Let’s talk turkey

Turkey served on Christmas day
Turkey served on Christmas day

It’s the unrivalled king of the Christmas feast, but it’s not always the easiest bird to handle. DIANA PILKINGTON gets to grips with turkey

THESE days, few meats would look out of place as the centrepiece of your Christmas dinner.

Some people swear by a traditional goose, others are game for venison, while Marks & Spencer predicts chicken to be big this festive season. But the vast majority of us still gobble up turkey on December 25.

Chef Rachel Allen says: “A few years ago we decided to cook the most gorgeous bit of beef. We had it with horseradish, bearnaise and amazing roast potatoes. It was delicious, but it didn’t taste like Christmas. For me, it’s got to be turkey.”

With a variety of types, retailers and prices available, it can be tricky knowing which bird go for. For Allen, supporting local producers is key.

“We get turkeys from a local farm. Personally, I believe in paying the extra to getting a really good quality one and I’ll use every single bit of it. Last year we had a bronze turkey - it’s lovely and moist.”

Generally, bronze and black varieties of turkey have a gamier flavour and a denser texture, but a British Turkey Quality Mark indicates good standards of food safety, traceability and bird welfare.

Size is also important to consider, in terms of how many people you’re feeding and how big your oven is.

Asda turkey expert Jim Viggers says: “A 2.5kg turkey, for example, would feed a family of four and you could have turkey sandwiches in the afternoon. A 4kg turkey would feed seven to eight people again with plenty of leftovers, so decide what you want to do with the bird first.”

But according to the British Turkey Information Service, the most common mistake people make with turkey is overcooking it.

A spokeswoman advises: “Work out the cooking times well ahead of Christmas Day. To check it’s cooked, insert a clean skewer in the thickest part of the thigh. Leave for at least one minute and if the juices run clear the turkey is cooked.”


:: Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall: “Because the legs are tougher, ask a butcher to take them off and then cook them separately. Find a great recipe for coq au vin and cook them slowly in wine and onion and bit of bacon. Then you can concentrate on cooking the breast quickly and keeping it moist.”

:: Nadia Sawalha: “Because it’s just once a year, I put an entire packet of butter over my turkey and baste it every 20 minutes and it’s always really lush. And I put streaky bacon on the breast and take it off towards the end.”

:: Rachel Allen: “Cook it for the first hour breast side down and then turn it over and cook it breast side up for the remaining time. That way the juices soak down into the breast so it will be moist. But with a really good turkey you don’t even need to do that.”

Got your bird sorted? Here are some trimmings recipes for you to try...


(Serves 4)

25g butter

1 large onion, finely chopped

10 chopped fresh sage leaves, from a pot of living sage

200g fresh while breadcrumbs

½tsp coarse ground black pepper

150ml chicken stock

Preheat the oven to 200°C.

Melt the butter in a frying pan and fry the onion and sage for 5 minutes. Add the breadcrumbs and pepper and cook for 2-3 minutes. Stir in the stock and season to taste.

Press into an ovenproof serving dish and bake for 20 minutes until golden on top. Alternatively roll into 8 balls and place on a baking tray and cook for 10-15 minutes.

Tip: Add plenty of fresh lemon zest and try brioche crumbs instead of bread, to give a lovely light stuffing.

:: Recipe by the Fresh Herbs Company


(Serves 10)

50g butter

1tbsp rapeseed oil

1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped

½tsp mixed spice

1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped

200g fresh breadcrumbs

2 eating apples

250g cranberries

50g dried apple, cut into small pieces

2tbsp fresh sage leaves, chopped

750g sausage meat

2tbsp chopped parsley

Grated zest of a small orange

1 large egg, beaten

8 rashers rindless streaky bacon

Sea salt and black pepper

Preheat oven to 230°C.

To prepare the stuffing, heat the butter and rapeseed oil until the butter has melted. Add the onion and mixed spice, fry gently until well softened but not browned. Stir in the garlic and breadcrumbs and season well with sea salt and black pepper. Remove from the heat and place in a bowl, leave to cool.

Peel the apples, cut into quarters, remove the core and cut into small cubes. Mix the cubed apples, cranberries, dried apple, sage, sausage meat, parsley and orange zest with the onion mixture, season well with sea salt and black pepper using clean hands and then mix in the beaten egg. The mixture should be quite firm.

To make the stuffing cake, take a 18-20cm spring form cake tin and grease with a little rapeseed oil. Arrange the bacon slices in the tin, leaving a 5cm strip on the base, then lay them up around the sides, let the excess hang over the edge. Carefully fill the tin with the stuffing mixture, making sure it is level on top. Fold the bacon over the top of the stuffing, gathering and twisting the ends loosely over the centre. Place the tin on a baking sheet to catch any juices that escape, then bake for 40-45 minutes until the top is golden. Cool in the tin for 10 minutes before you remove onto a serving plate. Place some poached cranberries on top for decoration, cut into wedges and serve.

:: Recipe from www.totallytraditionalturkeys.co.uk