Talking turkey... for a great Christmas dinner

A perfect roast turkey
A perfect roast turkey

Pushed for time on the big day? Keep it simple and you can still produce a turkey with the wow factor

What’s your earliest Christmas memory? Peeling the wrapping paper off your very first bike? Sledding down some powdery snow on a tea tray? Or lovingly laying out mince pies and port for Santa?

Mine is of my poor mother’s face as she carved her golden, cooked-to-perfection turkey to discover a plastic bag of its internal organs still stuffed inside. Luckily, our Christmas wasn’t ruined (we got to watch Mary Poppins with a lap dinner of cold veg and spuds), but we didn’t have turkey again for years.

There’s something about roasting ‘the bird’ on December 25 that makes us more stressed than a Bake Off contestant whose Baked Alaska has melted - particularly if, like many of us, you’ve been too busy buying pressies, catching up with friends and recovering from your office party to plan ahead with your cooking.

But preparing your last-minute Christmas dinner needn’t feel like an audition for Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. You can still produce a perfectly delicious turkey, minus the frazzle.

What’s more, with a simple recipe like the ones below, and the odd shortcut when it comes to the trimmings, you can still find time to unwrap presents and quaff Buck’s Fizz with the rest of the family.

First things first, chose the right turkey. If you’re feeding a large party and have the time (and oven space) for a big one, all well and good. It will also supply you with plenty of leftovers for turkey sandwiches.

If, on the other hand, you prefer to do things last minute and your oven is closer in size to an A4 envelope than an Aga, a turkey crown (where the wings and legs have been removed) is probably your best bet. It’s also easier to carve - perfect when you have a host of hungry mouths to field. Some even come in a roasting bag, meaning you can just pop it in the oven, seal in the flavour and save yourself some washing up.

As for the trimmings, time-saving options needn’t involve sawdust-style dry stuffing and that jar of instant gravy that’s been gathering dust since last December. These days, supermarkets offer plenty of pre-prepared, deluxe options if you want to wow and are happy to spend a bit more: fresh stuffing and gravy, posh cranberry sauces, vegetable selections, and potatoes already seasoned, basted, and ready for roasting.

So bung it all in the oven, put your feet up (keeping an eye on the time), and make sure you have some helpers around when it comes to plating up. Just don’t forget to have a rummage in your turkey beforehand...

Looking for a fuss-free, time-saving turkey recipe for December 25? Try this one.


(Serves 8 with leftovers)

Prep: 20 mins

Cook: 4hrs 45mins

7kg fresh turkey

2 onions, halved

1 lemon, quartered

75g soft butter

3tbsp finely chopped fresh sage

2tbsp plain flour

200ml Marsala wine or Madeira

400-500ml hot chicken stock

1tbsp cranberry jelly

Salt and pepper

Heat oven to 170C/150C fan/gas mark 3-4, and place the turkey in a large roasting tin. Tuck three of the onion halves and the lemon quarters into the cavity and season. Cover with foil, make sure there’s plenty of space between the turkey and foil for the air to circulate and seal the edges tightly, so that no steam escapes. Roast for four hours.

Meanwhile, finely chop the remaining onion half, and mix with the butter and sage. Take the turkey out of the oven and raise the temp to 200C/180C fan/ gas mark 6. Brush the sage and onion butter all over the turkey and return to the oven, uncovered, for 45 minutes until crisp and dark golden. If you’re making the roasties, then start them in the oven when the turkey goes back in, uncovered.

Transfer the turkey to a warm serving plate, cover loosely with foil and leave to rest for 30 minutes. Tip the juices out of the pan into a bowl, leave for a moment to settle, then scoop the buttery oil from the surface into a separate bowl. Spoon two tablespoons of this oil back into the tin and return to the heat.

Stir the flour into the tin using a wooden spoon, scraping the residue off the bottom of the tin as you go. Cook for two minutes, then stir in the Marsala or Madeira and bring to the boil. Make the reserved turkey juices up to 500ml using hot chicken stock and pour into the tin. Bring to the boil and simmer for a few minutes, then add cranberry jelly. Keep warm until ready to serve.