Cooking a turkey for your Christmas feast can—and understandably so—be a daunting and looming responsibility.
Come Christmas Day, the turkey is the centre of attention. No one cares about the salads. And, when it comes to glazed ham, you’ve had that sitting there all silly season. It’s about the turkey. It’s such a novelty and once a year occurrence. And, what’s more, the other pivotal components of your feast, stuffing and gravy, are intrinsically tied to your turkey. Their perfection depends on your turkey’s perfection.
Studies also show* that the happiness and enjoyment of your Christmas Day is directly proportionate to the quality of the turkey eaten. The more rave worthy and delicious the turkey, the higher the enjoyment levels experienced by guests either still sitting at the table, or already passed out from their food comas on the couch.
Turkey = a big deal. Should you stuff it up, you will be put in a position that is hard to claw your way back from, and a reputation that is hard to shake. No one likes a turkey ruin-er. It’s the surest way to wreck Christmas, short of setting the tree on fire.
Here’s how not to stuff up your turkey this Christmas, and eternally be regarded as a kitchen goddess/god for years to come. If you follow these turkey-cooking principles you will be in excellent stead.
(For the full Christmas turkey recipe, click here!)
You need to make your stuffing right from the beginning. Because not only is it a) delicious and b) a Christmas necessity, it also helps keep your bird super moist. But beware—and please remember this, so you don’t increase the chance of salmonella rearing its ugly head on Boxing Day—YOUR STUFFING MUST BE COLD. You cannot cook stuffing, take off the heat and then begin stuffing into a cold turkey. That’s food poisoning waiting to happen. This brown rice, sage, and walnut stuffing is so freaking easy, and appropriate for members of the gluten free community. #stuffingforall
If you can, splash out and get a good quality bird. You want free range, and, sure, it might decrease the size of the Tupperware container your leftovers go into (don’t worry there will still be copious amounts), the meat will be sweeter and you really can taste the difference. NB the Inglewood turkeys are excellent.
Lube That Bird
Slathering your bird with fat equals love, and don’t you forget it. Turkey needs to cook for quite a while, so when you think you’ve rubbed enough butter into the skin, go back and do it again. Then pick up the olive oil and pour it over the skin too, because oil and butter together help the turkey fat from burning. Then season away. The butter and oil seep into the flesh, help the skin reach a gorgeous golden brown and add to the liquid delight that is pan juices.
It’s all about basting, and the better you baste your bird, the better the meat will turn out. Particularly the breast meat, which, owing to the size of a turkey’s chest, can dry out if additional moisture isn’t provided. An easy way to baste is to take two cups of warm stock and pour gently over the bird after it’s browned. Keep repeating every half hour, taking the liquid from the bottom of the pan.
Much like you after your breakfast champagne, once your bird is cooked it needs to rest. So take it from the oven, and cover with large amounts of aluminium foil—it keeps the flies off, and the heat in. Wondering why you can’t tuck in straight away? This process lets the juices settle and they then stay in the meat, rather than spilling out onto your chopping board.
Let’s be real, cleaning up a roasting pan normally is the pits, which is why you need the disposable option for when the turkey is done. After all the resting is done, and the turkey is sitting on its platter waiting to be carved and adored, collect the juices and crunchy bits from the bottom to make ridiculously good gravy.
*Study group based on friends and family, who commonly acknowledge that when the turkey has been crap and made by a novice, the Christmas was "a bit shit"
AJ (or Amanda) James is a roaming writer. Based in Brisbane (when she’s not on a plane or walking down a sometimes-unsavoury foreign street in search of a good authentic feed), she contributes to a number of publications on matters of food and travel. She recently launched Pepper Passport, 'a publication for the avid cook, discerning and curious traveller, lover and sharer of good things, both at home and while away'.
Image credit: The Domestic Man