Encyclopedia of Food and Cookery

Turkey breeding has changed and the present-day bird has more tender breast meat in proportion to dark meat than the same size bird of years ago.

Turkeys are available now from a small 2.5 kg up to a giant 12.5 kg. It is also possible to buy half-turkeys, turkey breasts and turkey hindquarters – so there is a turkey to suit almost every family’s size and budget. A good turkey is compact, with pearly-white skin and a broad plump breast. Organic turkey is a wise choice.

A 3–4 kg turkey, unstuffed weight, will serve 8–10 people.

A 4–6 kg bird will serve 10–14 people.

A 6–8 kg bird will serve 14–16 people.

Most turkeys are purchased frozen, and they will take up to 3 days to thaw in the refrigerator. It is most important that the bird is properly thawed before it is stuffed and cooked, and that the stuffing is added just before roasting. Make the stuffing the day before, as well as the stock, so it is ready for making the gravy.

To stuff a turkey: A turkey is usually stuffed with 2 different stuffings – one in the crop, or neck cavity, and one in the main body cavity. When the turkey is cooked, the stuffing in the crop is carved into slices, so everyone gets a piece of stuffing surrounded by white breast meat and crispy skin. The stuffing from the main body cavity is spooned around the carved meat. Be careful to stuff the crop lightly as the stuffing will expand during cooking, and too much may cause the skin to split, spoiling the appearance of the turkey.

To truss a turkey: Place turkey on its back, legs towards you. Place centre of a piece of string below breast at neck end, bring ends down over wings then down underneath bird. Cross string underneath, then bring it forwards and up to tie ends of drumsticks and parson’s nose together.

To roast: One important point to remember – if you are cooking a very large turkey, do make sure beforehand that your oven is large enough to hold it.

Roasting times: An unstuffed turkey takes 20–30 minutes less overall to cook than a stuffed one. The times given here are for stuffed turkeys. Since ovens vary considerably and the shape of your bird can make a difference, check frequently after suggested cooking time is two-thirds over. Roast in a moderately slow oven (160°C).

Ready-to-cook weight Cooking time

3–4 kg 3–3½ hours

4–6 kg 3½–4 hours

6–8 kg 4–6 hours

To tell when cooked: If a meat thermometer pushed into the thickest part of the thigh registers 90°C, the turkey is cooked.

If you don’t own a meat thermometer, pierce the thickest part of the thigh with a fork or fine skewer. If the fork goes in easily and the juice which runs out is clear, the turkey is cooked. If the juice has a pink tinge, further cooking is required.

Rest turkey for 15 minutes in the turned-off oven, with door ajar, while making the gravy. This resting period allows the meat to firm up and makes carving easier.

To carve: First make sure your carving knife is razor-sharp. Remove the trussing strings and skewers and set the bird on a large board or serving plate (a board is easier to carve on). Holding the bird steady with a carving fork, place a long-bladed sharp knife between the thigh and body of the bird and cut through the joint. Remove the leg by pressing it outwards with the knife blade, while bending it back with the fork. Separate the thigh and drumstick, and slice off the dark meat. Repeat with the other leg. Remove the wings and cut into two if desired. Carve down the breast on each side with straight, even strokes.

Carve the stuffing in the crop, including some of the white breast meat, into thin slices; remove stuffing from the body cavity with a spoon.

To serve: The white meat is usually arranged in overlapping slices at one end of a heated platter, with slices of dark meat at the other. The stuffing may be served on two separate heated plates or, if your platter is large enough, arranged alongside the turkey meat.

Roast turkey portions: To roast a half-turkey, turkey breast or turkey hindquarter, place it skin side up on a greased rack in a roasting tin. Spread with softened butter and roast, uncovered, in a preheated moderately slow oven (160°C), basting with pan juices every 15 minutes, until juices run clear when the thickest part of the meat is pierced with a fine skewer, or a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part, away from the bone, reads 90°C. The time will depend on the size and shape of the portion but, as a guide, allow about 30 minutes per 500 g. Rest for 15 minutes in the turned-off oven with door ajar, while making the gravy as described in the recipe for Roast Stuffed Turkey.

If you want to serve stuffing with your turkey portions, prepare it and spread it in a buttered ovenproof dish. Moisten with a spoonful or two of the pan juices from the turkey and bake it in the oven with the turkey for the last 45 minutes of cooking.

Turkey à la King: Follow recipe for Chicken à la King, substituting cooked turkey for chicken.

Devilled Turkey: Devilled cooked turkey drumsticks or other joints, cut into pieces of suitable size, are a traditional and splendid Boxing Day dish. Follow directions for cooked meat or chicken under recipe for Devil Sauce.


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