Traditional Roast Turkey
WHAT TIME IS LUNCH?
The specific timings that follow are those tested over the years in our house, but because lunch time will vary from one family to another you can adjust these timings to suit yourself. With young children you will doubtless be up early and want to eat lunch reasonably early; with older children it’s not quite so important to open the presents at the first light of dawn! For an average family-sized 6.5kg turkey (oven-ready weight) I am calculating for a 2.00 pm lunch. If you plan to eat half an hour later or earlier, simply add or subtract 30 minutes to or from my timings.
PRINCIPLES OF TURKEY COOKING
Many people have their own favourite way to cook turkey, usually because it’s the way they were taught. I’m sure there is no best way, and I offer you the following method simply because it has always worked well for me and countless others. The turkey is placed in a ‘tent’ of foil, which essentially means it cooks in an oven within an oven. If you wrap the foil too closely to the turkey, though, it ends up steaming instead of roasting. Give it plenty of space between the flesh and the foil and it will roast in its own buttery juices without becoming dry. This method keeps all the juices intact. If you allow the bird to rest for 30–45 minutes before carving all the juices which have bubbled up to the surface will seep back and ensure the meat is moist and succulent.
COOKING TIMES FOR OTHERSIZED TURKEYS
30 minutes at 220°C/gas mark 7, then 2½–3 hours at 170°C/gas mark 3, and a final 30 minutes (uncovered) at 200°C/gas mark 6.
45 minutes at 220°C/gas mark 7, then 4–5 hours at 170°C/gas mark 3, and a final 30 minutes (uncovered) at 200°C/gas mark 6.
Please bear in mind that ovens and turkeys themselves vary and the only one sure way to know your turkey is cooked is to pierce the thickest part of the leg with a thin skewer, the juices running out of it should be golden and clear (there should be no trace of pinkness). You can also give the leg a little tug to make sure there is some give in it.
It’s only dangerous to put turkey stuffing inside the body cavity if either the turkey or the stuffing is not defrosted properly, because the heat will not penetrate it quickly enough. If both are at room temperature it is perfectly safe.
- 6.5kg turkey, oven-ready
- 75g butter, softened
- 225g very fat streaky bacon
- 1 quantity of stuffing (see recipe)
- Extra-wide strong turkey foil and a small skewer or cocktail sticks.
Preheat the oven to 220°C/gas mark 7.
First stuff the turkey with your chosen stuffing. Loosen the skin with your hands and pack the stuffing into the neck end, pushing it up between the flesh and the skin towards the breast (not too tightly, because it will expand during the cooking). Press it in gently to make a nicely rounded end, then tuck the neck flap under the bird’s back and secure with a small skewer or some cocktail sticks. Don’t expect to get all the stuffing in this end – put the rest into the body cavity.
Now arrange two large sheets of foil across your roasting tin, one widthways and the other lengthways (no need to butter them). Lay the turkey on its back in the centre, then rub it generously all over with the butter, making sure the thigh bones are particularly well covered. Next season the bird all over and lay the bacon over the breast with the rashers overlapping each other. I always put some over the legs as well.
Now wrap the turkey loosely in the foil. The parcel must be firmly sealed but roomy enough to provide an air space around most of the upper part of the bird. So bring one piece of foil up and fold both ends over to make a pleat along the length of the breastbone. Then bring the other piece up at both ends and crimp and fold to make a neat parcel.
Place the turkey in the preheated oven, where it will cook at the initial high temperature for 40 minutes.
Because of the sausage meat stuffing and the bacon rashers already on the bird, we don’t serve bacon rolls and chipolatas. But if you do, now is the time to prepare them as follows: brush a shallow baking tray with oil and arrange the sausages on it in two rows. For the bacon rolls, stretch the rinded rashers out as far as you can, then roll them up very tightly, thread them on to long flat skewers and place them next to the chipolatas and pop them all back in the fridge ready to go in the oven at 1.15 pm.
Lower the oven temperature to 170°C/gas mark 3. Now take a break! At this point everything should be under control, so you can take time out of the kitchen to help the kids unwrap their presents, have a coffee or tidy the house. After that, prepare and set the lunch table, making sure you have all the right glasses for pre-lunch drinks as well as the table. It’s a good idea to arrange the coffee tray now, too, and line up the brandy and liqueur glasses. Pop the plates and serving dishes into the warming oven, and don’t forget to warm a large plate for the turkey.
Increase the oven temperature to 200°C/gas mark 6. Now get some help, because you’ve got to lift the turkey out of the oven and it’s heavy! Remove the foil from the top and sides of the bird and take off the bacon slices. Now baste the turkey very thoroughly with a long handled spoon, then return it to the oven for a further 30–45 minutes to finish browning – give it as much basting as you can during this final cooking period. The bacon rashers can be placed on a heatproof plate and put back in the oven for 15–20 minutes to finish cooking till all the fat has melted and there are just very crisp bits left. (I like to serve these crunchy bits with the turkey instead of bacon rolls.)
Remove the turkey from the oven and increase the temperature to 230°C/gas mark 8. Place the chipolatas and bacon rolls on the lowest shelf or floor of the oven. Transfer the turkey to a warm serving plate: it will be fine left to rest in the kitchen temperature for up to 50 minutes, loosely covered with double foil, without losing its heat.
Turn the chipolatas and bacon rolls over, then you are free for a few minutes to go and have a pre-lunch glass of champagne. You deserve it.
Now summon the carver and get all hands on deck to help dish up. And don’t forget that lovely stuffing inside the turkey!
The ingredients and instructions for all the trimmings to go with Delia’s Traditional Roast Turkey, including her famous turkey giblet gravy, are available in Delia’s Happy Christmas (Ebury Press, £25).