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Talking turkey (again)

Last December, when we were new, we ran a story about how to cook Christmas dinner properly. For the benefit of the 30,000 readers we've gathered since, here it is again, with the same sad gags

Published on January 14th 2010.

Talking turkey (again)

We have all fancied a goose at some time or other. Other years it is a good stuffing that we crave, and the sage and onion is binned for the comely charms of chestnuts, prunes and Armagnac.

But, at the end of the day, most of us cannot resist going back to the bosom of our favourite bird, the turkey. And it doesn’t matter if you prefer yours bronze or lily white, a breast or leg, Christmas dinner is good enough to eat all year round. Who hasn’t gone crackers and cooked turkey with all the trimmings, and tucked into it, in front of The Great Escape video, in the middle of June?

So we were astonished to discover that Karen Gutmann, of the city’s Korova Corps, had never in her life cooked a Christmas dinner. How has she got away with it all these years?

So we set her up with the company’s executive chef, John McLoughlin, and his own delicious foolproof recipe. There's even a time plan here so the whole thing will be ready to eat when Queenie comes on the box.

What makes it so good? Well the turkey is roasted upside down for most of the time (gravity will stop it from drying out), but it’s the big bunch of steamy vegetables bunged inside that keeps it succulent to the end.

Meat thermometers, not just for Christmas

We went down to the busy kitchens of Negresco in Lark Lane, armed with a couple of Lancashire peelers and a bucket of sprouts and King Edwards. With a bit of hard work we had a triumph on our hands by 3pm. You can see how we got on with Karen and John here, and down below you can read the fine detail with all the timings.

Be warned, it’s a big one, but that’s Christmas dinner for you. So drain your spuds, go easy on the sherry, and get gobbling.

To read John McLoughlin’s ultimate Christmas dinner recipe click here

To see a Christmas Day timeline for John's recipe that will ensure the day goes without a hitch, click here

John McLoughlin’s ultimate Christmas dinner
(Serves 4-6)

10lb free range turkey
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper
Melted butter
1 whole onion (peeled)
4 garlic cloves, peeled
¼ celery stick, chopped roughly
2 carrots, chopped roughly
1 leek, chopped roughly
2 big sprigs of rosemary

Remove the wings with a sharp knife (nobody ever eats them, says John, and they‘re a great addition to stock) and set aside.

Rub the outside of the turkey with loads and loads of melted butter, sprinkle with lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Shove all the vegetables, garlic and herbs inside the body cavity and bung a big ball of scrunched-up foil over the opening (this will keep all the steam in, which, in turn, will keep the breast meat moist).

Flip the turkey upside (breast) down on a rack set over a deep roasting dish and roast in an oven preheated to 400F/200C/gas 6 for the first half an hour and then reduce to 350F/180C gas 4) for the next two hours. Remember to turn the turkey the right way up to brown it up for the last 20-30 minutes (you may need an extra pair of hands to help with this.)

It is done when a skewer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh results in clear juice or, even better, when a meat thermometer registers 68C.

Throw away the stuff from inside the cavity.

Remove excess fat from the lower tray and set aside. You will use this to cook the roast potatoes. Have a rest (you and the bird) until you feel able to carry on.

1lb of sausage meat
1 stale or dried French stick, broken up into bits and soaked in garlic olive oil overnight.
Handful of soaked (dried) apricots, finely chopped
50g/2oz Pancetta, sliced
½ onion, finely diced
A handful of sage leaves, finely chopped

Combine all of the above in a bowl and then roll out into a sausage shape about the size of a rolling pin. Wrap in greaseproof paper and then again in a sheet of foil. When you come to lower the heat on the turkey, place this the oven and bake at 350F/180C (gas 4) until firm to the touch. About an hour or whenever that meat thermometer reaches 68C.

