A turkey is a great choice for a festive dinner because it’s relatively inexpensive, and can be a grand centerpiece for a feast feeding many mouths!
Turkey isn't difficult to get right, provided you follow a few guidelines. If you’re feeling intimidated about the idea of roasting a whole turkey, read on for our expert tips about how to choose, prepare and cook your big bird!
CHOOSING YOUR TURKEY
- Choose a turkey that looks fat and well-shaped, and is still tightly enclosed in plastic, with no tears in the wrapping.
- An average-sized turkey will feed 6-8 people. If you’re feeding more people than that – and have enough oven space - we suggest you buy two smaller turkeys instead of one huge one. Giant turkeys are tricky to roast, and their flesh can be dry and tasteless.
- If possible, choose a turkey that has a pop-up plastic ‘spike’, which will tell you when the turkey is done. Read the packaging carefully to make sure your turkey comes with this indicator.
THAWING THE TURKEY
- It's important to defrost your frozen turkey in the fridge, over a period of many hours (see below).
- A whole turkey should not be cooked from frozen, because the centre of the bird will not become hot enough, and this might make it unsafe to eat.
- Put the frozen turkey, straight from the freezer, onto a tray, which will collect the juices.
- Without opening or removing the plastic wrapping, place the bird on the middle shelf of your fridge to defrost. Make a note of the weight of the turkey (you’ll find this on the price label).
- Make sure your fridge is set to a temperature between 4ºC and 7ºC.
- Allow 24 hours' defrosting time for each 2 kg of turkey. In other words, if your turkey weighs 4 kg, it must defrost in the fridge for 48 hours. If it weighs 3 kg, it should defrost for 36 hours, and so on.
GETTING READY TO ROAST A TURKEY
- Carefully plan the cooking time for the bird. It will need several hours in the oven plus at least 20 minutes ‘resting’ time after it comes out of the oven.
- Set your oven temperature to 180 ºC (or the temperature recommended on the plastic packaging) so it can heat for at least 20 minutes before you put the bird in.
- Peel the plastic wrapping off the turkey. Don’t throw this away.
- The time your turkey will take to roast depends first on its weight and second on whether or not you’re going to stuff it. Be sure to read the instructions on the wrapping carefully, using the weight of the turkey to calculate the cooking time.
- Remove the packet of giblets from the cavity, rinse the turkey well, then pat dry with a paper towel.
- Rub the top of the turkey with a little olive or sunflower oil, plus seasonings of your choice. For more advice about this, click on the recipe below:
- If you intend stuffing the turkey, click on the recipe below:
- If you don’t want to stuff the turkey, you can place aromatic ingredients of your choice into the cavity of the bird, which will perfume its flesh at it roasts. Some suggestions: half a lemon, a few sprigs of fresh rosemary, thyme or sage, garlic cloves, sliced onion, and so on.
- Put the bird in a deep roasting pan. It’s good idea to place the turkey on a layer of onion and carrot slices, plus a few sprigs of thyme, which will help create a tasty gravy.
- Tie the ends of the drumsticks together with kitchen string and tuck the wings under.
- Cover your turkey with a layer of heavy tin foil, and press it loosely around the edges of the roasting pan, so any steam can escape.
- Place in the oven for the time recommended on the plastic packaging, BUT remove the foil 30 minutes before the end of the roasting time, and turn up the heat by 10 degrees. If your oven has a fan, switch it on! This will allow the skin of the turkey to crisp and turn golden-brown.
- If the wings or breasts seem to be browning too quickly, cover them with strips of tin foil.
- If it seems that the bottom of the pan is drying out, add a little water, stock or wine . Baste the turkey occasionally with the pan juices.
- You will know when your turkey is cooked when the plastic ‘indicator’ spike pops up.
- If your turkey has not come with a pop-up indicator, you can check its ‘doneness’ as follows: Remove the turkey from the oven and cut into the thickest part of the thigh, close to the bone. The bone should feel very hot to the touch, and the juices running from the thigh joint should be clear, with no trace of pinkness.
- Remove the turkey from the oven, cover it lightly with foil and let it rest for at least 20 minutes, or up to 40 minutes. This will make it easier to carve, and ensure that the flesh remains juicy. Don’t worry about the turkey getting cold – it will retain its heat.
TO MAKE A GRAVY
- Remove the turkey from its roasting tray and set aside to rest.
- Pour any pan juices into a big jug, leaving behind in the pan just a little fat, plus any vegetables or herbs.
- Add three cups of boiling water to the jug containing the pan juices, plus a KNORR Chicken Stock Pot. Stir until dissolved. Put the pan on the heat, and when the fat begins to sizzle, sprinkle over 3 tablespoons of flour. Cook, stirring, for a minute or two, scraping at the bottom of the pan to remove any golden residue.
- Skim any fat off the top of the jug of stock and then pour the stock into the pan, whisking all the time with a metal whisk as the gravy thickens.
- Turn down the heat and simmer gently for 5-8 minutes.
- If the gravy seems too thick, thin it down with a little wine or water.
- If you’d like a thicker gravy, make a smooth paste of flour (or cornflour) and water, and dribble this into the gravy, a little at a time, until it has thickened to your liking. Simmer for a few more minutes to cook away any ‘floury’ taste.
- Season to taste.
- Strain the gravy through a sieve into a gravy boat or jug, and serve hot.
- If you’re in too much of a hurry to make a gravy from scratch, simply make up a sachet of KNORR Roast Meat Gravy.
TO CARVE YOUR TURKEY
The method for carving a turkey is exactly the same as for carving a roast chicken. To see our top tips, click here: How to Carve a Whole Roast Chicken