How to ensure your turkey gets gobbled up
So, with Christmas around the corner we need to start thinking about what we are going to feed the family on the big day. There are plenty of options.
One of which is to get up at the crack of dawn and put the whole stuffed bird in the oven and then try to get back to bed without waking the kids (if you have them) en route for the chance to get a little more shut eye. There is a lot to be said for this as there is a huge sense of satisfaction from bringing out the full bird in front of the family and carving it at the table.
This however is not the only way to deliver a Christmas cracker of a family classic. All of you traditionalists who might opt for a classic and delicious sage and onion stuffing out there just hear me out. Let’s take a little look at what some of the alternatives are and I promise you will not be disappointed.
Whenever we cook with turkey we need to consider the fact that no matter if it is a top end product like Athleat’s range or a lower quality piece of turkey bought from elsewhere (including the dreaded supermarket), if it is not cooked well it will end up dry as an old boot! Is that something we want to give to our families on such a special day………..I think not.
What we are looking for is a beautifully cooked piece of meat that is full of flavour and moisture. There are several things we can do to help this.
Protect it from direct heat
By this I mean that we can either wrap it in something edible like some premium smoked streaky bacon or pancetta, cover it with cooking foil or even both. What we are looking to do is slow down the cooking process slightly by putting a barrier between the meat and the oven.
Cook it long and slow
When cooking the full bird, we normally try and stick to the old ’20 minutes per pound in weight plus 20 minutes’ rule. This is due to it being cooked on the bone which is great if you have the time to do it properly but what I am suggesting is to buy in whole turkey breast joints so the cooking time reduces. For example a 6kg turkey (17lbs) would take around 6 hours on the bone but two 3kg breasts would be just over half that. That seems like a good idea to me! 4 hours for a good size stuffed breast at around 140 degrees Celsius is a nice slow cook that will help keep the moisture in it. If it’s cooked too quickly it will dry out to point of no return.
Stuff it with moist flavoursome fillings
The difference between buying a quality meat from a quality supplier and buying one from a regular high street shop is undoubtedly the natural flavour that comes from the meat. What we are looking at doing is complimenting that by stuffing it with some really tasty and moist fillings. These will permeate through the meat during the slow cooking process to bring out its full potential.
I normally feed quite a few round our dining table at Christmas and I like to be able to offer a small selection at least. I normally get two whole breasts and have one type of filling in each. Firstly I take the breasts and butterfly them. By this I mean take a knife and make linear cuts in the breast to open them up. A handy hint is to wrap your work surface in cling film and put the raw turkey straight on there to prepare it. It is rare to find a chopping board that is big enough to take a large joint like that and it is quick and easy to discard the cling film and perfectly hygienic. Once you have them all laid out, you can fill them with whatever you like.
Here’s what I like:
Black pudding or Haggis
You can buy in a full log of black pudding and haggis or even a smaller size if you need to. If you are using the small ones, take it out of the bung and mould it into the sausage shape needed to run down the centre of the breast. If you are using the log then just cut it to size.
Prune and brandy
This a much looser stuffing and a little more difficult to work with but it is really tasty and worth the effort.
*Sweat off one diced onion, 4 chopped cloves of garlic and 5 sage leaves until soft.
*Stew 600g of dried pitted prunes in sweet tea (yes, you did read it right) until soft, drain and add to the onion mix.
*Add 4 measures of brandy and flambé remembering to keep you eyebrows intact.
*Cook until ¾ of the liquid has evaporated and leave to cool.
*Once cooled fill the turkey breasts.
Apricot and rosemary
This has a lovely sweetness to it and the consistency holds it shape really well when it’s cooked.
*Soak 500g dried apricots in ½ a bottle of dry white wine for a couple of hours.
*Sweat off one diced onion, 4 cloves of garlic and 3 stalks of chopped rosemary until the onions are translucent.
*Add the soaked apricots including the wine and cook out until ¾ of the liquid has evaporated. *Put in to a food processor and blitz for around 15-20 seconds.
*This is then good to go. You just need to fill the breast the same as with the other fillings
Once you have chosen your fillings, you need to fold the turkey back toward its natural shape. It can be a little fiddly but persevere. Don’t worry too much if there is some of the filling coming out of the end. These things happen.
No matter the filling, I then like to put smoked streaky bacon around it to add more flavour and moisture. Lay out as many rashers of the bacon are needed to cover the length of the breast on the cling film and then simply put the breast on top of the bacon.
Pull the edges of the bacon up and roll the turkey over taking the rest of the bacon with it and you’re starting to look good. If you are handy with string then tie the breasts up before roasting then put in a baking tray and loosely cover with foil. If you are unsure how to do this then grease a large sheet of cooking foil with butter and wrap the turkey up nice and tight. Remember to grease it or the bacon will stick!
Pop it in the oven and let it do what it’s meant to. About 30 minutes before its finished, remove the foil, turn the oven up to 180 degrees and cook for the remainder of the time to help crisp the bacon up.
As with any white bird, if you pierce it at the centre and give it a squeeze, you will know if it is cooked if clear liquid comes out. If it’s not a clear liquid then it’s not giving you the all clear to eat it. If you have a temperature probe in the kitchen then you’re looking for a core temperature of 75 degrees Celsius.
I always prefer to get the turkey stuffed the day before so I just need to pop it in the oven on the day and it is one less thing to worry about. An advantage of using just the breasts is that they take up a whole lot less space in your fridge too.
If you are using the prune or the apricot fillings then be sure to let them cool before stuffing the turkey. If you put them in warm and then leave it overnight, you run an increased risk of making someone unwell. Nobody wants that.
One last little gem would be that you can cook these a little in advance, take them out of the oven and then wrap them in foil until ready to serve. It means you can work on getting those roast potatoes and honey roast parsnips nice and crispy.