PREPPING THE TURKEY
- Check the main turkey cavity for the bag of giblets, and if they’re in there, remove and tip them into your roasting tray, discarding the bag. The added flavour they’ll give your gravy will be incredible – trust me.
- Peel the onions, wash the carrots and roughly chop with the celery, then add to the tray with the unpeeled garlic cloves.
- Halve the clementine and chilli and place in the turkey cavity with most of the herbs – not filling it too full allows hot air to circulate, cooking the bird from the inside out and from the outside in.
- Place the stuffing in the neck cavity (click here for my meat stung recipe, or you could use any veggie stuffing), then pull the skin back over it and tuck it under the bird. You’ll get a good contrast between the soft, juicy stuffing here inside the turkey, and the crispier stuff you can bake in a dish, as well.
- Scrunch and warm the butter in your hands so it’s soft enough to spread all over the bird, getting into all the nooks and crannies. The butter layer serves two purposes – natural basting, plus keeping the seasoning away from the meat until it hits the oven, so the bird stays nice and juicy. The butter will melt off as it cooks, adding to the flavour of the gravy, and you’ll also be able to skim of that tasty fat and save it in a jar in the fridge for delicious cooking another day.
- Generously sprinkle the turkey from all sides with sea salt and black pepper, pick over the remaining herb leaves and pat them on to the butter, then finely grate over a nice coating of nutmeg.
- Cover the turkey snugly with tin foil and place it on top of the trivet in the tray. You can now either leave it for 1 hour until the bird comes up to room temperature, ready to cook, or pop it into the fridge or another cold place until you need it.
- Have a clear down, and your prep is done.
COOKING THE TURKEY
- Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/gas 4.
- You want to cook a higher-welfare bird for 25 to 30 minutes per kilo, and a standard bird for 35 to 40 minutes per kilo. Higher-welfare birds generally have more intramuscular fat, which means they cook quicker than standard, lean birds. If you’ve got a 7kg bird, like I had here, do it for just over 3 hours, based on the guideline timings above.
- Just under 1 hour before the time is up, get the tray out of the oven and remove the tin foil.
- Cover the bird with your rashers of bacon, stretching and weaving them into a criss-cross pattern however you like. Return the turkey to the oven for the remaining time, or until golden and cooked through.
- The simplest way to check it’s cooked is to stick a knife into the thickest part of the thigh – if the juices run clear, it’s done. If you’re worried, use a meat thermometer. You want to reach an internal temperature of 65ºC for a top-quality bird, such as Paul Kelly’s turkeys, or 70ºC for a supermarket higher-welfare or standard bird.
- Use heavy-duty tongs to lift up your bird so all the juices run from the cavity into the tray, then transfer the turkey to a platter, cover with a double layer of tin foil and a clean tea towel, and leave to rest for up to 2 hours while you crack on.
- Use your tray of trivet veg and juices to make your gravy. Place the turkey tray over a medium heat on the hob. Skim away most of the fat from the surface into a jar, cool, and place in the fridge for tasty cooking another day.
- Stir the flour into the tray, mashing up all the veg and scraping up all the sticky bits from the base. Pour in up to 2 litres of boiling kettle water and simmer until the gravy is the consistency of your liking, then stir in the cranberry sauce.
- Strain the gravy through a coarse sieve, pushing all the goodness through with the back of a spoon, then season to perfection.
- Keep warm over the lowest heat until needed, adding any extra resting juices from the turkey before serving.
The first step is key – you must let your bird come up to room temperature after being in the fridge. It’ll give you more reliable cooking times, as well as juicier, more tender meat, as the bird isn’t shocked when it hits the heat of the oven.
Turbo-charge your turkey with deep umami flavours by grating over a little dried porcini before cooking. I also like to throw a handful into the roasting tray for a meatier gravy.
Don’t be under the illusion that when you remove the turkey from the oven it stops cooking. The residual heat will continue to cook the bird, giving the juices time to travel back throughout the meat, meaning a juicier bird all round. Piping hot meat is not a clever thing – warm, juicy meat, hot gravy and hot plates is the holy grail.
Jamie Oliver’s Christmas Cookbook by Jamie Oliver is published by Penguin Random House © Jamie Oliver Enterprises Limited (2016 Jamie Oliver’s Christmas Cookbook).