So the big day dawns at last, and I have just one little message for anyone feeling apprehensive. Do not be afraid. I’m here to help you through it step by step – and what we’re all now hoping to enjoy is the best Christmas lunch ever!
Yes, I know it’s mighty big, and if this is your first time cooking a turkey you might be feeling a bit overwhelmed, so let me reassure you. If you’ve got a fine bronze free-range turkey it will be very difficult not to make it taste good. But if you cook it according to the following instructions, it’s going to be utterly brilliant. It will be a) succulent and juicy, and b) have the maximum flavour. There are many other ways to cook a turkey, but this one has worked not only for me over many years but also for countless other people who have used my Christmas book in the 16 years it’s been in print.
The turkey is stuffed with pork, sage and onion stuffing, which provides juices and a certain amount of fat that will bubble up to create a kind of internal basting through the cooking. This is the reason I put any leftover stuffing in the body cavity of the turkey, which is perfectly safe if a) you give the turkey a good blast of heat to start with, and b) the stuffing is at room temperature before it goes in. The breast is covered with streaky bacon to provide basting for the outside.
The turkey is cooked inside a kind of tent of extra-wide foil, which means it’s in an oven within an oven, as it were. If you leave plenty of space between the flesh of the turkey and the foil, it will roast with all its buttery juices. Then, when it is removed from the oven, if you allow it to relax for 45 minutes all those juices that have bubbled up to the surface will seep back into the flesh to ensure it’s perfectly moist.
Turkey Sizes and Timings
A good size of turkey for the average family is 12–14 lb (5.4–6.3 kg), which will serve eight people (with plenty left over). This is oven-ready weight. But below you’ll find cooking times for varying sizes of turkey.
Cooking times for other sizes of turkey
8–10 lb (3.6–4.5 kg) turkey
30 minutes at gas mark 7, 425°F, 220°C, then 2½–3 hours at gas mark 3, 325°F, 170°C, then a final 30 minutes (uncovered) at gas mark 6, 400°F, 200°C.
15–20 lb (6.8–9 kg) turkey
45 minutes at gas mark 7, 425°F, 220°C, then 4–5 hours
at gas mark 3, 325°F, 170°C, then a final 30 minutes (uncovered) at gas mark 6, 400°F, 200°C.
Is it cooked?
Please bear in mind that ovens, and turkeys themselves, vary, and the only sure way of knowing if a bird is ready is by using these two tests. One is to insert a thin skewer into the thickest part of the leg, remove it and press it flat against the flesh to see if the juices run clear. The second one is to give the leg a tug, if it has some give in it and is not too resistant, that indicates the turkey is cooked.
Prepare the turkey, ready to follow the time plan below.
Christmas Day Time Plan
7.30am Preheat the oven to gas mark 7, 425°F, 220°C, and prepare the turkey, stuffing it, etc.
8.15am Place the turkey in the preheated oven. Now begin to prepare the vegetables (sprouts, parsnips and potatoes).
8.55am Turn the oven temperature down to gas mark 3, 325°F, 170°C. Now you can have some time out of the kitchen to join the family, have a coffee or (if it’s me) go to Mass. After that, see to the table, glasses, cutlery, etc. Arrange a coffee tray with liqueur or brandy glasses. Put dinner plates, serving dishes and a large turkey plate into the warming oven or somewhere else that’s warm. Oh, and don’t forget to sharpen up the carving knife!
Noon Time to put the pudding on. Fill a saucepan quite full with boiling water, place it on the heat and when it comes back to the boil put a steamer on top of the pan and turn it down to a gentle simmer. Put the Christmas pudding in the steamer, cover and leave to steam away. You will need to check it from time to time and maybe top up the water.
