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How to cook a decent, stress-free turkey - without the food poisoning

Let’s try to take some of the stress out of it.

THE TIME IS almost upon us when a strange fowl from the Americas will darken our oven door, one which can cause undue stress, familial breakdown, and days upon days of sandwiches.

The arrival of the Christmas turkey almost comes a threat of poisoning.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Cooking a turkey is certainly out of the ordinary for many of us and poses a challenge when the largest piece of meat we may otherwise cook in a year is a relatively petite chicken.

Safefood launched its annual campaign earlier this month, targeted at anyone planning to roast a turkey this Christmas.

This includes a chatbot aimed at helping you parse through the information to find what you need, available on Facebook Messenger, Google Home, and Amazon Alexa

The face of organisation’s Christmas food safety campaign this year was Paul Flynn, a food writer with The Irish Times and chef at the Tannery restaurant, townhouse, and cookery school in Dungarvan, Co Waterford.

He spoke to about everything from how to easily elevate your turkey experience to what to do with that bag of giblets.

More on that in a second. You might be arriving at this article in a blind panic, and need the basics fast:

Paul Flynn 3 Paul Flynn and his expertly cooked turkey.

I’ve never cooked a turkey before and I’m probably going to mess it up. Where do I start?

“I know for a fact people are terrified of cooking turkeys,” Flynn said.

First thing’s first: If you bought a frozen turkey, make sure its defrosted.

“It’s really important to do it right the way,” Flynn stressed.

It takes ages and you need to do it in the fridge, but that also prolongs the time that it takes to defrost. You can’t be leaving it out in the back shed, that’s not advisable really.

Make sure to keep it in a deep dish, covered, on the bottom shelf of your fridge.

You’ll need to allow 24 hours per 2.5kg. If you’re reading this on Christmas Eve Eve, and your 5kg turkey is still in the freezer, you’ll need to get him or her into the fridge as soon as you can.

When the moment arrives, you’ll know its ready to be cooked because it’s soft, its legs will move, and there’s no ice inside.

Secondly, your recipe: Just keep it simple.

Flynn advises that there’s no need to tackle a fancy recipe first time. Just focus on getting it defrosted and cooked correctly (more on the latter in a second).

Here’s one that’s just turkey, butter, defrost, baste, in the oven, wait and occasionally baste, get your veg sorted, done, dinner ready, Merry Christmas one and all (except the turkey).

I’m a dab hand at cooking the turkey but I’m looking for something simple to liven things up.

Grab a can of cider.

Flynn said: “I love cooking with cider, particular in the wintertime.

Put a can of cider in the base of the cooking tray. I’d put cider, and maybe a bit of cinnamon, smoked bacon, onion, cloves, and then I really tighten the foil around it when I’m cooking.

“What happens is that all those lovely flavours swirl around the turkey, and really impregnate it with all those flavours.”

I want to impress someone by not using instant gravy – how do I make my own?

Do the above and you’re essentially left with your own gravy in the bottom of the tray.

Flynn suggests that you can strain it, mix with a little bit of instant gravy, and you have a gravy which takes on a bit of the traditional colour but has your own personalised touch – “and is definitely tastier”.

At the same time, stick to the granules if you want. There’s no shame in using that shortcut, particularly if it takes the stress out of everything and helps you focus on getting the rest of the meal spot on.

Hang on, before we get to the gravy – how do I even know if Dustin here is cooked or not?

If you’re already following this cooking guide, bear in mind that factors such as the quality of your oven, how often you open the oven door, and how much stuffing you use (no more than 10% of the bird’s weight, by the way, that’s all you should put in the cavity and cook the rest separately) are all variables to take into account.

shutterstock_1558683155 (1) Shutterstock Shutterstock advises that you pierce the thickest part of the breast meat (between the leg and breast). If…

  • the juices run clear
  • there’s no pink meat
  • the turkey is piping hot all the way through

… you’re good to go.

If you own a meat thermometer, you’ll want an instant reading of 75 degrees celsius at the thickest part of the bird.

If you don’t own a meat thermometer, that’s something to add for your Christmas list for Santy, maybe for next year. Flynn said it is an invaluable tool to have in your kitchen. It takes the guesswork out of a whole range of recipes.

Okay, the turkey is out of the oven now and I’m going to eat it immediately, biting straight into the uncarved meat.

Stop, please. Firstly, you’re causing a scene, and secondly, it is vital to let the meat rest.

“Because what happens is it relaxes, it becomes more tender, juicy, and all the juice goes back into the turkey,” Flynn said, recommending a wait of at least 20 minutes.

And don’t worry about it being piping hot. It needs to be hot, of course, but some people are obsessed with burning the mouth off themselves. That is not the best way to do things.

We have someone over for dinner this year who is a vegetarian, I don’t know what to do.

Talk to them, or, if you are the vegan or vegetarian heading for the dinner, talk to the chef.

See if you can find a simple recipe that would work alongside the turkey and maybe even make the meat-eaters a little jealous.

One accessible option is a roasted head of cauliflower.

I used a fresh turkey from my local butchers, and they gave me a bag of… guts? What am I meant to do with this?

Those are the giblets. The only piece that Flynn would really make use of is the neck bone:

It’s for propping. I would have a big onion, and slice it thickly, put the neck bone beside it with my herbs, a couple of rashers of smoked bacon, and I’d sit the turkey on it like a trivet, and what it does is just add more flavour to your gravy.

The rest? Flynn says you might consider it a treat for your cat or dog.

If you’re really not keen on wasting food, you can use this offal to make a gravy or some traditional (and very nutritious) recipes.


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