Christmas turkey cooked to perfectionBy Tom Fahey
December 16, 2011
Ok, it's Christmas and, regardless of the fact that far more famous writers will be providing a million of them elsewhere, I’m contractually obliged to give you a description of how to roast a turkey. So here goes.
Place a trussed turkey on a baking sheet and into a 100C oven until its leg hits 65C at the bone. This can take a while and you’ll need a meat thermometer. Buy one.
Now turn the heat up to 250C, rub butter all over the breast, season with salt and pepper, roast until golden (it takes about 15 minutes) then rest for at least 45.
This low temperature cooking makes drying out the turkey almost impossible, the butter gets the skin crisp quickly and the resting time allows heat and moisture to redistribute, ensuring even cooking.
Now before you all get too excited thinking you’re finally going to dish up a turkey that’s slightly less dry than the Sahara, stop right there: roasting a turkey whole is about as daft a thing to do as garnishing your Christmas pudding with a strawberry.
Like most poultry, turkey is a bird of two halves, which, together, just aren’t built for roasting.
The legs do a lot of work carrying a big fat bird around through Advent, developing dark muscle fibres punctuated by gristle and sinew.
Unless a turkey suddenly decides it’s going to take multiple air-bound spins round the farm (they never do) its breast essentially does nothing. Muscle tissue remains pale, resulting in soft meat that’s low in fat and connective tissue, but not very big on flavour.
Roast the breast to a perfect tender and the legs won’t be cooked; cook the legs right through and the breast will be dry. It’s a no-win situation.
For the work-shy, the answer is to buy a crown. But a crown is more expensive, and actually, a turkey’s leg and thigh are by far its biggest assets, so the real solution is to cook the dark and white meat separately.
It takes longer but, hey, you’re on holiday regardless, and, as someone reading about food, you surely enjoy dedicating time to the production of truly special meals?
Anyway, whether you follow it or not, here is my three-day plan for ultimate turkey utilisation and a relatively stress-free time on the day itself. Oh, and you’ll still have to buy that meat thermometer.
On the menu are: rolled turkey crown, stuffed leg, faggots and fritters; spiced squash puree; sprouts, bacon and apple; Boulanger potatoes; and, of course, gravy.
Day 1 – Preparing the turkey
One plumptuous whole turkey. I recommend Copas 4-4.99kg. They’re free range, local, and – based on the one I cooked – pack serious flavour. It will come with giblets – keep those for tomorrow.
Four pork belly slices, rind and bone removed, sliced finely
One onion, sautéed until soft
A handful of breadcrumbs
Sage, thyme or rosemary
It’s no wise man who begins cooking instructions with the phrase “quickly de-bone your turkey” but take heart my poor put-upon readers, it’s not actually that difficult.
This is what we’re aiming for. Two legs, one boned, one not, the latter with its skin removed; two skinless breasts, two fillets and two piles of wing meat; the skin in one largely unpunctured piece; and finally, the bones.
1. Remove the wishbone
2. Break the central wing joint and cut away the winglets
3. Turn upside down and cut along the centre from between the wings to the parson’s nose.
4. Begin pushing the flesh away from the carcass. Find where the wing meets the carcass, cut through the joint and remove the bone by scraping away the flesh.
5. Continue to push the flesh away from the carcass until you reach the oyster. Cut this from the carcass, and keep pushing until you reach the leg joint.
6. Snap the leg joints and scrape away the flesh from one to remove the bone. Leave the other intact.
7. Cut one leg away from the breast, remove the other (bone in) by slipping off its skin.
8. Push the last of the flesh of the carcass, leaving behind only the fillets.
9. Remove the fillets from the carcass.
10. Remove the skin from the breast and leg, slicing the wing flesh from underneath it.
Take the carcass, bones and neck (it’s in the giblet bag), add to a roasting tray with chopped up stock vegetables, brown in the oven at 200C, add to a pot, cover with water, simmer gently for two hours. Strain, reserve stock, discard solids then boil the stock until half of it has evaporated.
Lay the skin out flat on a double-thickness piece of clingfilm about four times its width. Butterfly the breasts to create two pieces of uniform thickness and arrange in a line along the centre of the skin one atop the other. Pull the skin over the breast meat and roll the clingfilm tightly around it to create a cylinder, twisting the ends to secure.
Place the pork belly in a blender and reduce to a coarse paste. Add the onion, breadcrumbs, egg, herbs and season, the blitz again until you have stuffing.
Shove it inside the cavity of the boned leg, pull the skin over it. Don’t worry if the stuffing is spilling out a bit, once cooked it’ll stay in place nicely. In the meantime secure it with two pieces of clingfilm - one for the leg and one for the thigh. Roll tightly and tie.
Braise wings and legs
Place the two legs and all the wing meat in an ovenproof tray, cover with stock, seal with foil and place in a 100c oven for four hours. Once cooked, strain and reserve the stock, cool the meat, and place in an airtight container until tomorrow.
