Cooking the Christmas Turkey
My darling daughter is afraid that I will somehow leave her without clear instruction on how to cook the Christmas turkey. She will then be faced with the massive disappointment of trying to fill her mother's shoes and letting everyone down! She does not realise that she has at least 20 more years of constant instructions, nagging, eye rolling, and general help before I even consider handing over the reigns.
I use the "tenting" method of cooking turkey ie, I cook the bird in a tent of foil to keep the moisture in and protect the bird and only remove the foil and increase the temperature for the last 40 minutes or so. This means that the moisture I put in at the start, braises the bird during its long cooking and leaves me with lots of tasty stock with which to make gravy. I heard of this about 25 years ago and have always cooked the turkey this way and it leaves you with juicy breast meat, and not overcooked drumsticks. No dry turkey meat in this house!
To start, you need to buy the best turkey you can afford, free range full of flavour. I spent €55 on a 15lb turkey this year, not bad value as it would produce about 15 portions of meat, and then stock for soup. And it is Christmas after all. Make your stuffing the night before as it will then be cold going into the turkey. If your stuffing is hot and you fill the bird and leave it sitting around for a while, well, you are asking for trouble. It is better to be safe than have a house full of ill guests. Also, while I do agree with putting stuffing into the turkey, do not pack it jam full of stuffing. Insert just enough for the Christmas day dinner and cook the extras on the side. That way you are not overfilling the cavity and blocking up the airflow through the turkey which helps it cook more evenly. So I make lots of stuffing, but only put some of it inside. The extra is for the turkey/stuffing/cranberry sandwiches on the following days.
Turkey roasting times are pretty hazy But here is a chart. It says my 15 pounder should roast for between 4 1/2 and 5 1/2 hours. That was a bit too much leeway, I though, but I erred on the lower side, at least that was my intention until someone opened Champagne. So we ended up at the higher end of the scale, but that's fine too. Its Christmas, not a Cookery Competition! My own mother need to do her share of eye rolling as well.
So start by putting an apron over your dressing gown, because 5 hours of cooking, plus a half hour of preparation, plus an hour of resting from when you want to eat equals some godawfull time of the morning when your eyes are hardly open. Now you know why I said to have the stuffing prepared.
Preheat the oven to 190C / 380F. Turn it down after the first 45 minutes of cooking to 150C / 300F
Get out your biggest tin and check it will go in the oven. No use having it all ready for the oven, if the tin won't fit. Been there, done that! Peel and slice a white onion thickly for the turkey to rest upon.
Then place your turkey in this tin and half fill it with stuffing
Close up the cavity with some cocktail sticks, but I don't like to truss it up to tightly as it cooks better like that. Put the rest of the stuffing in an oiled dish.
Cover and leave aside until later. It can go into the oven when the turkey comes out. Rub lots of salt, pepper and olive oil onto the turkey breast. I have been known to layer smoked streaky rashers of bacon over the breast and this is good too.
Wash your hands well. Add a good glass of white wine (not a glass of good wine!) to the tray and about half that amount again of water. Then cover the whole dish with a double layer of tinfoil, first going lengthways and then going sideways, until you have a well fitting lid keeping all the cooking juices in. I like to put a little pleat in it to leave room for the steam, and so it does not rest directly on the breast. That way, the skin of the breast does not get removed by accident when you are taking off the foil. Place the turkey in the oven at the higher temperature of 190C / 380F, and turn down after 45 minutes to 150C / 300F.
About 45 minutes to an hour before the end of the cooking time, take the turkey out of the oven and remove the foil. Increase the temperature of the oven, and drain off all the liquid from the roasting tray.
Put the turkey back in the oven until the breasts are golden and the turkey is done. The legs will move freely from the body and the wings should pull off easily as a cook's treat!
Rest the turkey for at least an hour under foil and two teatowels, for at least an hour. Am I repeating myself? Resting is a very important step. It also frees up the oven to cook the roast potatoes, the rest of the stuffing and anything else you might need it for.
And there you have it! My perfect roast turkey.