How to cook the perfect Christmas turkey
Choose the best turkey you can
- Free-range birds have a much more developed flavour and meat which won’t be flabby, and chalky once cooked. There are many breeds and this is a matter of taste, but choosing free-range is the surest way to guarantee you are getting a bird that will be really tasty when it’s on the table.
- You really do get what you pay for, and for the most special meal of the year, you don’t want to feel you’ve ended up with something cheap and nasty – go for premium quality and your money will be well spent.
- Order with a reputable butcher or poulterer; by getting it frozen you can have it stowed safely in the freezer without having to brave long queues to pick up a fresh one in the last minute Christmas high street rush.
If you are going for a frozen turkey, remember to leave plenty of time to defrost your bird. Let it defrost slowly under refrigeration, for 7-10 hours per 500g – we recommend leaving 72 hours for this.
To stuff or not to stuff?
We recommend cooking your stuffing separately. A stuffed bird takes longer to cook, as the heat of the oven has to penetrate the bird before it can safely cook the dense stuffing inside it. This longer cooking time can dry out your turkey. Why not try rolling your stuffing into little balls before baking them? Or loosely pack the cavity of the bird with 2-3 peeled and halved onions and a bouquet garni for extra flavour.
Easy cooking instructions
- Before cooking: pat your bird dry with kitchen paper, and allow to come to room temperature for at least 30 minutes. This will help your turkey cook evenly.
- Weigh your bird to calculate the exact cooking time required.
- Preheat oven to 230ºC/450ºF/Gas 8. Place in a large roasting tin, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Add a cup of water or wine to the tin to keep the bird moist during cooking.
- Cook turkey in the centre of the oven for 30 minutes
- Reduce oven temperature to 180ºC/360ºF/Gas 4 and continue to cook for a further 15-18 minutes per 450g (lb). Baste periodically with the cooking juices to keep the meat moist, and make sure you don’t overcook the breasts.
How do you know when your turkey is ready?
Pierce the thickest part of the thigh with a skewer; if the juices run clear with no trace of pink, the turkey is cooked. Alternatively use a meat thermometer inserted into the leg. When it reads 70-75ºC, your bird is cooked. The thigh should still remain soft when pressed, to avoid cooking the meat too far.
Once cooked, it is vitally important to let all meat rest before carving. Remove the turkey from the oven, cover loosely with foil and rest for a minimum of 30 minutes to allow the meat to become moist and tender all the way through. Reserve any juices to make your gravy.
To carve confidently, a good, sharp and well-balanced carving knife is essential. It is a good idea to tackle carving on a good quality, large wooden carving board with a non-slip mat or damp tea towel underneath to prevent it slipping.
Try the chefs’ professional carving method. This involves carving along the breast bone and down the ribs to remove each breast cleanly in one whole piece. The breasts can then be easily cut across the grain into even slices. Next remove the legs by dividing the bones at their joints, and cutting any large pieces of thigh into chunky portions. You can then arrange all the meat onto a warmed serving platter.