The ordeal of roast turkey gets a whole lot easier once you start to factor in principles like ‘two-speed’ cooking, basting and resting.
Strongly associated with Christmas and Thanksgiving, turkey is often the meat of choice for festive, celebratory meals with lots of guests, at least in the West. Its large size and accessible-yet-versatile flavours explain its popularity. But it’s not the easiest meat to prepare and many home cooks actually dread the annual task of roasting a turkey.
The first thing to say about turkey, and poultry in general, is that different parts of the animal cook in different ways, just like other types of meat. The dark meat of the legs and thighs is hard-working muscle and cooks more slowly than the white meat of the breast. Short of jointing the bird and cooking it separately, there’s no real way around this fact
You can tenderise the meat by brining the turkey. This is a very American thing to do, and a good way to keep the meat feeling nice and moist. The problem is, you’ll need a bucket large enough to submerge an entire turkey in saline, not to mention a refrigerator large enough for the bucket itself! For most households, that’s not feasible. Dry brining is also an option, but you still need to wash the turkey afterwards, which means a lot of splashing around with raw meat. Again, not ideal for most domestic kitchens. Of course, brining doesn’t stop the breast from overcooking; it just tenderises the meat which can mitigate the dryness that comes with overcooking.
400g softened butter
2 tablespoons of salt (for the butter, the cavity and the skin of the bird)
1 heart of celery
2 red onions
1 small bunch of thyme (half of the leaves removed and added to the butter)
1 teaspoon of chopped rosemary leaves
1 tablespoon of each herb, chopped:
- Remove the bird from the fridge about half an hour before you do anything else
- Preheat the oven to 230C
- If there are any large, hard stumps of feather left, you can pluck them out pretty easily with kitchen tweezers
- Remove any giblets from the cavity, then rub the inside with oil and a generous amount of salt
- Stuff with chopped carrot and celery
- Put the thickly sliced onions and thyme underneath the turkey
- Mix 1/3 of the butter with parsley, sage, tarragon, rosemary and thyme, lemon zest and a couple of pinches of salt
- Roll it out nice and thin between two sheets of baking paper, and put in the freezer for 5-10 minutes
- Loosen the skin just above the turkey’s cavity and slide your fingers underneath, between the skin and the flesh, taking care not to tear it
- Slide the sections of herb butter in there, massaging the outside to move them along
- Now rub the outside with oil and salt, and top with another generous layer of butter
- Roast for 30 minutes, remove from the oven
- Turn the oven down to 160C
- Add some water to the roasting tray, to create more steam in the oven. Then add another layer of butter to the top of the turkey
- The rule for roasting times is roughly twenty minutes for every five hundred grams of turkey (this includes the initial half hour at high heat)
- However, don’t rely on rules like this. There are factors at work other than weight, so we strongly recommend using a meat thermometer, ideally inserted through the cavity into the thigh (75C internal temperature is recommended)
- We recommend basting the turkey every twenty minutes, but work quickly so the temperature drops are minimised
- Once the meat in the thigh reaches the target temperature, remove from the oven, baste it again and let it rest for an hour or so
- We’re not quite done however.
- Almost any feast produces a lot of leftovers; leftovers which often go to waste.
- After all the effort that goes into preparing a turkey like this, it seems crazy to let any of that meat go to the bin.
- The key is to find ways of using up the scraps which are tasty and, crucially, easy.
- For example, spicy turkey samosas are also a great way to use up leftover potatoes, sprouts, carrots and even cranberry sauce. They don’t take long to assemble and don’t tend to last long once they’re out of the oven either!
- A simple miso broth is another great way to liven up leftovers without much work. Just add noodles, a few vegetables and some fresh herbs. Delicious.
- If the leftover meat is a little dry and uninspiring, just pull it apart with a couple of forks, slather with barbecue sauce and serve in a bun. Brioche style buns work particularly well.
Spicy Turkey Samosas
Use Christmas day leftovers. We’re using roasties, sprouts, and carrots, mashed together with turkey meat, fresh herbs, harissa spice mix, raisins, cranberry sauce and salt to taste
Simply combine the above and wrap in filo pastry. Use two layers of pastry, brushed with butter in between, and fold repeatedly into a triangle shape (ee the video below for more). Brush with beaten egg and bake on 200C for 15 minutes until golden. Enjoy with natural yoghurt mixed with lime zest.
Miso and Turkey Broth
You will need miso soup, two or three tablespoons of creamed coconut or coconut milk and some cooked noodles (soba noodles are ideal).
Heat the miso soup with the coconut, then add the noodles to a bowl/bowls with a little toasted sesame oil (optional). Top with leftovers (we used carrots, fennel leaves, sprouts, beetroot and turkey). Sprinkle with fresh coriander, spring onion and sesame seeds, then pour over the hot broth.
BBQ Pulled Turkey Buns
All you need are some burger buns (we recommend brioche-style), leftover turkey meat and some barbecue or other medium-spicy sauce.
Simply warm the turkey through in the sauce and fill the buns generously. Enjoy with chips, salad or a kohlrabi and beetroot slaw, as we have done.
If all else fails, an incredibly simple, yet effective snack after an evening of celebrations or a long night of recipe testing, is a taco shell stuffed with cold turkey meat doused in mango chutney and hoisin sauce!