Turkey giblets and neck
The two raw turkey wings
2 sticks of celery, chopped roughly
2 carrots, chopped roughly
3 banana shallots, chopped roughly
1 leek, chopped roughly
Olive oil

Place all of the above on a baking tray, drizzle with olive oil, and roast for an hour on the shelf below the turkey. Then scrape the lot into a big pot, along with all the carrot peelings, onion skins and anything else to hand (not parsnip peelings, they’ll cloud your stock) and cover with twice its level in water. Too much water will dilute the flavour of the stock, too little will be bad news too. Bring to the boil and simmer for another hour.

Strain through muslin or a J Cloth over a big bowl. Add the passed turkey stock to the roasting tin, scraping up all the sediment from the bottom as you go and gently simmer.Thicken with a cornflour paste. Pass through a fine sieve and season to taste.

Cranberry Sauce
340g/12oz fresh cranberries
110g/4oz light brown sugar, or to taste
A large cinnamon stick
Water to cover

Place all the ingredients in a pan, bring to the boil and reduce slowly over a very low heat, about 30 mins, until the cranberries have absorbed the water. Cool and serve, decorated with the cinnamon stick.

To serve: Roast potatoes, carrots, sprouts and caramelised parsnips.

John Mac's Christmas dinner time plan
10.30am: Collect all ingredients ready for preparation and heat oven to 400F/200C/Gas 6
11am: Start preparing the turkey, including all the veg that goes in its cavity
11.40am: Place in the oven
Noon: Start preparing the vegetables: That’s spuds, carrots, sprouts, parsnips .
12.30pm: Lower the heat in the oven
12.50pm: All the veg preparation should be finished and ready to cook.
12.55pm: Make your stuffing combining all the ingredients. Set aside.
1pm: Place the cranberry sauce on a low heat to reduce for 30 mins, or until a thick compote.
1.05pm: Place turkey wings and giblets in a pan. Cover with water and simmer for 1 hour.
1.15pm: Part boil the potatoes for 10 minutes (depending on size).
1.10pm: Baste turkey
1.25pm: Drain potatoes and set aside
1.35pm: Skim the giblet stock pot of any scum or fat from the top surface. Keep simmering.

1.40pm: Check the turkey and keep basting. Set aside some of the basting liquid for coating your roast potatoes.
1.50pm: Turn over your turkey to brown the top and place your stuffing roll in the oven.
2.05pm: Place the parsnips on to blanch in salted, boiling water. Cooking time depends on how you like them: al dente (crunchy),or soft. Try not to go too far with parsnips because we are going to caramelise them in a pan with brown sugar and we don’t want them breaking up.
2.10pm: Put the sprouts in salted, boiling water, then simmer for 7-10 minutes, depending on size. Drain and allow to cool.

*Now is the crucial time for putting everything together. Concentration is needed!*
2.10pm: Remove turkey from oven and into a separate tray to rest.

2.15pm: Seal potatoes in hot fat in a roasting tin and place in the oven. (450F/230C/gas 8)
2.20pm: Remove the fat from the bottom of the turkey roasting tray so we can make the gravy.
2.22pm: Drain the parsnips. Get a pan and melt some unsalted butter with 1oz brown sugar. Toss the parsnips in it and then place them on a baking tray. Roast in the oven for 10-15 minutes.
2.25pm: Drain the stock (see recipe) add to the turkey sediment at the bottom of the turkey roasting tin and stir, scraping up anything stuck to the bottom. Bring to the boil, reduce and thicken with cornflour.
2.26pm: Put on a pan of salted water and cook your carrots for about 7-9 mins. Drain and keep warm.
2.40pm-2.55pm: It’s action stations now as we bring it all together. Get some unsalted butter in your sprout and carrot pans , get it hot and toss your respective veg in each of them to warm them up. Season and dish up. At the same time, arrange your roast potatoes and parsnips around the bird on a serving platter. Arrange slices of stuffing in the same way. Cranberry in a bowl. Gravy in a sauce boat.
3pm: You’re ready to go.

With thanks to Karen Guttman, John McLoughlin and the staff of Negresco.

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