12.30pm Increase the oven temperature to gas mark 6, 400°F, 200°C. Enlist some help to get the turkey out of the oven (it’s heavy!), then remove the foil from the top and sides of the bird and take off the bacon slices (these can be returned to the oven on a heatproof plate to finish cooking until they’re very crisp – but keep an eye on them, they won’t take more than 15–20 minutes). Now baste the turkey thoroughly with a long-handled spoon, then return it to the oven for a further 30–45 minutes to finish browning. Give it 2 more bastings during this final period.
12.45pm Now for the roast potatoes. Season the potatoes with salt and steam them for 6 minutes. While they are steaming, heat up the rum sauce and bread sauce to just below simmering point and taste to check for seasoning. Then transfer them to warm serving jugs with a little butter to melt over the surface of each one. Then keep them in a warm place. Now drain the potatoes and return them to the pan. Put a lid on and shake the potatoes quite roughly in the saucepan to get them fluffy round the edges. Now heat 2 oz (50 g) of lard in a solid roasting tin and place it on direct heat. When it’s really hot and sizzling, add the potatoes and tip the tin and baste the potatoes so they’re all coated with fat (you’ll need an oven glove for this). Then place the roasting tin on a high shelf in the oven with the turkey.
1pm Steam the parsnips for 5 minutes. Take another roasting tin and add 3 tablespoons of oil and 1 tablespoon of butter to it and get it nice and hot over direct heat. Add the parsnips and baste them like the potatoes.
1.15pm It’s now time for the turkey to come out and the parsnips to go in on the centre shelf (with the potatoes above). Transfer the turkey to a warm serving plate, keeping the foil and the juices. Increase the oven temperature to gas mark 8, 450°F, 230°C. The turkey will be fine relaxing at kitchen temperature for up to 45 minutes, loosely covered with double foil. Next, pour the giblet stock (made on Christmas Eve) into a pan to heat up and, meanwhile, tip the turkey fat out of the foil into the roasting tin. Discard the foil, then pour off all the excess fat from the roasting tin into a bowl, leaving just the dark juices (this fat is precious – take a look at Boxing Day to 30 December for a great Boxing Day treat).
Next make the giblet gravy. Place the tin containing the turkey juices over a low heat, add 2 tablespoons of flour and work this thoroughly into the juices. Now, using a balloon whisk, whisk in the giblet stock, a little at a time, until you have a smooth gravy. Leave it to bubble and reduce a bit, taste and season with salt and pepper, then pour into a jug and keep warm.
1.30pm Time off! Have a pre-lunch glass of Champagne with the family. The celebration is about to begin!
1.45pm Add boiling water to the steamer for the sprouts, season them with salt and steam for 3–4 minutes. While that’s happening, summon the carver and get all hands on deck ready for dishing up.
2pm Lunch is served! At the appropriate moment after the main course, remove the pudding from the steamer, take off the paper and foil, slide a palette knife round the side of the pudding and turn out on to a warmed plate. For a really dramatic presentation, see page 126. When the cheers have died down, serve the pudding with the rum sauce.
Later After lunch, serve coffee with brandy or liqueurs and chocolates, and bask in the glory of your achievement.
Flaming the Christmas pudding
This is very easy to do and it’s guaranteed to impress your guests. Warm a ladleful of brandy over direct heat and, as soon as the brandy is hot, ask someone to set light to it, using a long match. Place the ladle, now gently flaming, on top of the pudding – but don’t pour the brandy over until you reach the table. When you do, pour it slowly over the pudding, sides and all, and watch it flame to the cheers of the assembled company!
Your guests name it, you’ve got it. Turkey sandwiches? I love them with the leftover stuffing and cold bread sauce. Cold bacon sarnies with some sharp mustard? Or sausage rolls – these have been made ahead and frozen.
Christmas Easy: Sausage Rolls with Sage and Onion
To reheat the sausage rolls from frozen, preheat the oven to gas mark 6, 400°F, 200°C, and pop a baking sheet in to preheat, too. Bake them for 8 minutes.
Anyone for Christmas cake? I very much doubt it!
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