Does anyone remember Chicken Run? Mel Gibson’s voice makes for a very charming rooster and I could still hear myself laughing at the rats punning ‘poultry in motion’. That movie doesn’t come on at Christmas anymore – I don’t even think it was a Christmas movie to begin with. But there is some sort of correlation between animated animal movies and Christmas. Namely cooking poultry for the christmas table and what will it be. Though I feel like for a lot of families, this isn’t even a matter up for discussion.
“What size turkey did we have last year? Whatever it was, get the same one!” and cue the groans of younger folk disdaining at the idea of days worth of turkey meat. I don’t know how we’ve convinced ourselves as adults that we always liked turkey, even as children. Work long enough in the catering world and the mere smell of turkey would make you sneer.
I just can’t manage it.
I loathe the smell of a cooked turkey by now, and anyway, my butcher’s turkey supplier doesn’t often have a turkey small enough for two people. But if you insist on a turkey this year, here are some tips for cooking that may make it bearable.
MOST IMPORTANT TIP OF ALL:
Do not, I repeat, DO NOT try to recreate a magazine photo of a cooked turkey. It won’t happen. These photoshoots have been staged so well, so deliciously well, that you’ll die trying to recreate it at home whilst making that bird edible. That all over golden, glossy, juicy, doesn’t-look-dry-at-all-and-isn’t-even-a-little-dark-brown/black-in-places, is unachievable in a domestic oven. It’s not realistic.
Now that you’re planted back in reality, you can still achieve something not too far off. One of the key elements that a domestic oven doesn’t have that a fancy commercial oven has, is the steaming function. Our commercial ovens at work can steam and roast at the same time and this is THE crucial difference. So start creating steam by placing a tray of hot water at the bottom of your oven, topping it up half way. As well as the standard basing of the bird with the juices and fat that come out into the base tray.
The oven sometimes just isn’t big enough.
Tip: You can actually cook the turkey most of the way through, the night before. By most of the way, I mean it should still need another 20 minutes left on the time before coming out. And to stop it from browning too much – loosely cover the whole bird in foil. The key here, is to NOT put that turkey in the fridge. Just keep it covered over night. IF you put it back in the fridge, it WILL go dry and you will not have a very nice Christmas dinner. You may however, have very nice turkey sandwiches the next day.
When you’ve got about 40 minutes left before everyone’s ready to eat, put the turkey back in a pre-heated oven at the same temperature as you were cooking it, for twenty minutes. Maybe half an hour if you’ve got a rather large bird. When it’s ready, take it out, cover it back with foil and a teacloth and leave to rest until everything else is ready. Finish off the carrots, parsnips and whatever else you’ve got as trimmings.
Is it obvious that meat needs to rest?
I’m not sure. It seems common knowledge to a lot of home cooks that red meat needs to rest. Well a really big turkey also needs to rest. So let it rest – it’s not going to go cold and a seriously hot turkey isn’t easy to carve. Use really hot gravy on your food instead of expecting every item to be piping. It’s too much stress for the cook and most households can’t accommodate that expectation.
This isn’t exactly a turkey tip as it is a timing tip – par boil all veg that need boiling before roasting, the night before. This seriously cuts down on time during the day itself. And if you’re cooking the turkey partly the night before, use the juices to make your gravy in advance and pop in the fridge until you’re ready to use it.
I find cooking a whole roast/christmas dinner rather soothing, as long as I don’t have to consider anything else; I get into a groove. Just find your groove in the kitchen, and if it’s lost, then let someone else dance.