Turkey is most people’s bird of choice for the Christmas meal because they’re big and leftovers are endlessly adaptable. This year, the limit of six round the table means there will be a run on small turkeys. A 5kg bird is the perfect size for six with generous leftovers. For my money, the best choice is a Kelly Bronze (kellybronze.co.uk) for its gamey flavour, moist texture and blessedly short cooking time. These mature birds have more fat than younger birds so produce a self-basting jacket. All you have to do is turn the bird halfway through cooking then leave it to rest (uncovered) for at least 45 minutes and up to 2 hours before carving.
If it’s your first time cooking a turkey with its numerous festive trimmings, the best advice is to get as much done as possible in advance. I’m a great believer in to-do and timing lists, even one of the menu, so nothing is forgotten. I make the stuffing up to a month ahead and freeze it, defrosting 24 hours in advance. I make breadcrumbs for the bread sauce and freeze them too. It’s a good idea to prep the veg, even par-boil the potatoes and parsnips and line them up in their roasting tins (covered with a stretch of clingfilm) the night before. You may well need to juggle the cooking, depending on your oven capacity but with a bronze turkey there is plenty of time to roast the veg and pigs-in-blankets and whatever else you plan to serve with it while it rests.
My best tip is to keep away from the booze until that heavy, unwieldy bird is out of the oven. Cheers!
Serves 6 with generous leftovers
For the chestnut and sausage stuffing
vegetable oil 2 tbsp
fresh thyme a small bunch
lemon juice and zest of 1
cumberland sausages 750g
young spinach 150g
vacuum-packed whole chestnuts 200g
For the roast turkey
carrots 2, about 150g
oven-ready bronze turkey 5kg, with giblets, at room temperature
bay leaves 2
prepared chestnut stuffing see above
garlic 2 cloves
rosemary a few sprigs
salt and pepper
soft butter 50g
For the gravy
redcurrant jelly 1 tbsp
white wine 2 glasses, about 300ml
vegetable cooking water 500ml, or light chicken stock or water
cornflour 1 heaped tbsp, mixed with 1 tbsp water
For the stuffing, peel and finely chop the onion then gently soften in 1 tablespoon of oil with a pinch of salt, stirring often, allowing about 20 minutes. Strip the thyme from its stalks. Use a microplane to zest the lemon or remove with a potato peeler (no white) and chop very finely. Stir lardons and thyme into the onion. Cook for about 10 minutes to crisp the bacon and allow the fat to run. Stir the zest into the onions and leave to cool. Meanwhile, slit the sausage skins and remove the meat to a mixing bowl. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a wok or similar, add the spinach and toss with tongs for about 30 seconds until wilted. Tip into a colander to drain and cool. Squeeze dry then chop. Stir the couscous into 150ml boiling water, cover, leave for 10 minutes then fork up; it will be soft but sloppier than usual. Coarsely chop the chestnuts. Add onions, spinach, couscous and chestnuts to the sausage meat. Add juice of the lemon, season generously with salt and pepper then mulch together until evenly mixed. Store in the fridge for 48 hours or freeze until required, allowing 24 hours to defrost. It will be stuffed in the neck cavity of the turkey, held in place with toothpicks or sewn with a darning needle. Any leftovers can be formed into small burgers, placed on an oiled baking tray and roasted for 20 minutes at 180C fan/gas mark 6.
For the turkey, heat the oven to 160C fan/gas mark 4. Peel the onions. Quarter one and chop the others. In a roasting tin, make a bed for the turkey with chopped onion, peeled and chopped carrot, giblets and bay leaves. Fill the neck cavity with the stuffing and secure with toothpicks. Quarter 1 lemon and crush the garlic. Fill the cavity of the bird with the quartered onion and lemon, garlic and rosemary. Smear the bird all over with the butter.
Place the turkey, breast side down, over the veg and giblets. Season with salt and pepper. Roast for 1 hour. Carefully turn the bird, squeeze the remaining lemon over the top, add the wine and season the breast with salt and pepper. Roast for a further hour. Insert a skewer or meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh. If the juices run clear (or the temperature reads 60-65C), you know it’s done. If not, return for a further 30 minutes. Remove to a serving platter and leave in a warm place, not covered, for at least 45 minutes and up to 2 hours before carving. This “relax” is part of the cooking process and essential for juicy meat.
For the gravy, remove as much fat as possible from the juices in the pan. Place the pan over a medium heat and add the redcurrant jelly and wine. With a wooden spoon, loosen any bits stuck to the bottom of the pan and simmer gently as the jelly melts. Simmer, stirring for a few minutes, then strain the liquid into a saucepan. Leave until the last moment, when you have 500ml liquid saved from cooking your vegetables (or you can use stock or water). While the turkey is carved, bring the gravy to the boil, adding the veg water, simmer for a few minutes, season to taste and stir in the cornflour mixed smooth in 1 tablespoon of water, stirring until thickened slightly. Simmer for 5 minutes, season to taste, strain into a jug and serve with the roast turkey.