Tuesday, 25 December 2007

Chrismas Turkey - part one

We do two Christmas dinners each year: Polish Christmas on Christmas Eve, and then a late lunch on Christmas Day. Usually, that means I'm the cook. On Christmas Eve, I do the full round of food: starter, roast turkey dinner and Christmas Pudding. On Christmas Day, it's leftovers: cold turkey, cold chestnut stuffing; a fresh round of roast potatoes/onion/garlic and I'll do a nut-roast.

It's Christmas morning here, so I'm half way through. There are big advantages to doing your main Christmas Dinner on Christmas Eve: I don't have to worry about getting up at the crack of dawn to get the turkey ready and I have most of Christmas Eve to do the cooking. Normally, I stuff the bird on the 23rd, take it out of the fridge at 12 o'clock on the 24th to bring it up to room temperature and shove it in the oven around 2.30pm. Then I prep the veggies and start cooking those at about 6pm. I often do a veggie soup for a starter - it was my way of sneaking some vitamins into my FIL - this year was pumpkin and saffron soup.

This year, I still don't have a working full-sized oven (it's only my fifth Christmas without my stove wired in. Next year, I tell myself, I will have the kitchen sorted. Oh, yes, I will!). So I stuffed the monster turkey (7.8kg/16lb) and lugged it around to my MIL's to roast. There are three of us celebrating Christmas here this year, so maybe I should explain my turkey philosophy. In a nutshell: regardless of how many people are coming to dinner, always buy the biggest bird that'll fit in your oven and/or freezer. (I have been known to do length and side elevation measurements to ensure my turkey will fit. That always entertains the butcher.)

Here's why:
  • small turkeys are largely bone so the ratio of meat to bone is lower on a small bird than on a large one; getting a large one ensures you're buying mostly meat
  • it takes as much time to prep a small turkey as it does a larger one
  • once the bird is in the oven, the cooking labour involved is minimal
  • leftovers
Actually, I reckon the last point sums it all up. Leftovers. Savour the word. Mmmm... leftovers. Come on, say it with me: L-E-F-T-O-V-E-R-S.

What? The thought of turkey leftovers doesn't make your mouth water? You've had so much dry, stringy turkey that on Boxing Day you want to throw the whole thing in the bin? More about the leftovers later....

First, roast your turkey

If you can't afford a premium, organic/free range bird that's grown slowly and knew how to gobble, per Jamie Oliver the secret is to shove butter or fat up under the skin over the breast meat, which will slowly baste the bird from within. At the neck end of the bird, shove your finger up under the skin towards the breast bone and gradually make a pocket. Then insert your butter and work it along under the skin until the upper breast area is covered.

Me? Well, we put money aside all year in the Christmas Fund to pay for our turkey, tree and all the trimmings. This year's bird cost £66; last year's was £70. The year before's was £38 but that was before bird flu put up the price of poultry. What we get for our money is a turkey with ample amounts of fat on it, so I've never worried about it drying out. Note: I have cooked supermarket turkeys in the past. Paying all that extra at a butcher shop really does make a difference.

What I do to cook the turkey is stuff the turkey with my Chestnut Stuffing, put it breast down into the roasting pan, baste it with a mixture of white wine and olive oil, seal it into the roasting pan with foil and roast it for 30 minutes per kilo/15 minutes per lb at 180C /gas mark 6/360F. In a gas oven, I'd rotate the baking dish every half an hour so that it cooks evenly. At half time, I'd turn the bird over to breast side up and pour over some more of the white wine/olive oil mixture.

Keep the turkey in it's foil tent throughout the cooking time. It'll still get nice and brown.

Plan your meal so that the turkey finishes cooking half an hour before you want to serve it. Remove it from the oven and either leave it in the roasting pan or put it on a warm platter. (NB: If you want to make home-made gravy, drain off the juices at this point and shove the container into the freezer.) Cover it with a good layer of foil to keep it warm.

Carve your bird and put the slices of meat onto a warmed serving dish, with the stuffing in the middle.

The Baste

Mine is a half and half mixture of white wine and extra virgin olive oil, say 200 ml of each, put into a sealable container. Grind over some pepper, say, 20 grinds worth and stir in some taragon (1 teaspoon dried). You may also want to add some salt, but I don't usually bother. Shake well and pour half the mixture over the bird before you start roasting. When you turn the bird over, pour over the other half. Each time: grind over salt and pepper and whatever herbs/spices you want after you've annointed the bird.

The Stuffing

This is my chestnut stuffing:

In a food processor, combine:-
  • 4 slices of bread (I like using a grainery bread for this for the texture)
  • a small onion, peeled and halved or quartered
  • 4-6 cloves of garlic
  • 4-6 peppercorns
Process until the bread has crumbed and the onion and garlic are chopped fine. The peppercorns will make a bit of a racket, but will infuse the mixture with pepper. Then add:-
  • 1 egg
  • the grated rind of two oranges
  • 1 can of unsweetened chestnut puree (approximately 400g/14 oz). If you can't get this use 12 oz of peeled, cooked chestnuts and add extra orange juice
  • 100ml/4 fl oz approximately of orange juice (or enough to make a smooth paste)
Process until it forms a smooth paste. Loosely stuff into the cavity of the turkey, adding an extra half an hour of roasting time.

The Veggies

I always do roast potatoes, roast onions and baked garlic. Sometimes I'll roast pumpkin and parsnips, too.

Since British ovens are small, I do my veggies in a separate baking tray. Prep them all first: peel the potatoes and par-boil them for 15 minutes (see below). Top and tail the onions and peel them. For the garlic, take a bulb per person and remove as much of the external paper-like covering as possible, exposing the cloves in their wrappers. Wrap each bulb separately in foil (shiny side in) pouring over a teaspoon of olive oil (or dotting it with a teaspoon of smaltz) before you seal it in.

About an hour before you are due to take out the turkey, grease your baking tray, add the onions (turning in the oil) and garlic and put into a hot oven to heat the fat. Add the potatoes when they are ready.

The potatoes are par-boiled for 15 minutes, drained, sprinkled over with some fine-ground mazoh meal, tossed then turned into hot fat and roasted for 50-60 minutes at 180C/360F. You can par-boil them in advance, drain them and toss with the mazoh meal and stop at this point until you're ready to cook them. They will take a bit longer to roast, maybe an extra 10 minutes since they're cold.

After about half an hour in the oven, turn the potatoes and onion to expose a different side to the cooking and baste if possible with hot fat.

Put your veggies into a warmed serving dish and serve.


I use drain off the liquid in the bottom of the roasting pan and use that to form the basis of my gravy. I'll freeze it for half an hour or so, to facilitate separating the fat from the gravy, and then pour off the fat into a separate container to save for making smaltz.

About five minutes before serving dinner, bring the juices to the boil in a small saucepan. Taste: if it needs salt or pepper add it now; if it isn't very tasty, add a chicken stock cube now.
Meanwhile, combine 50ml of white wine with 1 tablespoon of cornflour in a small dish. Add to the saucepan and, stirring all the time, bring back to the boil. Turn down to a simmer and simmer for 3 to 5 minutes.

Pour into your gravy boat and dinner is ready.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Pam (tomorrow, I'll talk about leftovers)

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