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peter watson: cook that turkey

oven roasted brined turkeyhow to cook the xmas turkey

... and in the end, all year round poultry... (according to peter watson – excerpted from his blog at

I am going to repeat myself... this is the BEST way to cook a big bird… (Nigella calls it that… and good on her, she deserves a break)…

Brining turkeys is good, makes the bird moist, keeps a great flavour. So choose either the salt brine (for big birds like turkey this is best), or the lemon juice method (best for smaller birds)… but do please give the high temperature a go. It will produce a moist, crispy skinned bird.

Salt water/sugar brine

You must start the evening before... the turkey must be fully-thawed, the bird should be submerged in the brine solution and preferably kept in a cool/chilled (refrigerator) situation. It would be an 8 hour, no longer, brine.

This solution should be enough for a 5 to 8kg bird.

3 litres of chicken stock 275g of table salt 1/4 cup sugar (brown is best) 1 tablespoon dried sage 1 tablespoon crushed dried rosemary 1 tablespoon dried thyme 1 litre of iced water…

Bring stock, salt, sugar and herbs to the boil, allow to cool add the litre of iced water. and cool completely.

I like to use a clean plastic bucket that will hold the turkey easily with the brine. Place the brine into the bucket.

Wash and dry the turkey and lower the bird breast first into the bucket making sure that the cavities are filled with the brine. Place the bucket into the refrigerator over night.

If the refrigerator is otherwise occupied, consider using a chiller or even a polystyrene box. Remove the turkey and dry completely. Make a mixture of Olive Oil, garlic, finely chopped herbs and pepper, rub this well into the cavity of the bird.

Salt and Lemon Juice

The salt and lemon juice method is more for me about taste. I love lemon and I love what it does to foods. I also acknowledge that this method is slightly 'awkward, but give it a shot.

Your object is to cover the turkey in lemon juice, generously and then also generously, cover the bird in salt. No, not a snow field oif salt, rather a scattering, 7 kilo turkey would take about 1/2 a cup of salt. Having done both of the above, wrap the bird in plastic film and put aside (on the bench) for 45 minutes. This will allow time to heat the oven. Prepare a seasoning.

2. Cooking a turkey without stuffing is better. The argument goes that the stuffing will impede the heat from reaching the inside of the bird and make if more uneven in cooking. This is not something that I have ever suggested, I have held the view that the stuffing added to the deliciousness of the bird, but I have to reluctantly admit minus stuffing is better, is true.
Your stuffing can be cooked separately and we suggest our new Persian stuffing mix.

As a preparation for the cooking, remove the wing tips from the turkey and if you have been given the neck and the giblets, place them in about half a litre of water and cook for 45 minutes, use this to make the pan gravy.

3. Cooking the Turkey on HIGH heat is the best way. This method requires a bit of preliminary work... a very clean oven, a baking pan with sides no higher than 5 cm and nerves of steel. The cooking is done at 240 to 250 Celsius and the oven MUST be preheated. The rule is 18 minutes per kilo. For the first 45 minutes, no matter what, do NOT open the oven. Resist the temptation to baste. And cook the bird on a V trivet breast side down, don't truss the bird. It will or should be brown and crisp and very moist at the end of the cooking time. After 45 minutes, take the bird from the oven and turn it over breast side up, return to the oven for the balance of time, still on high heat. If the bird is getting too browned, cut some foil and make a double layer draped, but not tucked in on top of the bird, (remove the foil 10 minutes before the end of the cooking time) and continue cooking. For a near 7 kilo bird, the cooking time should be about 2 hours. The bird should be allowed to stand for 20 minutes after cooking, covered, but not tightly or you will loose the crispy skin.

4. Make a gravy (sauce) but please no flour... just pour off as much of the fat as possible, add a couple of cups of stock (turkey stock if you have it as described above, if not chicken stock) and bring to the pan to a good rolling boil, this sauce is thin, but very tasty. The other option is to stir in a couple of big spoons of a very good Red Currant Jelly (Peter Watson bread is good and made in house) to enrich the sauce.

5. The stuffing should be made up according to the instructions, it is best cooked in a loaf tin, usually I would cover it in foil and add a little extra oil.. You can cook this in advance and simply warm it.

6. If you want roasted vegetables, do NOT cook them with the turkey, they can be done in advance, or as the turkey is having a rest after the heat of the oven, twenty minutes rest is suggested.


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