How to Cook a Turkey

By Elizabeth Atia

So, you’ve bought the turkey, and it’s currently taking up valuable kitchen/freezer space. But what to do with it?

The thing is, many people think they don’t like roast turkey because they believe it’s too dry or flavourless. If you’re anything like me, you’ve only cooked a turkey a handful of times without much success.

I was fortunate enough to attend a turkey masterclass in Jamie Olivers HQ in London a few years ago, and I learned a few tips and tricks from a well-known British turkey farmer on how to cook the perfect turkey for Christmas.

They key is to start with a higher welfare turkey, not one of those quickly reared and slaughtered intensively farmed turkeys. Most supermarket turkeys are slaughtered at only 12 weeks, which means the animal hasn’t had time to develop the fat deposits which will keep the bird moist during roasting.

Speak to your local butcher about getting a turkey that’s been matured for at least six months, and then you’ll be off to a good start when it comes to the Christmas dinner.

A good quality turkey doesn’t need to be basted, brined or buttered before cooking either. It doesn’t even need foil on top!

Method

Take the turkey out of the fridge and leave to stand for at least two hours, allowing it to reach room temperature.

Three hours before you want to eat Christmas dinner, preheat your oven to 180°C/350°F or 160°C/320°F for fan ovens. 

Remove any trussing/string from the bird and the pack of giblets from inside the cavity. Place the turkey in a large roasting tin, breast down so that all the fat deposits in the matured turkey will render down through the meat

Add your favourite seasonal vegetables to the tin along with 500 ml of water. Add the giblets and season it all well with plenty of salt and pepper. The reason you add the water is not to keep the bird moist, but rather to catch all the lovely juices from the turkey so you can make a seriously epic gravy.

Place in the preheated oven WITH NO FOIL.

Remove the turkey from the oven halfway through cooking, turn the bird over and puncture the meat right through the thighs. If there’s not enough water in the tin as it’s evaporated off, add a bit more. Season with some more salt and pepper before returning the bird to the oven.

30 minutes before the end of the cooking time heck the core temperature using a meat thermometer.

Remove the turkey from the oven when the core temperature reaches just under 65°C/150°F, and leave to stand for a minimum of 30 minutes before carving. DO NOT COVER WITH FOIL. The internal temperature will continue to rise while it rests, and this resting step is very important to tenderise the meat.

Don’t guess; trust a meat thermometer when cooking your turkey. Remove the bird from the oven just before the needle hits 65°C/150°F and leave it to stand for at least 30 minutes before carving. At the end of 30 minutes, if the temperature is 60°C/120°F it’s pink. If it’s 65°C/150°F it’s perfect and if it’s 70°C/158°F it’s overcooked.

Turkey cooking times

3 kg – 1 hour 30 minutes 

4 kg – 1 hour 45 minutes

5 kg–  2hours

6 kg – 2 hours 25 minutes

7-8 kg – 2 hours 45 minutes

9-11 kg – 3 hours

Now, to convince the boyfriend he wants turkey for next Christmas. This Christmas we’re having organic, sustainable local Shetland lamb which I picked up directly from the crofter himself. 

Merry Christmas everyone, and stay safe!

Elizabeth Atia

Mum, daydream adventurer, ex-pat Canadian & quite possibly Britain's most northerly award-winning food blogger. Calls Shetland home. https://www.elizabethskitchendiary.co.uk/

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