Roast Turkey at Christmas

Roasting your turkey at Christmas is a huge responsibility. You have the Christmas celebrations going on around you and more often than not family or visitors joining you for lunch. The pressure is definitely on. One too many glasses of sherry and you could end up with a disaster!

Don’t panic. I’ve had a word with my mum who always has the Turkey well under control…. She’s a great cook and she’s written down her secrets for me to share with you to make sure you can not only roast your Christmas Turkey but also get it done without too much stress on Christmas Day.

Cooking your turkey will be a time-consuming operation so preparation in advance is essential. The size of your turkey will depend on the number of people you are feeding and I know people joke about eating turkey for weeks after Christmas but I always try to buy the biggest bird I can fit in my oven! Why? Because it is more economical to buy a large bird and will allow you to freeze much of the leftover meat for future meals and in the long run, work out cheaper. If you think your Organic / Free Range bird is costing a fortune then just consider how many meals you will get from it.

I freeze at least 10 portions – some sliced, suitable for making sandwiches, some ‘bits and bobs’ for curry and larger pieces for using in recipes. This is the way I justify spending so much on a large good quality turkey.

Buying your Turkey

If you are buying your turkey from a butcher, don’t forget to get your order in early. You need to be able to ensure you’ll get the variety of bird and the size you want. Ask for the giblets to be included but remove them from the cavity of the bird when you get it home.

Giblets can be used to make a fine gravy and are very useful in the stock that you can make with the carcass afterwards. This in turn can be turned into more delicious healthy meals.
Remember a big turkey takes up a lot of room in your fridge so collect your turkey as fresh as possible on the last day the butcher opens before Christmas Day. We normally put our turkey in a larder on Christmas Eve as it is cool enough but if you can’t fit it in your fridge, a cool bag with ice packs will do.

Preparation

Firstly – you should never, under any circumstances, serve undercooked turkey – so allow yourself plenty of time! It’s important to have your turkey at room temperature before you cook it. If you don’t do this, the time it takes to cook changes and you can end up with a bird that isn’t cooked through to the middle.

Christmas Eve preparations

Calculate the roasting time of your turkey. It’s one less thing to do on Christmas morning when there are other distractions! Is your cooker slow or fast? Do you normally have to adjust cooking times? You will need to know the ‘oven ready’ weight of the bird – get this from your butcher / farm or from the packaging. Weigh your stuffing and add this to the weight of the bird. Yes – you must account for this as it needs cooking too.

The Roasting time for a turkey including stuffing

4-5 kg: 3-3½ hours at 200C/400F/gas 6
5-6 kg: 3-4½ hours at 200C/400F/gas 6
6-7 kg: ½ an hour at 200C/400F/gas 6, 3 ½ – 4 hours at 180C/350F/gas 4
8-9 kg: ½ an hour at 200C/400F/gas 6, 4 ½ – 5 hours at 180C/350F/gas 4

Tell people what time you are going to eat

This seems a little obvious – but give yourself a good window – I usually say lunch will be between 1.30 and 2.30 so that everyone is close to hand at 1.30 and can lend a hand serving out.

Turkey stuffing

I always make the stuffing late on Christmas eve. I believe it tastes better if it has had a chance to stand and soak up the flavours. Keep it in the fridge until you are ready for it on Christmas day, the stuffing should be cold when you fill the turkey, always ensure that the stuffing is loose so that it can expand during cooking and get enough heat.

Some recipes say you shouldn’t stuff the cavity full as it won’t get cooked enough but I’ve always stuffed the neck fully and cavity ¾ full and never had any problems. You should use your own judgement and check that it is fully cooked when you remove it.

Christmas Day

So you know what time you’re going to eat, what time it should take to cook your turkey. You now need to start preparation of your turkey and pre-heat your oven before the time comes to pop it in the oven.

Put your stuffed turkey in the roasting tin. You can season it with salt and pepper but I like to rub a little olive oil on first so that it sticks. Next, a top tip – wrap the turkey in tin foil, with the overlap at the top. You will need to baste your turkey during the cooking so you will need a good overlap that can be undone during the roasting. Wrapping your turkey in foil stops the outer skin from browning too quickly and more importantly keeps the meat from drying out.

You should take the foil off for the last 30 minutes or so to crisp up the skin. Ensure your oven is up to temperature, then pop your bird in the oven!

Basting

You should baste your turkey during the last half of it’s time in the oven using the juices from the roasting tin. Do this every 20 minutes, but increase to every 10 minutes for the final 30 minutes of cooking.

How do you know if your turkey is cooked?

Insert a two pronged fork or skewer into the thickest part of the thigh. The juices should run clear with no sign of blood. You should take your turkey out of the oven and allow it to cool for at least 30 minutes.

This gives you time to finish off the vegetables and get any other final jobs done.

The juices should be added to the gravy for extra taste.

Good Luck … and have a great Christmas Lunch.

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Tim Daniels

Tim is the founder of the poultrykeeper website and lives in Herefordshire, UK. He keeps Cream Legbar chickens, Silver Sebright bantams and hybrid layers for eggs, Abacot Ranger ducks, Brecon Buff geese and some quail.

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