The Christmas Turkey is probably the most expensive meat purchase of the year. So you want it to be perfect. The best place to buy a turkey at Christmas is your local butcher. They are the meat experts and will have a buying relationship with the turkey farmer going back years in some cases. I know of a farmer and a butcher whose dealings go back to their grandfathers times.
Ask your butcher and they will help you choose the best value and quality for your Christmas dinner. Tell the butcher how many you are feeding, for how many meals, if you want leftovers and all relevant information and they will make suggestions to get you exactly what you need.
You won’t have to buy a full bird if you don’t have the people to eat it or the oven space to cook it. Your butcher can sell you a Turkey crown (Turkey without the legs), a Turkey Butterfly ( a boneless crown), or simply a piece of Turkey breast cut to the size you require. Remember to order in good time to avoid disappointment and when collecting your Christmas fare, stock up on sausages, rashers, black and white pudding and of course goose fat, to make sure your Christmas feast has everything you need.
What do I need to cook a turkey?
• Pastry brushes for brushing the turkey with butter
• Unwaxed white kitchen string for trussing the turkey
• Non-stick baking paper and foil for covering the turkey
• A large roasting pan for cooking the turkey
• A wire rack to be placed inside the roasting pan. The turkey sits on this rack during cooking
• A meat thermometer to test when the turkey is ready and a carving knife and fork for when you’re ready to carve. (some butchers will give you a pop-up thermometer free when you buy your turkey)
Turkey tips and techniques.
Order your turkey early. Give your butcher plenty of notice so you can be sure of getting the weight of turkey you need. Early December is a good time to talk to your butcher, and this gives him time to get his Christmas orders together. At the time of ordering, give any additional instructions i.e. boned & rolled, legs taken off, cut in two etc., and you can order your ham and any steaks you might need during the holiday period. At the same time, you can order your Christmas breakfast fare; rashers, sausages, black & white puddings etc. That’s another job out of the way for Christmas.
How much do I need?
This depends on the turkey, how many people you are feeding, if it is for one meal only or will you need leftovers, men will generally eat more than women, adults will eat more than children, some will only eat white meat and so on. There is a chart at the bottom to give you suggestions.
Make room in the fridge
Take everything out of the bottom part of your fridge and put the turkey, in its bag, on the lowest level. Repack the fridge around the bagged turkey making sure that cooked food is stored above raw food. You could put a layer or two of kitchen towel under the turkey to absorb any drips.
Thaw properly if turkey is frozen
Thaw frozen turkeys in the fridge – never on the kitchen bench. A large turkey can take more than three days to thaw. Once thawed, leave it in the fridge until ready to cook. Stuff the turkey just before cooking. Stuff the breast cavity and leave the body cavity empty. This allows good air circulation, so you can be sure the turkey is properly cooked.
NEVER put the turkey under the tap or wash the turkey before cooking. Apart from the fact that it is not necessary, it also spreads bacteria around your sink, draining board, worktop etc. Cooking the turkey properly is all that’s necessary to make it safe to eat.
Turkey breast is very lean and the lack of fat means it can dry out during the long cooking process. Traditionally, cooks covered the turkey with a piece of muslin soaked in melted butter to keep it moist, but it’s easier to use non-stick baking paper and foil. Covering the breast with strips of bacon or prosciutto also helps to keep the moisture in and adds extra flavour. It’s also important to baste the turkey with melted butter or pan juices to prevent it drying out during roasting. You could also ease the breast skin away from the meat before cooking and put a layer of butter under the skin to help baste the meat while it is cooking.
Make room in the oven
The sheer size of a turkey means that it can take up the whole of a standard domestic oven, leaving no room for roasting the veggies you plan to serve with it. If this is the case, cook your vegetables, separately, first. Once done, cover them with foil and set aside while you cook the turkey. Then, while the turkey is resting, return the oven shelves to their original positions and increase the temperature. Uncover the vegetables and return to the oven until heated through.
Cooking the turkey
When cooking a large turkey, the cooking times can be quite long, with the result that the legs are sometimes overcooked. Turkey leg meat is delicious and moist when cooked just enough. To avoid overcooking, ask your butcher to take the legs off the turkey and cook them separately. You will have the best of both worlds, with the dryer white meat and the succulent dark meat to complement it. The crown (the bone-in breasts) will cook perfectly and in less time and the legs won’t dry out.
When stuffing the turkey, only put stuffing in the neck cavity. If you fill the body cavity with stuffing the oven heat will take longer to penetrate into the bird and also if the turkey is undercooked, the stuffing soaks up raw juices that could cause food poisoning. If you need a lot of stuffing, make it into balls the size of a meatball and cook on a tray in the oven while the other meats are cooking.
Slice right: The most important thing to remember when carving a turkey (or any joint of meat, for that matter) is to let it rest after cooking. A large turkey will sit happily for 30 minutes in a warm place, covered with foil. This allows the juices to be reabsorbed, not only making it moist but also easier to carve. If you try to carve it too soon, it will crumble and won’t cut properly.
Use it up: To store leftover turkey, allow it to cool slightly. Remove all the meat from the carcass and store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to one week. You can also use the carcass to make stock. To freeze leftover turkey meat, wrap in plastic wrap and place in an airtight container. Label, date and freeze for up to a month. Thaw in the fridge overnight. When you are making a dish from the leftover turkey, remember that is already cooked and if you add the turkey meat to the dish too early, it will overcook and start to fall apart.
Butcher Magazine would like to wish all our readers and friends a very Happy Christmas. 🎄
Buying, storing and defrosting your Turkey. Good safe Food advice from safefood.eu