Recipes: The perfect Christmas turkey

Daisy BlacklockYouGovLabs writer
December 20, 2011, 12:59 PM GMT+0

The saying goes that “Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat…”, but many of us will be looking forward to tucking into a turkey this December 25th, complete with all the trimmings. In the interests of kicking off our Labs Cookbook with a bang, we asked you – what's your recipe for the perfect tasty turkey?

We present a choice selection of the Christmas turkey recipes you submitted, with special emphasis on those offering something a little bit different when it comes to cooking the star-piece of Christmas dinner.

Complete with preparation tips, roasting times, and nifty tricks for serving up a delectable bird, anxious chefs need look no further to avoid cooking up a dry disaster this Christmas Day. Did you ever think of cooking your turkey upside-down, for example? It’s all here, from our first set of Labs Cookbook writers, along with our cooks’ cracking collection of condiments. Plus, if you’re not a meat-eater, why not check out Joyce’s mushroom and choux pastry recipe?

What's your perfect turkey recipe? Do you change it year by year or follow a tried and tested method? Do you agree with our pick of panellists' responses, or do you think we've missed a trick? Add to the discussion below!

1. Turkey with a Lincolnshire sausage-meat stuffing, by 'Beverleyanne' from Grantham

Buy your turkey from your local butcher where possible: “I like to know where it has come from, and that nothing has been added to it, such as water, and I don’t want it packaged in plastic or cellophane. My butcher knows exactly where it has come from – the local farms – and I know it hasn’t travelled half way around the world/country and been standing in some warehouse for god knows how long! Fresh is best.”

To prepare: I lift the skin on the breast gently, without perforating it, and 'shove' butter in it, trying to massage it as far as I can into the turkey breast, so as much of it is covered in butter as possible. I then smear butter on the outside as well, before covering it in streaky bacon. I also stuff it loosely both ends – one end with sausage-meat, and one with homemade parsley and thyme stuffing. I then wrap it very loosely in foil.

Create your stuffing: I buy Lincolnshire sausage-meat from my butcher, and then I cut up some ready-to-cook chestnuts, or mash them with a fork, then add them to the sausage meat. I also buy a packet of parsley and thyme stuffing, and make it up according to the packet, but add plenty of fresh chopped parsley to it and a scattering of fresh breadcrumbs.

Cooking times and temperatures: Start if off at 180 ̊C (gas mark 4), for 3 hours, then 200 ̊C (gas mark 6) for 1 hour.

Note: Remove the foil from the top after one-and-a-half hours. Then I remove the bacon for the last 30-40 minutes. I also check the stuffing inside the bird, and if it is going to need longer, then I remove it into a bowl and cook it separately for the last 30 minutes.

Rest and serve: After allowing the turkey to rest for 15 minutes, my husband carves it – just the breast, and we only have breast meat with Christmas dinner.

A family tip from the Grantham fold: My mother and relatives before her used to cook the turkey starting the night before on a very low heat. I used to, until one night we forgot and put it in at 9am ready for a 2pm lunch (for a 12-15 lb turkey) This was just as good, if not better, and so have done this ever since – 4 hours is fine.

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2. Marvellously moist upside-down turkey, by Pam LB, Bournemouth

Go for a local, free range bird each Christmas: "Our local free range turkeys have a lovely life, the end of which is quick and painless. Plus, we only have one a year.”

To prepare: I rub oil, salt and pepper on the skin of the turkey, and put halved carrots and onion inside it. I then put stuffing over breast meat, beneath skin.

Herby home-made stuffing recipe: I use home-grown sage leaves, scalded and chopped, mixed with an egg and breadcrumbs and, the key ingredient, fried onions.

Cooking times and temperatures: Start off the turkey at 220 ̊C (gas mark 7) for 20 minutes, then lower the temperature to 170 ̊C (gas mark 3) for the remaining cooking time (3 hours and 50 minutes), and baste every 30 minutes.

Leave your bird to stand, then carve: Leave the turkey to stand upside down for at least half an hour. This allows the juices to flow through the breast meat too. Carving depends upon the number of guests, but I usually remove a leg and wing from one side and slice the leg, and then carve the breast meat from the same side.

