Tackling a Christmas turkey has the potential to feel like a pressured and traumatic experience. Whether you are roasting a turkey for the first time or just need a reminder of the key things to remember, here is a helpful summary to soothe your Christmas load.
And if the thought of cooking a turkey makes your anxiety rise, just remember that roasting a turkey is just like roasting a large chicken
So what do you need to decide about your Christmas turkey?
- Do you want a fresh or frozen bird? - It often comes down to price and availability. You decide.
- Where are you going to buy it from? - Do you need to order it? Will it be delivered or when should you collect it?
- What size will you go for? - How many people do you need to feed? I allow 500g (1lb) per person or 750g (1½ lb) per person if I'm also wanting plenty of leftovers (because that's the best bit isn't it?) If there aren't many of you for Christmas dinner, how about opting for a turkey breast or crown? They're super easy to cook and especially if your family prefer the white meat then you're on to a winner. This option can also be a good idea if you have a few too many guests for your turkey but not quite enough to justify a whole second bird. Oh and finally, don't forget to make sure that the turkey will fit in your oven and also that your fridge and/or freezer can accommodate it.
- If your bird is frozen, how long will you need to defrost it? - You'll want to defrost it in the fridge and allow 24 hours for every 2.2kg (5lb) of turkey - so it's important to plan for that. The best way is to loosen the wrapping and place the turkey on a baking tray, then thaw in the fridge.
- Do you have the correct size of roasting tin? - If not, a tin foil roasting tray will be good (and will save on the ugly washing up) but sit it on a large, solid baking sheet to give it more stability.
- How are you going to prepare and cook your turkey? - To be honest, I'm not loyal to one particular method. Sometimes, I use Delia's method, other times I brine it with Nigella. But most of all, don't get anxious about it - roasting a turkey is just like roasting a large chicken, so relax.
- How do you know when your Christmas turkey is cooked? - The key to knowing when your turkey is ready is 'temperature testing' rather than time in the oven. Treat yourself to an instant-read digital thermometer - it's a precise way of accurately measuring whether each part of the turkey has reached the right temperature to be perfectly cooked and is also just a really useful kitchen appliance. The breast meat should have reached 69°C (157°F) and the dark meat should have reached 79-82°C (175-180°F). This is a really useful article by the manufacturers of my favourite brand of digital thermometer about these temperature guides.
- Can you cook the turkey the day before? - This is a great idea if you are keen to reduce the Christmas Day stress or if you know that oven space will be a challenge. Start in the morning of Christmas Eve so that it has plenty of time after cooking to cool before chilling overnight.
- How long does your Christmas turkey need to rest before carving - allow at least 15 minutes.
- When should you make your gravy - Making the gravy while your turkey is resting is a good time. Having said that, I couldn't think of anything worse than trying to tackle making gravy at the same time as all the parts of Christmas dinner are almost ready to serve. I'm a big fan of my make-ahead gravy which you can make in the calm of a pre-Christmas kitchen and stash in the freezer ready for this moment.
- How do you carve a turkey? - Be sure that your knife is sharp and tackle it as you would a large chicken; remove the legs and the wings and then carve the breast. Use a tent of foil to keep everything warm until you are ready to serve.
- What are you going to do with the turkey carcass once you've stripped it bare? - Bundle it into a plastic bag and stash it in the freezer, so that in the calm days of January you can use you slow cooker or your Instant Pot to make some No Fuss Chicken Stock (because turkey is just the chicken's big sister after all). It'll be just what you need to make the contents of the fridge stretch further in frugal January. And it'll make you feel pretty wholesome too.