ME and Ophelia

Sunday, December 14, 2003


By Delia Smith

I come from a long line of turkey cooks and, throughout my life once a year, I have enjoyed the annual ritual of feasting not just on turkey but also on all the favourites that traditionally go with it.

Fashions in cooking turkey have come and gone, but ever since kitchen foil was introduced I have stood firm and stuck to the method which, in our family, has always been a hundred per cent successful (which is to say, cooking in foil). I can honestly say we've never had a turkey that's too dry, so we've never become bored with it cold, On the contrary, our enthusiasm for turkey lasts down to the jelly and dripping - delicious on toast for breakfast - and to the beautiful soup you can make from the carcass. I offer you here the family recipe for roast turkey with all the trimmings, but first a few words about buying a turkey.

Buying a turkey

Try if possible to get a fresh bird, and remember to order it in plenty of time. If you can only buy a frozen bird, or it's more convenient, try to buy one that has been frozen without added water, then don't forget to allow plenty of time for it to de-frost slowly and completely. Always remove the giblets as soon as you can - with a fresh bird immediately you get home, with a frozen one as soon as it has thawed.

Preparing a turkey

Let the bird come to cool room temperature before you cook it (i.e. remove it from the refrigerator, cold garage, shed or wherever the night before if you plan to eat your turkey dinner in the middle of the day). Also make the stuffing the night before, but don't yet stuff the turkey - it is important to let the air circulate round the inside of the bird. Stuffing made in advance also needs to be taken from the fridge the night before. The point is that if everything is chilled when it goes into the oven, it upsets the cooking times. Also remove and discard the trussing strings if there are any - they are not needed. The stuffing for the turkey and the giblet stock can be prepared the day before.

Leftover turkey

Use turkey leftovers as you would chicken - in Creamed chicken with avocado or Creamy chicken curry (I'll post recipes for these within next few days)

Pork, sage and onion stuffing

(For a 12-14 lb/about 5.5 - 6.3 kg turkey)

As I said earlier in connection with chicken, I believe a stuffing is a good means of providing some lubrication and juiciness inside a lean meated bird while it's cooking. Minced pork or good pork sausagemeat used as a base to a stuffing provides this lubrication.

4 heaped tablespoons white breadcrumbs
1 large onion, grated or chopped very finely
1 heaped dessertspoon dried sage
2 lb pork sausagemeat (900 g)
1 egg, beaten (optional)
salt and freshly milled black pepper

First combine the breadcrumbs with the onion and sage in a large mixing bowl, then stir in a little boiling water and mix thoroughly. Next work the sausagemeat into this mixture and season with salt and pepper. If (like me) you prefer your stuffing crumbly when it's cooked, leave it as it is. If you like to carve it in slices, then add a beaten egg to bind it all together.

Chestnut and apple stuffing

(For a 12-14 lb/about 5.5 - 6.3 kg turkey)

This stuffing is also delicious but Christmas, with all the extra work involved, is not the time to be peeling and skinning chestnuts - a beastly job at the best of times. As they are going to be mashed anyway, I really think a tin of whole or pureed natural chestnuts (unsweetened) will do fine.

1 lb tin natural chestnuts (450g)
1.5 lb sausagemeat (700g)
1 lb cooking apples (450g), peeled, cored and finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 egg, beaten
salt and freshly milled black pepper

Drain the chestnuts into a large bowl, and mash them almost to a pulp with a fork. Combine them with the rest of the ingredients (except the egg) and mix thoroughly. Then add the beaten egg to bind everything together.

Turkey sizes and timings

A good size of turkey for the average family is 12-14 lb (about 5.5 - 6.3kg). This is oven-ready weight - which is equivalent to 14-16 lb (6.3 - 7.2 kg) New York dressed weight. But below you'll find cooking times for varying sizes of turkey.

It might be helpful to beginners if I give you an account of the exact timings of a recent turkey of mine. The turkey (14 lb/6.3 kg oven-ready weight) went into the oven, pre-heated to gas mark 7, 425F (220C), at 8.15 am. The heat was lowered to gas mark 3, 325F (170C) at 8.55. The foil came off and the heat was turned up to gas mark 6, 400F (200C) at 12.30. Then with lots of basting it was cooked by 1.15 and served by 1.45.

Cooking times for other sizes of turkey

8-10 lb turkey (3.6 - 4.5kg):
30 minutes at the high temperature, then 2.5 - 3 hours at the lower temperature, then a final 30 minutes (uncovered) at gas mark 6, 400F (200C).