For the gravy: We also use the old-fashioned method of pouring the majority of turkey fat into a bowl, then loosening the contents of the roasting tin. Warm on a low heat, and add flour to make a roux. When cooked, we add stock, and then simmer. Taste, and add seasoning if required.

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3.Turkey with a boozy bacon, sage & onion stuffing, by Roger C, Stafford

Buy your bird locally: "A great way to support your client butcher".

Prepare and stuff your turkey: Ensure that all innards are removed. Make up a sage and onion stuffing with oodles of lardons marinated in Armanac, and fresh cranberries. Make slits in the breast and fill with freshly-squeezed lemon juice, cover it in tin foil

Then oven-cook: 180 ̊C (gas mark 4) for 4 hours. “Open up the foil for the last hour, for the skin to crisp up.

Allow the bird to stand, then serve it up: I leave it for up to an hour once it has finished roasting, and then carve. The breast generally goes first – the legs, wings and other bits are then used on Boxing Day.

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Roger's excellent eating tips: "It really helps to have loads and loads of fresh vegetables, slightly cooked (not mushed) no salt added. Anyone who wants salt and other seasoning can do it themselves. Ensure that there is lots of booze – the merrier the guests become, the more they will appreciate the meal and probably not remember that you burned the roast potatoes!"

4. Recipe for a buttery bird (served with stuffing), by Jan E., Kent

This panellist swears by her frozen supermarket turkey: "I have tried the so-called superior types but makes no difference to the taste - it's all in the preparation and basting."

Prepare your turkey for roasting: Gently separate the skin from the meat with your hands without tearing the skin. Place a whole packet of softened butter between the meat and the skin. Place in a roasting tin, then put rashers of streaky bacon across the top, breast and legs of the turkey. Don't stuff the turkey, but place halved oranges and lemons in the cavities. Drizzle olive oil on top of the bacon, then season with salt and pepper. Cover the roasting tin with foil.

Stuffing:I use separate stuffing balls, made from a packet stuffing but with chopped dried apricots and sultanas added.

How to cook it:Cook it on 170C (gas mark 3) for 3 hours.

Rest for 5 minutes, then serve at the table: Carry the whole bird to the table on a platter and ask what people want. Carve with pride!

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Jan's advice for seasonal succulence: "Regardless of the weight of the turkey, baste it after one hour. For the remainder of the cooking time, baste every 30 minutes until the last hour. Then remove foil, and baste every 20 minutes. Never had dry turkey yet using this method..."

5. Turkey with a marmalade glaze, by Liz, Liverpool

Waitrose does a winning turkey, says Liz: "It’s fresh, tasty, succulent, and beautiful. Christmas is the time for a little bit of indulgence and luxury."

Prepare and stuff your turkey: Brush over with a marmalade glaze, then stuff the turkey with a large Jaffa orange to absorb the grease/fat juices, and a traditional sage and onion stuffing with added herbs and garlic seasoning.

Then pop it in the oven:Cook it on 210C (gas mark 6-7) for 3 hours and 10 minutes.

How to cook it:Cook it on 170C (gas mark 3) for 3 hours.

Stand for 40 mins, then:Just carve it as to what guest/family members want

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6. The 'party while it cooks' turkey, by Ellen J, Manchester

Source your turkey locally: "You do not need a particular breed."

Prepare the bird for roasting:Loosen the skin and put lots of butter under it, and put sprigs of thyme and a lemon cut in half in the cavity. Then cover loosely with tin foil.

Vary your cooking times and temperatures:Start the turkey off on a low heat – 140 ̊C (gas mark 1) – for 3 hours. Then up it to 200 (gas mark 6) for 2 hours and 50 minutes. Baste regularly.

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Ellen’s cooking secret for keeping things stress-free: "To take the stress out of Christmas dinner I usually put the turkey in the oven to a very low light to start cooking before I go to bed after the Christmas Eve party, so when I get up on Christmas Day the cooking process is well underway!"

7. Norfolk bird-in-brine, by Adam

A Norfolk turkey is highly recommended: "It’s a fresh and juicy breed."

And prepare:I soak the turkey in brine for a few hours, then take it out, spread it with butter and put it in the oven. It works every time.

Cooking the turkey:I cook it on 180C (Gas mark 4) all the way through, for 2 hours and 30 minutes.

