When to buy a turkey - and how to cook it

The roast turkey will be the focal point of many dinner tables this Christmas [Image: Getty]
The roast turkey will be the focal point of many dinner tables this Christmas [Image: Getty]

For many people, it isn’t Christmas dinner without a roast turkey surrounded by all the trimmings.

But, since it is a food item usually reserved for the festive season, it can be tricky to know how to prepare it to perfection.

What’s more, a tasty turkey isn’t just dependent on the cooking process. There are do’s and don’ts involving when to buy it in advance of the big day, as well as tricks so that it packs a flavoursome punch.

Because if you’re going to be munching on turkey sandwiches for days, you want to get it right.

We’ve asked a host of chefs for their expert thoughts on how to get the most delicious result come Christmas Day.

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When should you buy the turkey?

This is a source of much debate and depends on whether you purchase it chilled or frozen.

“If you want a fresh turkey, buy a couple of days before Christmas Day,” says Laura Graham, head chef at The Tidy Kitchen Company.

“It should be kept no more than two days in the fridge and you can prep it the day before.”

She adds: “If you purchase a frozen one, it’ll take a day and night in the fridge to defrost.”

Arthur Knights, executive chef at pub restaurant chain Brakspear, recommends ordering from a local butcher, rather than relying on a supermarket.

It’s always easier to pre-order your turkey from your local butchers compared to your local supermarket. The quality is guaranteed and it’s always great to support local, especially at this time of the year."

Carlo Scotto, chef at Xier insists not just any bird will do.

“The turkey should always be corn-fed. You can tell a good turkey from the colour of it – it should never be too pale,” he explains.

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For Gary Robinson, head chef at The Balmoral, it’s not good enough to just let your turkey sit in the fridge for three days following purchase.

“I will forever default to Nigella's salty brine recipe - containing orange, cinnamon, allspice and caraway - for my turkey,” he explains.

“Getting your bird in and brining it for the two or three days before Christmas Day - as Nigella advises - will result in a moist bird that's easy to carve, nicely seasoned and peppered with a bit of spice.”

How should you cook the turkey?

The day before

“For a truly delicious flavour, marinate your turkey overnight from Christmas Eve with lots of olive oil along with coriander seeds, fennel seeds, black peppercorn, juniper berries, onion seeds and garlic powder,” says Scotto.

“To get as much out of these spices and harness their true flavour, its better if you toast them before use.”

Prior to cooking

“When preparing the bird, I massage lots of butter over the top to ensure it comes out incredibly succulent,” reveals Knights.

“In addition, I will create a mixture to go under the skin, consisting of preserved lemon - or lemon zest will work - as well as butter and some freshly cut thyme.

“Lift the skin of the turkey, gently massage the mixture underneath, and seal the bird with foil.”

30 mins before

“Get your oven preheated and the turkey out of the fridge at least 30 minutes before cooking and bring it up to room temperature,” says Rob Morton, the owner of Norfolk-based turkey farm Morton’s. “

“As our birds are dry plucked and game hung, their higher quality means they can be cooked to just 65°c, whereas it is recommended for supermarket turkeys to be cooked to 70°c.”

Heat to a high temperature

“Roasting at a constant oven setting of 200°c is a must, so bear this in mind when adding trays of roast potatoes and parsnips into the oven and having the temperature jump around a bit,” warns Robinson.

Oven time depends on weight

“A high-welfare turkey needs 25 to 30 minutes per kilogram of cooking time, and a standard turkey for 35 to 40 minutes per kilogram,” says Graham.

Use foil

“Cook your turkey upside down and covered in foil for the first two thirds of the cooking time; this allows the fat pockets in the back of the bird, to render through the breast meat,” recommends Morton.

“Remove the foil and turn it over for the remaining third of the time.”

Check the juices are clear

“The best way to check it is done is to insert a knife into the leg area, the juice should run clear,” says Graham.

“If you have a meat thermometer then it needs to reach 72°c.”

Give it a rest

Once the turkey’s removed from the oven - usually after around 2 hours 30 minutes - Robinson suggests leaving it to rest peacefully for an hour while everything else is finished off.

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