15-20 lb turkey (6.75 - 9 kg):
45 minutes at the high temperature, then 4 - 5 hours at the lower temperature, then a final 30 minutes (uncovered) at gas mark 6, 400F (200C).

Please bear in mind that ovens, and turkeys themselves, vary and the only sure way of knowing if a bird is ready is by using the tests described in the receipe.

Traditional roast turkey

Cooking a turkey for the first time at Christmas, when in-laws and other guests are probably milling around, can be quite a traumatic experience. I think the secret of success is to give the turkey a good blast of heat to begin with, and once you've got it going (i.e. the heat has penetrated right through) you can then turn the oven down and let the turkey cook through more gently. It is also a good precaution to calculate your starting time so that the bird should complete cooking at least 30 minutes before you plan to sit down to eat. That way it has a chance to 'relax' so that the flesh can re-absorb the juices that have bubbled to the surface; it also allows sufficient time to give the turkey another 10 minutes' or so cooking time if it needs it.

1 turkey, about 14 lb oven-ready (6.3 kg)
6 oz softened butter (175g)
8 oz very fat streaky bacon (225g)
salt and freshly milled black pepper
1 quantity pork, sage and onion stuffing or chestnut and apple stuffing (see below

For the gravy
about 2 tablespoons plain flour
giblet stock (see post tomorrow)

Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 7, 425F (220C)

1 Packet extra-wide foil.

Begin, on the morning of cooking, by stuffing the turkey. Loosen the skin with your hands and pack the stuffing into the neck end, pushing it up between the flesh and the skin towards the breast (though not too tightly because it will expand during the cooking). Press it in gently to make a nice rounded end, then tuck the neck flap under the bird's back and secure with a small skewer. Don't expect to get all the stuffing in this end - put the rest into the body cavity.

Now arrange two large sheets of foil across your baking tin - one of them widthways, the other lengthways (no need to butter them). Lay the turkey on its back in the centre, then rub it generously all over with the butter, making sure the thigh bones are particularly well covered Next season the bird all over with salt and pepper and lay the bacon over the breast with the rashers overlapping each other.

The idea now is to wrap the turkey in the foil. The parcel must be firmly sealed but roomy enough inside to provide an air space around most of the upper part of the turkey. So bring one piece of foil up and fold both ends over to make a pleat along the length of the breast-bone - but well above the breast. Then bring the other piece up at both ends, and crimp and fold to make a neat parcel.

Place the roasting tin on a low shelf in the oven and cook at the initial high temperature for 40 minutes.

After that lower the heat to gas mark 3, 325F (170C) and cook for a further 3 hours for a 12 lb (around 5.5 kg), or 3.5 hours for a 14 lb bird (around 6.3 kg). Then tear the foil away from the top and sides of the bird and remove the bacon slices to allow the skin to brown and crisp. Turn the heat up to gas mark 6, 400F (200C) and cook the turkey for a further 30 minutes. The turkey will need frequent basting during this time, so the whole operation will probably take nearer 40-45 minutes.

To test if the bird is cooked, pierce the thickest part of the leg with a thin skewer: the juices running out of it should be golden and clear. And the same applies to any part of the bird tested - there should be no trace of pinkness in the juices. You can also give the leg a little tug, to make sure there is some give in it.

Then remove it from the roasting tin (using a carving fork and fish slice) and transfer it to a warm carving dish. If you can engage someone's help while lifting it, it's a good idea to tip the turkey to let the excess juice run out. Leave the turkey in a warmish place for 30-60 minutes to 'relax' before carving: provided it's not in a draught it will stay hot for that length of time, and it will give you a chance to turn the heat up in the oven to crisp the roast potatoes (you'll find my recipe for roast potatoes at a later date).

Meanwhile to make the gravy, tip all the fat and juices out of the foil into the roasting tin. Spoon off all the fat from the juice in a corner of the tin, then work about 2 tablespoons of flour into the remaining juices over a low heat. Now using a balloon whisk, whisk in the giblet stock (see post tomorrow) bit by bit, until you have a smooth gravy. Let it bubble and reduce a bit to concentrate the flavour, and taste and season with salt and pepper. (And when you have carved the turkey, pour any escaped juices into the gravy.)
_ _ _

Note: my posts over the next few days will continue with Delia Smith's recipe for:

Giblet stock
Roast potatoes
Turkey soup
Creamed chicken with avocado
Creamy chicken curry

# posted by Ingrid J. Jones @ 12/14/2003
Dear Ingrid- Many thanks- very useful blog- the stuffings look great too, so I will try those. I know a stupid question, but what size roasting tin do I need for a approx. 12lb bird? Many thanks, Ann
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