Leave to stand for one hour: "Then carve up the turkey into slices"

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8. Bacon-wrapped turkey, by Carolyn M, Newcastle

A local butcher can get your perfect bird: "We like dark meat more than the breast!"

How to prepare?Push butter under the breast skin, cover the breast and the drumsticks with good streaky bacon, spread soft butter over the whole thing, cover with a foil 'tent', put a cupful of water into the roasting tray. I like to stuff the cavity of my turkey with sage and onion stuffing, homemade, and the neck-end with sausage meat. I always make sure to cook my turkey properly – stuffing the cavity does not cause any harm.

To cook:For 4 hours at 160C (Gas mark 2-3), and baste at regular intervals

Rest for at least an hour, then to serve: "Just carve the breast and legs, and serve with good giblet gravy."

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Carolyn’s wise words for a brilliant bird: Never buy frozen turkey – always fresh! Make sure you get the giblets for the gravy. Smother the bird with butter before cooking, put some water in the roasting tin to start – cook low and slow rather than hot and fast and you will have the juiciest turkey and the best gravy juices!

Don't eat turkey?

Try Mushrooms in a choux pastry case, by Joyce from Northampton

How to go about it: Cook a variety of mushrooms, chopped fairly finely, but not to the point of mushiness. Make a white sauce with cream, and a red wine sauce. Make individual choux bun cases. Once cooked, cut the tops from the cases, and then return to the oven to dry out a little. Fill the cases with the mushroom mixture just before serving, as the guest desires.

Serve it with: A leek and cream sauce

Top potato tip for vegetarians cooking for turkey-eaters at Christmas: “If carnivores are coming I do a traditional roast turkey for them. Make sure it is clean inside, then place on a layer of mashed potato containing plenty of butter. It should be quite moist in the bottom of the cavity, about 2cms deep should do it, then on the top of this, place a couple of oranges cut into quarters, and a sprig or two of any herb you like. Once cooked you’ll have to spoon out the potato – this probably will not be worth keeping, but animals or the birds might like it.”

Christmassy condiments & accompaniments

There’s plenty to choose from to liven up your Christmas dinner-plate on the sauces front. Or if you’re not used to eating anything with your turkey, why not try something different this Sunday?

CRANBERRY SAUCE: “Supermarket brands for cranberry sauce are just as good as branded names, but are considerably cheaper.” - Roger, ShoppingLab participant

“I make my own cranberry sauce using a Delia Smith recipe” - Anonymous ShoppingLab participant

“Packet sauces are good, providing you pay a good price. Cranberry jelly in jars is good, but again buy the best you can afford” - B., ShoppingLab participant

APPLE SAUCE: “Bramley apples are best for an apple sauce. I use a sweetening agent rather than sugar (being diabetic) and add this to the sliced apples, water and Negrita (rum, equal portions) and allow to simmer for an hour. Add a few raisins about ten minutes before the end, stirring occasionally.” - Roger, ShoppingLab participant

SAGE & ONION STUFFING: I add extra onions and seasoning to packet sage and onion stuffing” Ellen J - ShoppingLab participant

Carolyn, however, is not a Paxo-fan: “keep Paxo well away from your turkey – making stuffing is as easy as opening a packet.”

DELICIOUS GRAVY: “Made with the turkey juices – not the fat. Some Yorkshire pudding batter, water from the veg, and Oxo cubes. Must be stirred all the time it is cooking.” Terrie T. - ShoppingLab participant

BREAD SAUCE:Definitely homemade. Breadcrumbs from stale bread are used (which I always have in the freezer). Heat milk gently with half an onion studded with 6 or 7 cloves). I always prepare it a couple of hours beforehand to help the flavour get into the milk. You need to get the flavour of the onion and cloves in the milk, so slowly warming is the best way to do it. After half an hour, remove any skin from the milk, and then add the breadcrumbs until you have the right consistency which you prefer. Then add some pepper, and a knob of butter. It can be made an hour or so beforehand and kept warm.” Beverleyanne - ShoppingLab participant

Or, for a shop-bought recommendation: “Sharwoods luxury bread sauce is the one for me.” Carolyn - ShoppingLab participant

What's your perfect turkey recipe? Do you change it year by year or follow a tried and tested method? Do you agree with our pick of panellists' responses, or do you think we've missed a trick? Add to the discussion below!

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