This is the base of our fritters. Place the turkey fillets, your blender blade and bowl in the freezer for an hour. Remove, blitz to a coarse paste with seasoning then add double cream until you have a smooth mix with the consistency of soft butter. Buy a spherical mould (above), fill with the mousse and freeze.
Day 2 – Side dishes
So much easier to cook on the day compared to roast potatoes and far better to look at too.
1 braised turkey leg
6 medium onions, sliced thinly
2 large potatoes, peeled
Flake all the meat off the braised turkey leg and add to a large pan with the onions and half the stock you made yesterday. Cook over a medium heat for about an hour until the liquid has reduced down almost to a glaze.
Shape each potato into a rough cylinder and slice these to 2mm thickness. Place a layer of the onion mix into a pan, followed by potato, repeating until the pan is full and you have a top layer of potato. This can now go in the fridge until tomorrow.
Spiced Squash Puree
Purees are brilliant on Christmas day. Made in advance, all they need is a quick burst in the microwave, and squash has a wonderful ability to collapse after a quick roasting.
1 medium squash, deseeded
A little milk
Slice the squash into strips and roast at 140c until soft. Remove the skin, place the flesh in a blender with seasoning and a pinch of the spice. Blend, adding as little milk as you can possibly get away with to make a smooth puree. Cover and refrigerate.
Spouts, Apple and Bacon
Sprouts are a bit like turkey in that they’re not anatomically ideal for cooking. Boil a sprout whole and by the time the interior hits tender, the outside will be a whole lot of mushy, bitter mustard.
The solution? Shred and blanch. Sliced very finely, the sprouts cook quickly and evenly, never developing their characteristic pungency. Bacon and apple are the perfect counter to their subtle irony bitterness, and together can be microwaved hot in minutes on the day.
About 30 sprouts
5 rashers of bacon, sliced finely
2 apples, peeled and diced
Slice each sprout in half, remove the core by cutting a ‘v’ in it and shred to 1mm thickness.
Meanwhile, fry the bacon until golden and put on a large pan of salted, water to boil. Once it gets there, throw in the sprouts for one minute, add the apple for another 30 seconds then drain and cool immediately in iced water.
Drain again, mix with the bacon and its cooking fat, cover and refrigerate.
It is a criminal waste that so many giblet bags end up either in the bin or in a stock. Offal makes terrible stock but it makes absolutely wonderful faggots which, if you’ve never had them, make stuffing balls look really stupid. You’ll need to buy some caul fat. Vicars in West Street have lots.
6 pork belly slices, sliced finely
Turkey liver, heart and gizzard aka the giblet bag
Braised wing meat
1 onion, sautéed until soft
Handful of breadcrumbs
Thyme, rosemary or sage
Add the pork to the blender and make a coarse paste. Add the turkey offal and do the same. Flake the wing meat and remove any bones, then add to the pork mix with everything else and blend to incorporate.
Shape into balls, wrap each in a single layer of caul fat, place in an ovenproof pan and pour on enough stock to reach halfway up their sides. And that’s it. Back in the fridge until tomorrow.
Day 3 – Christmas Day
You are now set up to have a very easy day that’s all laid out on a timeline leading up to when you want to eat.
Three hours ‘til lunch
Remove everything with meat in it from the fridge/freezer. Pop half the turkey mousse halves from their mould and place on top of the remaining halves. These will gradually melt to become semi-frozen spheres.
Bring a pan of water large enough to hold the rolled breast and stuffed leg to just below simmer (80C). Place the faggots and Boulanger potatoes into an 180C oven.
Add the breast and leg to the water and leave until the internal temperature of the breast hits 55c (about 50 minutes).
Empty the oven and turn up to full blast. Drain the cooking liquid from the faggots and transfer it to the fridge (this is to remove the fat – it’s going to become gravy).
Place a large roasting pan in the oven filled with a cm of oil.
Remove the leg and breast from their clingfilm and pat dry on kitchen roll
Put the breast and leg in the roasting pan and return to the oven, turning intermittently until both are golden and the breast is at
Switch the oven off, remove the turkey, add the faggots to the tray and set everything aside to rest.
Set the deep fryer to 140c. Place serving bowls for the puree and sprouts into the oven along with the Boulanger potatoes and serving plates.
Heat the squash puree and sprouts in the microwave and transfer to serving bowls.
Take the faggot juice out of the fridge, skim
off the fat, pour in any juices from the roasting tin, transfer to a pan and boil until half its original volume.
Put the gravy into a jug. Remove the mousse balls from their mould and run a finger around the middle to fully seal up.
Place in the deep fryer until golden then drain. Arrange with the faggots, breast and leg on a serving platter.
Take everything into the dining room, dish out spoons, and carve for a truly special turkey experience.
Whatever you need this Christmas, go to www.LocalMole.co.uk - the fast, accurate local business directory