You have to cook a turkey. Don’t panic! It is all good. I know how to save the day. Just call me your turkey super hero. Or Niamh will do (Knee-uv, if you think it is tricky!). I quite like turkey when it is well sourced and cooked properly. It can be moist and flavourful, but most people think that they hate it because they have only had sorry overcooked ones before. Over the years I have cracked the turkey code.
Top Turkey Cooking Tips
- Brine your turkey to retain moisture. A dry brine works best. This can be as simple as sprinkling the turkey generously with salt and leaving it uncovered overnight (or up to 24 hours) in the fridge. The salt will permeate the flesh and season it, locking moisture in as it cooks (the salt is greedy for water and holds on to it). Wet brines (salt water baths) are great for moisture but can dilute flavour.
- Help the turkey skin crisp by adding baking powder to your dry salt brine and sprinkling it over in advance. 2 parts (fine sea) salt to 1 part baking powder works well. Sprinkle on generously and leave overnight uncovered in the fridge.
- Be mindful of temperatures and let these be your guide for when your turkey is done. Pop up timers err on the side of extreme caution only pop up when the bird is already overcooked. Instead invest in an accurate and fast thermometer and 65 deg C for the breast and 70 deg C for the legs. (I recommend a thermapen). Note that the temperature will continue to rise as the meat rests.
- Allow the turkey to come to room temperature before roasting it (leave it out of the fridge covered for an hour).
- Ice the turkey breast by putting ice in a ziplock bag on top of it for the 60 minutes that the turkey is resting immediately before you put it in the oven. This means that the legs will cook faster, and the legs and breasts will cook pretty much at the same time. No dry meat!
- Roast your turkey upside down for the first half of the cooking time. This will ensure that the juices pass to the breast, keeping the flesh nice and moist. Turn it over to crisp the skin for the second half of roasting time. (This works well for chicken too).
- Stuffing is great, but not in the bird. If you stuff your turkey, you will need to roast it for longer than the turkey needs (the stuffing needs to be cooked to a higher temperature) resulting in lovely stuffing but a dry bird. Instead, cook the stuffing outside of the board in a foil parcel, and pour some turkey juices over it after. Instead of stuffing the cavity put in some lemon halves, onion, sage, and lots of garlic. Season the inside of the cavity too.
- You can always drape it in bacon. The fat flavours the bird, and fat keeps things nice and moist. And, bacon!
- Giblets mean gravy joy. Make a stock by boiling them with carrots, onions, celery, garlic, bay leaves and black peppercorns. Add some flour to the turkey cooking juices (saving some for stuffing if you are making that), then whisk in the stock until it is at desired thickness. Sieve it into a gravy jug when ready to serve.
- There is never enough gravy. I recommend making chicken wing stock and having some extra gravy on hand made with a roux of either chicken fat and flour or butter and flour. For good chicken wing stock cook half a kilo of wings with 5 carrots, 2 onions, 3 sticks of celery, coarsely smashed garlic (half a bulb), 2 bay leaves and a tablespoon of peppercorns for 2 hours. Good, isn’t it?!
Top Tips for Turkey Leftovers
Some people find turkey leftovers stressful, for me this is where the real fun begins.
- Turkey toasties with kale and a good strong cheese like a proper mature cheddar.
- Turkey pie! Luxurious with cream, punchy with garlic. Go down the mushroom route or add some sprouts. Go festive with your pastry decorations.
- Turkey croquettes – put turkey ina thick bechamel (or leftover bread sauce if you have some), allow to cool and shape into balls before breadcrumbing and frying them. Those are good! Add ham too if you have any or do a croquette pick and mix.
- Turkey dumplings – go gyoza style or more traditional. (See these Beef and Ginger Jiaozi andChinese New Year: A Recipe For Jiaozi (Beijing Dumplings)
- Turkey soup – with broth made from the carcass. I love to add lemongrass, garlic, chilli and ginger here to lift the spirits and give a different flavour. (See Aromatic & Hot Chicken Soup Powerhouse for inspiration).
Further Christmas Recipe / Cooking Inspiration
Smoked Sprouts with ‘Nduja and Hazelnuts
Smoked Garlic Potato Dauphinoise with Cavolo Nero and Bacon
Cranberry, Orange, Maple & Bay Relish
Suckling Pig Mini Porchetta with Cranberry and Orange
Ham Hock, Watercress and Beluga Lentil Soup
Christmas in Nova Scotia, A Quick Stop in Montreal & Hello 2016!
7 Gorgeous Christmas Markets in North West Germany
Now, have a wonderful Christmas! Bonne turkey!