Every Christmas, letters pour in seeking guidance on roasting a large turkey, suggesting’ that the last time our correspondents thought about cooking a turkey was a year past. If it did work out well then they have forgotten exactly what it was they did right and if it was an over-cooked disaster then the memory has been mercifully shuffled away with the enduring hope that next time things can only get better.
People the world over look upon these turkey-centred celebrations with mixed feelings. Invariably the first hurdle is the size of the bird, which most people tend to buy much larger than they need. This produces another hardy perennial post-bag demanding what to do with the left-over cold turkey.
Planning ahead and keeping everything simple remains the best advice to ensure that the cook enjoys dinner along with everybody else. The best strategy is to limit what actually has to be done on the day to the minimum, applying the restaurant approach of mise-en-place, which means most things can be prepared in advance.
It is a good idea not to stuff the cavity of the bird, but to make the meat stuffing separately in a loaf tin like a terrine. This makes it easier to judge the cooking time of the bird, because the empty cavity is filled with hot air. Filling it with stuffing turns the turkey into a solid mass which means that the meat on the outside will be ruined by the time heat has penetrated and cooked the forcemeat at the centre.
The first thing to do is to buy the smallest possible turkey to feed the number of people it needs to feed. A 4.5 kg / 10 lb bird will easily feed 10–12 people. Don’t forget the chipolatas, bacon rolls, stuffings, roast potatoes, bread sauce, gravy and sprouts which in themselves make a substantial lunch.