Turkey wasn't always the star of the Christmas feast in the UK, or France for that matter. Originally it was boar and, through the 16th and 17th centuries, it was goose for the average family and peacock or swan for the rich! But for most of the time since the 16th century and the days of King Henry VIII, it's been all about the turkey.
If this is your first time cooking the Christmas turkey, the quality of the bird is crucial. Try to buy the best organic or at least free-range bird that you can afford. Visit your local butcher well in advance to place your order. Ask your butcher to prepare it for you - to remove and chop up the wings and neck into 2cm pieces and to remove the wishbone (this makes the turkey easier to carve). If, however, you are unable to use a fresh turkey, make sure that your frozen turkey is thoroughly defrosted before cooking.
Bronze turkey, free range / organic, wishbone remove, thawed to 16’c
Turkey neck, chopped into 3cm pieces
Turkey wings, chopped into 3cm pieces
Butter, unsalted, room temperature
White pepper, freshly ground
Arrowroot, diluted in 15ml cold water
Cooking the turkey:
Preheat the oven to 220°C. Allow your turkey to come to room temperature for 1 hour before putting it in the oven.
Place a large roasting tray on the stove over a medium heat.
Add the rapeseed oil followed by the wings and chopped neck and roast for 10 minutes, turning them every 2 minutes to ensure an even colour.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl with the back of a dessert spoon, soften the butter with the salt and pepper. Using a pastry brush, cover the turkey with half of the soft seasoned butter.
In the last 2 minutes of roasting the wings and neck, add the remaining butter to the tray.
Place the turkey on the roasted bones and place it into the preheated oven for 30 mins.
After this initial roasting time, baste the turkey all over, reduce the oven temperature to 150°C, and add the water.
Continue to cook for an hour, basting every 20 minutes with the cooking juices to impart maximum flavour and even caramelisation to your turkey.
At the end of the cooking time, test by inserting a skewer or roasting fork into the thickest part of the thigh of the turkey; if the liquid that runs out is transparent and not bloody, the turkey is cooked.
You can alternatively use a temperature probe; the thigh meat should reach just above 70°C, and the breast meat will be around 63°C.
Remove the turkey from the oven, place it onto a large tray or carving board to rest for a minimum of 30 minutes and up to 1.5 hours.
Reserve in a warm place until needed. This should give you ample time to cook your roast potatoes and other accompanying vegetables as you now have free oven space.
Finishing the roasting juices:
Place the baking tray on the hob on a medium heat. Bring to the boil and stir the bottom of the tray to dissolve the caramelised roasting juices.
Taste and adjust the seasoning if required. Remember to save and add the resting juices from the turkey.
Stir the diluted arrowroot to slightly thicken the jus as it is simmering.
Strain through a fine sieve into a warm sauceboat.
You may be a little concerned about the cooking time (or lack of it). Believe me, it has been tried, tested and tried again. During the cooking process, the turkey will absorb the heat from the oven and this absorbed heat will continue to cook the bird while it rests. This can increase the internal temperature by up to 10C. An alternative cooking temperature would be to pre-heat your oven to 250ºC to sear and colour the skin very quickly, then to reduce the cooking temperature to 85°C and cook slowly until the internal temperature reaches 75°C – depending on your oven the cooking times will vary.
Resting the turkey is an important process which allows the meat to become tender and succulent as the juices inside the meat become more evenly distributed throughout the bird.
Once finished with the turkey pick the meat off the carcass, mix it with some mashed potato, parsley and puréed garlic. Allow to firm up in the fridge and shape into cylinders then dip in flour, then egg and then bread crumbs. These can be deep-fried or pan-fried and finished in the oven and you have some wonderful turkey croquettes.
Make a delicious and nourishing soup by simmering the turkey bones and carcass with water for 45 minutes.