It can be daunting to cook a turkey not only is a large bird, but you also have the added anxiety of usually catering for friends and family as well. We have all heard of the horror stories people relate about Christmas or Thanksgiving get-togethers. Giblets being left in the turkey, the turkey not defrosting, food poisoning and worst of all after cooking finding the meat has gone dry.
When I cook a turkey I usually return to a recipe by Nigella Lawson from her book “Feast” which describes brining the turkey before cooking it. I have given this a couple of tryouts and have been impressed with the succulence and subtle flavor of the turkey meat.
What Type of Turkey to Choose?
I go for the Norfolk Black free-range turkey and fresh not frozen. Usually about 4-5 kgs or 9 -11 lbs. Enough for about 6-8 people with leftovers. However, the beauty of the brining method is that it will even make the pale frozen turkey that is available all year round tasty and delicious.
One problem with bringing a turkey is finding a suitable container that will fit into the fridge. I use a big plastic tub and I take out the bottom shelf of the fridge and the salad drawers and place this inside the fridge. If you don’t have room for this then I would give brining a miss and cook in the more conventional way.
Take 6 liters of water 250g sea salt or 150g table salt, 200g sugar 8 tablespoons honey. This is your basic brining liquid. To this add whatever aromatic’s you fancy, I add black peppercorns, bouquet garni, few cloves, mustard seeds. Also, add a lump of fresh ginger cut into slices. Also, add an orange or lemon or of course both, cut into quarters and a couple of chopped onions. Mix this all together making sure that the salt and sugar have dissolved – then add the turkey to this liquid (don’t forget to remove the giblets). You can brine for up to two days. You can leave out the honey.
Cooking the turkey
To roast this turkey, preheat the oven to 220C. Make up a basting liquid from melted butter with a little honey. Take the turkey out of the brining liquid and make sure the turkey is dry by wiping it all over with kitchen paper. Paint the turkey with the basting liquid and place in the oven. Roast at this temperature for 40 minutes and then turn the heat down to 180C and cook for about 2 1/2 hours. Keep an eye on the turkey though as your oven may vary from mine. baste the turkey every 30 minutes. For the last 15 minutes whack the heat up to 220C to get the skin browned. The turkey is cooked when the juices run clear when you pierce the flesh with a skewer between the leg and the body.
After you have removed the turkey from the oven, cover the turkey with a tent of aluminum foil and leave for about 30 minutes before carving and serving.