Last minute turkey

Cooking a turkey is a lot like making love to a beautiful woman. You start with its tender skin, softly caress the legs… Sorry, I’ll stop with the crude jokes. On a digression from my usual tech articles, here’s one on how to make a great last minute turkey meal for Christmas!

The turkey

A good quality turkey is essential for a good tasting turkey, obviously! Ideally, go for a organic free-range turkey. You can tell a good turkey from the colour of its bones (they should be very white, and when cut should have a thick ring of white bone), the colour of its skin and the strength of its bone marrow (if it runs, then its not healthy). The quality of a turkey will really show when it comes to the taste test. Organic free-range turkey costs between eight and nine pounds per kilogram, if you’re feeding a lot of guests, the turkey bill could easiliy exceed one hundred pounds. To keep costs in check, you can always go with the middle ground, a free-range turkey. They’re not battery farmed, they get to roam around in the great outdoors, but they still get the odd steroid injections. Battery farmed birds just don’t turn me on.

You can go by the very rough approximation of one kilogram per person for the weight of the bird, but the turkey is known as being one of the hardest things to roast, due to the irregular of its flesh along its body. Therefore, you should keep the weight of your turkey below six kilograms, anything larger and its probable that it’ll come out dry. If you need to feed a lot of people, then get two smaller turkeys rather then one monster bird.

One more thing, when you buy the turkey get your butcher to cut off the wishbone. It’ll take him no time, but will take you ten minutes of faffing with a knive.

Preparation

Good preparation will lead to a well cooked turkey, so you should really be doing this on Christmas Eve. However, if you’ve left it until the last day, there’s still time to catch up.

The first thing to do is to cut off the wings, but not the whole wing, cut at the nearest join to the body with the heel of your knife. It needs a fair whack, so be careful. Pop them in the baking tray, they have lost of flavour, and so can be used as the base for the gravy. Now, it’s time to stuff you hand up the turkey! You need to seperate the skin from the breast meat, start by sliding your hand in-between the skin and flesh from the front of the turkey, and move further towards the back of the turkey. You can use a spatula if you don’t want to put your arm up the turkey, either works fine.

Once thats done, you should cover the turkey in sea salt. Rub it around the crown and legs, and don’t be shy with the amount! Salt really makes a great crispy skin for the turkey. Now, get some butter out of the fridge and let it warm to room temperature. Season it with some salt, pepper orange zest abd ground nutmeg. Now, get a spoon and mix it all together, you should then end up with a pasty substance thats very spreadable (like margarine, except less crap). Get yourself a sandwich bag, and plonk the butter in it. Do you know whats coming up? My favourite bit! Squeeze all the air out of the bag, and mash all the butter to one corner of the bag, then, tie up the opening end to create a make-shift squeezer bag. Cut off the end of the bag, and stuff it under the skin, and squeeze. Rub on top of the skin to massage the butter so its uniformly spread across the whole crown, and leave a little bit to spread on the outside of the turkey. Again, sprinkle with salt again and rub thoroughly on the whole turkey.

Now, the stuffing. I’m assuming you’ve already made the stuffing, or you’ve got ready-made stuff. Now, the trick is not to completely stuff the turkey. You should leave breathing room, so the stuffing flavour is spread throughout the turkey. So just compact some stuffing on the bottom half of the turkey, leaving a gap at the top. You’ll probably have surplus, so just make them into balls and cook them with the sausages.

Get some spare carrots and celery, just a couple of each is enough, chop them up roughly (don’t bother peeling) and toss them in the base of the baking tray. Also roughly chop two onions and put them in, don’t bother about peeling again as we’re going to put the gravy through a sieve. Put the turkey on top of the vegtables and wings, and let the magic juices run down and create the best gravy ever!

Cooking

I’m no expert on cooking times, but whats usually written on the pack is true. The problem is that cooking times to turkey weight ration is not liner, but more logarithmic. And no, I’m not going to quote the logarithmic equation that calculates it, so just check the lable or ask your butcher! Make sure you foil wrap the turkey well, and put it into a pre-heated oven. Try to let the turkey get to room temperature before you put it in the oven, a big difference in temperature will alter the cooking dynamics and so affect to cooking time.

During the last twenty minutes of cooking, take the foil off the turkey to get the crispy skin. To check to see if the turkey is cooking thoroughly, get a long and thin knife, and stick it all the way into the turkey at the thickest point. Leave it for a few seconds, then remove the knife and place the tip of the knife on your lip to gauge its temperature. If its hot, then its cooked thoroughly.

The gravy at this point still needs a bit more cooking, so heat it on your hob (ideally gas), and simmer it for ten minutes. During this period, add a bit of flour to thicken it and add the gravy texture, then add some chicken stock to create a thick and stronggravy, or water to get a more mellow tasting gravy. Push all of that through a sieve, squeezing the last bit of goodness out of the wings and vegtables, and there you have some excellent gravy, and tasty tender turkey!

Eating

I don’t think you need help with this part, and I’m probably worse at carving then you are, so I’ll leave that to you! The only thing left is to wish you all a very Merry Christmas, and I hope you have a great day!

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