Despite concerns over shortages, turkey remains the UK’s most popular Christmas centrepiece. According to recent research conducted by Tesco, 68 per cent of adults plan on eating roast turkey this Christmas, which is a 20 per cent increase on last year.
With King Henry VIII having been the first English monarch to enjoy turkey on Christmas Day during the 1500s, the bird has remained fairly popular for the past few centuries, considered a luxury until the 1950s when refrigerators became commonplace in standard homes. Since then, roast turkey has become even more popular, with over 10 million turkeys now believed to be enjoyed in the UK on Christmas Day.
Regardless of its current surge in popularity, however, preparing and cooking a whole turkey can be stressful, especially if it’s part of a large meal for a group of people. At its worst, roast turkey can be extremely dry, bland and thus generally unappetising, but also dangerous if undercooked. But at its best, turkey can be succulent and delicious, even rivalling the greatest of roast chickens. Just please don’t buy a crown: not only are they a gratuitous waste of both meat and money, they also contribute to thousands of legs, wings and giblets being wasted.
Not only does this turkey recipe yield delicious, perfectly cooked meat, most of the preparation takes place on the day before cooking, while the cooking time can take as few as 90 minutes, depending on size.
The keys to cooking a perfect turkey include some very simple butchery, in which the bird is spatchcocked (removing the back bone and flattening slightly), and leaving the skin to dry slightly overnight. Once spatchcocked, the turkey skin is rubbed with a generous amount of fine salt, baking powder, and a pinch of orange zest, then left overnight. The dry brine is then rinsed off before cooking, with the turkey patted dry and cooked in the oven for 90 minutes (based on a 3-4kg turkey, larger turkeys will take longer), then brushed with a mixture of butter and woody herbs part way through cooking. Serve with stuffing, gravy and trimmings of your choice.
- 3-4 kg whole turkey
- 1 orange zest only
- 6 sprigs thyme
- 6 sage leaves chopped
- 75 g butter melted
- Fine sea salt such as kosher salt
- Baking powder
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Neutral cooking oil for drizzling the turkey
- On the day before cooking, spatchcock the turkey by placing it on a chopping board, breast-side down. Score along each side of the spine with a sharp knife or a pair of poultry shears (there should be little to no resistance), remove and reserve the bone for making stock. Flip the bird back over so it’s breast-side up and press down until the breast bone cracks and the turkey can be flattened.
- Move to a roasting tray large enough for the spatchcocked turkey and sprinkle with baking powder, orange zest, and a good covering of black pepper. Place half of the thyme and sage on the turkey’s surface and completely cover the bird with fine salt. Refrigerate for at least 12 hours and up to 24.
- Once the turkey has cured, pre-heat the oven to 200C/Gas 6.
- Rinse the dry cure from the turkey, pat dry with kitchen paper, and move the turkey, skin-side up, to a baking tray. (If you have a baking tray with a rack, that would be ideal, but it’s not absolutely necessary).
- Drizzle a little oil over the skin, and place in the oven for 90 minutes.
- While cooking, baste a few times, then 20 minutes before it’s cooked, add the melted butter and the rest of the thyme and sage. Cook until the skin is crispy and the thickest part of the thigh meat registers at 175F. (If you don’t have a meat thermometer, check that the juices run clear and no pink flesh remains.)
- Rest the turkey for 30 minutes then carve and serve.