If like me you are a traditionalist then it has to be Turkey for Christmas Dinner. Follow Recipes Made Easy’s guide to Traditional Roast Turkey and you won’t go wrong.
Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas in our house without a traditional roast turkey dinner and over the years I have made more than I care to remember. I have cooked them in my own kitchen, in other peoples kitchens, I have cooked the turkey in one kitchen and the rest of the dinner 10 miles away in another and I have even cooked Christmas dinner in July a few times for magazines. So it is fair to say cooking Christmas dinner doesn’t phase me. But of course, it wasn’t always like that in the early days so I can sympathise with those of you for whom it is second nature.
So how can you make Christmas dinner less stressful? The key point is planning. I am in some ways one of the least organised person you can meet but when it comes to cooking for larger numbers then I will stop and plan first. Because no one wants to spend the whole time in the kitchen on Christmas day I will work out what can be done beforehand. I stuff and prepare the turkey the day before as well as any sauces and the pigs in blankets. I often have all my vegetables peeled and ready prepared the day before too, storing them in plastic bags in the fridge.
Cooking a good roast dinner of any size is all about the timing so on the day I have a timetable which I try to follow as best I can but if timings slip a bit then do not panic, just readjust. Having it written down it reminds you the order things need to be done which is the main thing.
As soon as breakfast is cleared away, laying the table is my number one tip for appearing well organised and on top of things. For big dinners, I usually go for a fairly simple white and silver colour scheme as the food will be the main attraction.
Different methods of cooking Traditional Roast Turkey
Over the years I have tried cooking the turkey by various methods and to be honest they are all much of a muchness. Last year I brined the turkey in Gin, it was good but I have to say was probably a waste of a perfectly good bottle of gin and bring can be a bit of a faff. I have cooked it upside down for all or part of the cooking time, resulting in a slightly squashed looking bird. I sometimes cover over with a couple of layers of muslin, which was a tip I picked up from Delia or Mary Berry many years ago. This helps to keep the fat during basting in contact with the bird for longer helping to prevent the breast from drying outl.
This year if it doesn’t rain or snow I am seriously thinking of cooking it on the bbq (if I do I’ll tell you how I got on in the comments afterwards). But most years, I usually just cover the breast of the bird with some streaky bacon. Cook at a fairly low temperature basting frequently and that does the job nicely.
Hints and Tips For the Perfect Traditional Roast Turkey
The one thing that has made the biggest difference to the success of cooking the turkey is using a thermometer. Turkey producers and cookery writers myself included will always err on the side of caution when giving cooking times. Far better to have an overcooked turkey than a dose of food poisoning. So the turkey is likely to be cooked a little or sometimes even quite a lot earlier than the timing suggest but if you do not have a thermometer it is awlays better to give it the full time just in case.
The meat at the centre of the thickest part of the thigh should reach 75-80℃/167-176°F. (I recommend Thermapen thermometer, not the cheapest but definitely, the most reliable and I wouldn’t willingly cook Christmas dinner without one ).
If you don’t have a thermometer, make sure the juices run clear with no trace of pink when pierced with the tip of the knife or skewer to the centre of the thickest part. The leg bone will also easily twist and pull away when the turkey is fully cooked.
When choosing a turkey, allow about 500g (1lb2oz) of turkey per person and this will leave you with enough over to make a cold lunch the following day.
Fresh free-range birds will have the best flavour. If you buy a frozen turkey allow plenty of time for it to defrost fully at cool room temperature. It will take at least 24 hours for a 6.8kg (15lb) turkey.
If you are stuffing the bird, I like to stuff mine with sausagemeat and chestnut stuffing, place the stuffing in the neck cavity only. Cook any leftover stuffing separately. To calculate cooking times weigh the bird after stuffing.
Place a halved lemon and an onion cut into quarters into the body of the bird for some additional flavour.
You can prepare the bird a up to 12 hours beforehand.
Bring up to room temperature for about 1 hour before cooking.
If you do have a thermometer and the turkey is cooked sooner than expected, cover loosely with foil and leave in a warm place. It will keep like this for up to 2 hours and still be piping hot when you come to carve.
I usually aim to have the turkey cooked about 1 hour before I want to serve that way I can wack up the heat for the roast potatoes.
Traditional Roast Turkey
- 5-6 kg oven ready turkey
- 1 lemon
- 1 onion
- 1 quanity stuffing of your choice (optional)
- 100g butter softened
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 10-12 rashers streaky bacon
- Preheat the oven to 170℃ (160℃ fan)/325°F/gas mark 3.
- Cut the lemon in half and the onion into quarters and place in the body of the turkey. Stuff the neck end if desired tucking the flap of skin under the bird. Place in a roasting tin with the wings tucked under the birds.
- Smear the butter all over the breast and legs of the of the turkey. Season all over with salt and pepper.
- Cover the breasts of the turkey with rashers of streaky bacon. You can weave the bacon into a square first of desired, then place on top of the breast.
- Calculate the cooking time and roast for the required time for a 5-6kg (12-14lb) bird it will be about 3 hours. Baste with the juices every 30 minutes. Cover the legs or the whole bird if it begins to brown too much before the end of the cooking time. The turkey is cooked when the juices run clear when a skewer or tip of a knife is inserted into the thickest part of the thigh
- When cooked cover loosely with foil and leave in a warm place to rest for at least 30 minutes
3.6-4.5kg (8-10lb) – 2½ hours
4.5-5.4kg (10-12lb) – 2½ to 3 hours
5.4-6.3kg (12-14lb) – 3 to 3¼ hours
6.3-7.3kg (14-16lb) – 3¼ to 3½ hours
7.3-8.2kg (16-18lb) – 3½ to 4 hours
Once the turkey is cooked allow it to rest for at least 30 minutes, loosely covered with foil, longer is fine. Increase the oven temperature for the roast potatoes which should now be ready to go into the oven. I will be sharing my countdown to Christmas dinner later this week.
The most important thing to remember is that it is your day too, so allocate jobs to others and enjoy yourself. Who cares about the mess in the kitchen (that can be sorted later and is definitely a job to allocate to someone else if you can) or if the turkey is a bit dry or you forget the red cabbage that was cooking in the slow cooker or the extra stuffing in the oven (yes I have done both of those!) the I main thing is that you sit down with family and friends, relax and enjoy.