“That’s absolute poppycock!” declares Richard Smith. As Farm Manager for Daylesford’s organic Cotswolds farm, Richard is ploughing through my turkey Q&A, separating fact from fiction.
“Poppycock!” is Richard’s response to the theory that a turkey with a well-rounded breast is juicier. “A turkey with a huge breast is likely to be an intensively reared white hybrid turkey. They take a lot more cooking so they’re actually going to be drier,” explains Richard.
“Ridiculous!” he exclaims, when I tell him there’s advice out there telling people to buy two small turkeys, instead of one large one, on the grounds that smaller turkeys are more tender. “The only thing about smaller turkeys is that they take less cooking time, but I certainly wouldn’t advise people to buy two small birds, because you’d need two ovens to cook them in!” he says, sounding flabbergasted.
Richard has clearly missed the controversy surrounding MP James “Four Ovens” Brokenshire (and the ensuing Daily Mail photo-features on women with multiple ovens) but I move swiftly on, and ask if there’s any truth in the claim that larger turkeys have a higher meat-to-bone ratio. “Now that is a simple thing,” says Richard patiently. “If you buy a smaller turkey, it’s likely to have a smaller skeleton. If you buy a bigger turkey, it’ll have a bigger skeleton. Ratio-wise, it doesn’t alter at all.”
Richard is equally matter of fact when I ask about The F Factor – fresh or frozen? “A fresh turkey will give you the ultimate eating experience,” states Richard. “However, a turkey will freeze very well. I’ve had spare turkeys before, that I’ve frozen and eaten a year later, and they’ve been superb,” he says, emphasising that he’s referring to freezing fresh meat, rather than cooked leftovers.
Here are some more of Richard’s tips for enjoying your turkey this Christmas…
Scratch the maths
Don’t worry about trying to find a turkey that works out at Xlb of meat per person. Just buy a nice medium sized turkey of around 6.5kg (14-15lb). It will cook beautifully and it will easily feed 8-10 people and leave you with enough for leftovers.
Don’t stuff it
TV chefs tell you to stuff the bird fuller and fuller, and you hear about people getting up at 5 o’clock in the morning to put the turkey in the oven, then cooking it for four or five hours, and getting dry, stringy meat at the end of it. One of the biggest complaints about turkey is that it’s dry, but if you cook it without any stuffing it’ll be done in one hour and 30-45 minutes, and it will be fantastic.
Bronze is best
With any type of meat, the slower grown it is, the better the flavour and texture will be. A traditional bronze turkey is slower-growing than a white hybrid turkey that’s bred to be large and fast-growing with a lot of breast meat. The white turkey is generally reared inside, in huge numbers, and takes a lot more cooking, so the meat tends to be dry, whereas bronze turkeys are usually reared in a free range or organic system, with access to the outdoors. This mobility improves the texture and flavour of the meat, and because it’s a smaller bird, with less breast meat, it’s easier to cook, and the eating quality is superb.
Turkey legs are often dry because they’re on the exterior, so they cook quicker than the breast meat. If you take the legs off prior to cooking, you can put them in the oven for the right amount of time – just find the joint that separates the leg from the carcass and cut through it, or ask your butcher to do it. Go a step further by taking out the leg bone – this creates a great place to put your stuffing. Roll the leg meat around the stuffing, finishing with the skin on the outside, and tie it with string, like a jointed piece of meat. Put it in the oven for the last 45 minutes and when it’s cooked, you can carve it in slices.
If you’re buying a fresh turkey off the shelf, buy it as close to Christmas as you can – but don’t leave it too late, or the turkeys could run out. Ideally, order a fresh turkey in plenty of time from your local butcher or farm shop. Arrange to collect it (or have it delivered) as close to Christmas as possible. If you don’t have room in the fridge, leave it in its box, and keep it somewhere cool. If you’re buying a frozen one to take home and stick in the freezer, buy it whenever you like, just allow time to defrost it. This depends on the size of the turkey, but it’s about 48 hours for 6.5kg.
For the ultimate luxury, buy a turkey that’s been dry-plucked, which means the feathers have been hand-plucked by a human being. A processed turkey will have gone through a system where it’s dipped into warm water to get the feathers to come off more easily. Turkeys and chickens avoid water, and by buying a dry-plucked bird, you know it hasn’t been in contact with any moisture.
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