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How to cook the perfect turkey

If this is your first time cooking a turkey for Christmas dinner, don't get into a flap about cooking a turkey. Think of a turkey as a big chicken that requires just a bit more attention and you'll do just fine.

 

Choosing the right turkey

When it comes to turkey - size does matter. A younger, smaller turkey will be more tender than an older bird, which tend to be a little on the dry side. If you are feeding a large crowd, go for 2 small (3 to 4kg) turkeys rather than 1 large one. But do make sure your turkey - or turkeys - will fit into the oven!

Prepping a turkey

If you have a frozen turkey, the first step is to thaw the bird by either letting it defrost in the refrigerator or submerging in cold water. If you choose to leave the turkey in the refrigerator, place it in on a tray or in a dish to prevent food contamination. It's a good idea to start defrosting at least one day before cooking.

Once thawed, rinse the bird thoroughly under cold running water and dry it well inside and out with paper towel to ensure a nice crispy skin. The giblets can be put aside and used to make a stock or gravy.

Whilst most turkeys are labelled as 'self-basting' you can boost flavour by rubbing canola oil or butter over the skin. Use sea salt and freshly ground pepper to season and sprinkle with herbs such as chopped sage, thyme and a little crushed garlic to add flavour.

If you end up with a larger turkey, use a sharp knife to loosen the breast meat from the skin and push more butter or oil under skin.

Good to know

When talking about a self-basting turkey I always imagine a bird that sits in the oven and flaps its wings to spread oil over itself, but self-basting refers to a product has been pre-prepared with butter or oil to keep it moist during the cooking process.

Stuffing

A stuffing of sage, onion and breadcrumbs is the traditional recipe for Christmas meals, but there is no reason why you cannot try something different. Celery and apples are another favoured stuffing. If the body cavity is stuffed, the turkey will need a much longer cooking time. This makes it more likely that other parts of the turkey, such as the breast, will be overcooked.

If this is your first attempt at cooking a turkey, I would recommend that you cook the stuffing separate and add this later on. A stuffed turkey takes longer to cook and many forget to allow for the additional weight when calculating the cooking time, which can end up as either an underdone turkey, or stuffing that isn't quite cooked.

Cooked stuffing must be allowed to cool completely before you stuff the bird, to prevent food contamination through bacterial activity.

How to truss a turkey

Trussing, or tying up, a turkey helps to cook the turkey evenly. You use cotton string to truss a turkey after stuffing but before placing the turkey in the oven to roast.

Lay a length of string on a board and wrap this around the legs and the body to fasten the ankle of each drumstick. Twist the string around the ankles and pull the legs together before securing with a knot. Pass the string under the parson’s nose and tie again to secure to the legs.

Also place a length of string under and around the turkey to hold the wings in place.

How to roast a turkey

You will need a large roasting pan with lid, or tin foil to cover. A raised grill inside the pan will assist in heat circulation and even cooking. If using tin foil, ensure that the foil does not touch the turkey, as this will dry out or burn the bird.

For best results bring the turkey to room temperature before cooking and then place on the roasting pan.

To calculate the cooking time, weigh the entire bird. If it’s too large to weigh on your kitchen scale, check the weight listed on the packaging.

Whole bird – 20 minutes at 220˚C, then 35-40 minutes per kg at 180˚C (excluding resting time).

Basting

At least once an hour, remove the lid or tin foil and spoon juices from the pan over the entire bird. Don't do any basting in the last 30 minutes of cooking time, so that you have a nice crispy skin when it is removed from the oven.

 When is it cooked?

Treat yourself to a meat thermomenter. This nifty gadget will let you know when the bird is cooked to perfection. Pierce the thickest part of the leg (where it meets the thigh) with a meat thermomenter. The temperature of the thickest part should be 80˚C. If not quite up to temperature, pop back into the oven for another 15 minutes.

 Resting
Remove cooked turkey from the oven, cover loosely with foil and rest in a warm place for up to 45 minutes. This allows the meat to relax and all the juices to settle, ensuring a succulent, juicy bird.

 

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