recipe and believe that this really is the Best Ever Turkey Recipe!
To start, I buy my turkey from my local butcher (this needs to be ordered in advance). I like to know where my bird has come from and to support local farms, plus a good butcher will only buy from farms that they trust, you can even go to the farm and visit if you would like!
Having said all that I have also tried turkeys from the supermarkets and been quite satisfied with the result, especially Marks and Spencer’s. Plus these days the more expensive birds have the farm origin written on the label.
Fresh is best! And once you have picked up the turkey, keep it somewhere cool, the fridge is ideal. On Christmas Eve I like to take it out of the fridge and keep it in the porch or conservatory so it is not too cold on Christmas morning.
Now comes the preparation!
- Remove the giblets and keep for the gravy (you can ask the butcher to do this but most supermarket birds will have them separate already in a bag in the cavity).
- Cut up 2 lemons into quarters and place in the cavity. You should not put stuffing in the cavity because this prevents the bird from cooking through properly. The lemons will steam as the bird cooks and moisten the flesh from the inside.
- Loosen the skin around the neck end and push your fingers gently further and further under the skin, taking care not to tear the skin. Now use a good slab of butter and push the butter under the skin as far as it will go.
- The stuffing can now be placed in the neck end. There is not a lot of room so any excess can be cooked separately. Secure the skin with a skewer.
- Taking more butter, cover the outside of the bird and season with salt and pepper.
- Finally, lay streaky bacon strips across the bird, covering all exposed skin. This will keep the flesh moist as it cooks.
Wrap the turkey in foil by making a tent: take 2 long pieces of foil and lay at right angles to each other in a roasting tin with the bird in the middle. Draw up the ends and fold over leaving some room for air to circulate, but make sure you can get it in the oven!
The turkey needs to be cooked at a high temperature of 220 c for the first 40 mins then at 170 c for another few hours depending on the size of the bird (eg 3 hours for a 5.5 kg bird or 31/2 hours for a 6.3 kg bird). Then the foil can be torn away and the bacon slices removed to allow the skin to brown. Turn the heat up to 200 c and cook for another 40 mins (the ideal time for roast potatoes!). The turkey will need frequent basting during this time, so add a few minutes to allow for this.
When the turkey is cooked, the juices should run clear from the leg when it is pierced with a skewer. Remove from the oven, cover with foil and leave to rest for 30 mins (the ideal time for you to have your starter). Resting is very important because as it rests, the meat “relaxes” and releases juices which improve the flavour and also help you to make great gravy!. The turkey will stay hot in a warm place.
That still leaves the gravy but I’ll keep that for another time!