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Gobble, Gobble, Gobble

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As it’s Thanksgiving for our friends Stateside today I thought I would post my turkey recipe in plenty of time for Christmas. We Brits generally cook turkey but once a year and as we do so  with such infrequently tend not really to know what to do with it. Horror stories abound of Christmas day being ruined by a still frozen bird and indeed a friend of mine’s most enduring memory of the festive season is of finding his weeping mother cradling a 20 pound turkey fully clothed in the shower in a vain attempt to defrost it in time for lunch.

Thankfully these days we don’t automatically head for the frozen section when buying the festive bird and sales of organic, free range and rare breed turkeys have never higher. So, it goes without saying that before you start worrying about how to cook it you need to think about where to buy it. Speak to your local butcher and order it plenty in plenty of time.

Many years ago I was invited to a Thanksgiving dinner in the States where I was served turkey so juicy and so flavoursome that I instantly knew I had been missing a trick somewhere along the lines. The dry turkey of my childhood Christmases (sorry mum) which were something to be endured rather than savored seemed a world away from what I was eating at that dinner. Being the shameless recipe pilferer that I am I cornered the cook for her secret to such delicious turkey and the recipe and method that follows is almost word for word what she told me. These days, brining is not such a new concept here in the UK thanks to Nigella and the like but if anyone thinks it might not be worth the bother they are sorely mistaken. Once you taste the difference this nifty bit of kitchen alchemy creates I guarantee you will not look back. One thing I would say though, is that what makes the brining process work is the chemical reaction created by salt and sugar. Adding endless spices and bits and bobs will lend little to the final outcome and is a bit too much fannying around for my liking. Keep the brining mixture simple and it works a treat. It also works on other meats such as pork chops and chickens but more of that another, less festive, time.

A 4 to 5-kg Top quality turkey such as Kelly Bronze

For the brine -

6 liters water

125 grams Maldon salt

3 tablespoons black peppercorns

200 grams caster sugar

2 onions, quartered

Handful fresh rosemary bashed about a bit

1 bulb of garlic split in half, skin and all

1 orange, cut into quarters

1 lemon, cut into  quarters

Method – Bring one liter of water to the boil and add the salt and sugar to dissolve. Add this to a large bucket, cooler or any other sort of large clean plastic container. Add the remaining 5 liters of cold water and when the whole mix is completely cool (it is important that the brine is cold before the next step) add the oranges, lemons, herbs and finally the turkey ( don’t forget to check for and remove any giblets that may be hiding inside the cavity). If the brine does not cover the turkey add more cold water until it does.

The turkey can sit in this mixture for up to 2 days but 24 hours is sufficient to work it’s magic. The bird needs to be kept somewhere cool for the duration of it’s brining and ideally this would be a fridge. However, it’s unlikely that you’ll have enough room in your fridge particularly at this time of year so I have been known to keep it outside the back door with a heavy chopping board and some bricks on top to keep out the foxes.

Remove the bird from it’s brine at least an hour before you want to cook it. Pat it dry with kitchen paper  and season inside and out with a generous grinding of salt and pepper. Place some roughly chopped carrot, onion and celery in the bottom of a roasting tin and sit the turkey on top. Brush with melted butter.

Pre Heat the oven to 220°C

Cook the turkey for 30 minutes and then lower the temperature to 180°C. Raise the temperature back up to 220°C for the last 15 minutes. A turkey of this size will take 3 hours in total. Baste every half hour throughout the cooking time. Remove from the oven when the time is up and rest covered in foil somewhere warm for 30 minutes before carving. If you want to double check that the turkey is fully cooked ( all ovens vary wildly) stick the tip of a knife between the thigh and breast. If the juices run clear it’s fully cooked.

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  1. Gobble, Gobble, Gobble | Michael Harwood

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