How to cook a turkey

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  • 5-6kg turkey, thawed if frozen and any giblets removed
  • 1/2 lemon
  • ½ onion, cut in half
  • A few sprigs fresh sage, parsley and rosemary plus extra to garnish
  • 75g butter, softened

To make the herb stuffing:

  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 50g butter
  • 100g fresh white breadcrumbs
  • 3tbsp chopped fresh mixed herbs such as rosemary (leaves only), parsley and sage
  • Finely grated zest 1/2 lemon
  • 1 egg

If you’re wondering how to cook a turkey for Christmas dinner, our simple step-by-step guide will help you achieve perfect results every time! If you’ve cooked turkey before and simply want a reminder these steps will help you learn how to cook a turkey with confidence.

The most important thing is to buy the best quality turkey you can afford. Slower growing breeds such as bronze turkeys will have a more developed flavour and firmer texture.

To keep the meat moist and succulent it’s important not to overcook a turkey and once it’s cooked leave it to rest for at least 30 mins or preferably about an hour. The turkey will stay hot and the meat will relax and tenderise and be easier to carve. Resting the turkey also frees up the oven for you to cook the roast potatoes, stuffing and sausages.To ensure the turkey cooks evenly, remove any string or bands that tie the legs together. This allows the heat to flow much more freely into the turkey cavity. This is also why the cavity of the turkey should never be packed with stuffing, there is a danger that the temperature reached inside the bird won’t be hot enough to kill off any bacteria.Any stuffing should be placed in the neck cavity under the flap of skin, or roasted separately in a tin or rolled into balls and baked.

If buying a frozen turkey allow enough time for it to defrost fully in a cool place. For example a 6kg turkey will take at least 24 hours. If time is running out and the bird is not fully defrosted you can immerse in a clean bucket of cold (not warm) water.

The easiest way to carve a turkey is to cut off the drumsticks first, using the joint between drumstick and thigh as a guide. Then remove the thighs, again using the joint with the body cavity as the guide. Remove the wings in the same way. Cut along either side of the breast bone and remove the whole turkey breasts, one at a time, cutting as close to the carcass as possible. Place the turkey breasts on a board and cut into slices, then slice the meat off the thighs and drumsticks.


Step 1

Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/Fan 170C/Gas Mark 5. Make the stuffing by frying the onion in the butter for 5 mins to soften. Remove from the heat and stir in the breadcrumbs, herbs, lemon zest and egg. Mix well and season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Place the turkey in a roasting tin or dish. If the legs are tied together remove the string and open them out. Place the lemon, onion and herbs into the body cavity but don’t pack it too tightly.

Step 2

Lift the flap of skin covering the neck cavity and spoon the stuffing under the skin. Smooth the skin back over the stuffing and tuck underneath the turkey. Any remaining stuffing can be spooned into a dish, dotted with a little butter and baked for 30 mins.

Step 3

Break the softened butter into pieces and dot over the turkey. Season with plenty of salt and freshly ground pepper.

Step 4

Loosely cover the turkey with a large sheet of foil and scrunch it around the sides of the tin to seal. This will help to keep the steam inside the foil as it cooks, keeping the turkey moist. Calculate the cooking time allowing 20 mins per kg plus an extra 70 mins (a 5-6kg bird will take approx 3-31/2hrs. Baste the turkey every hour with the cooking juices and remove the foil for the final 30 mins of cooking time. To test if the turkey is cooked the juices should run clear, not pink, when a skewer is inserted into the thickest part of the thigh. Remove from the oven, recover with the foil and leave to stand for 30 mins to 1 hour before carving. Garnish with fresh herbs to serve.SaveSaveSave


Cranberry and Chestnut Stuffing

To the herb stuffing recipe above add a 200g pack ready cooked and peeled chestnuts, chopped and 75g dried cranberries. Roll any extra stuffing into balls and bake in the oven for 30 mins with chipolata sausages.

Marsala Turkey Gravy

Pour all the turkey roasting juices into a measuring jug. Spoon 3tbsp fat from the top of the juices and return it to the roasting tin. Skim off any remaining fat from the juices and discard. Top up the juices in the jug to 450ml with water or vegetable cooking water. Heat the fat in the roasting tin with 2tbsp plain flour, stirring, and cook for 1 min. Remove from the heat and gradually stir in the juices and 150ml marsala wine. Bring to the boil stirring, until thickened. Season and stir in 1tsp Dijon mustard and 1tbsp redcurrant jelly.

Crispy Roast Potatoes

Cut 2kg King Edward or Maris Piper potatoes into chunks and par-boil for 10 mins until starting to soften around the edges. Drain, return to the pan, cover with the lid and shake well to rough up the edges (these are the bits that will go crispy when cooked). Heat 7tbsp sunflower oil or goose fat in a roasting tin in the oven at 200C/400F/Fan 180C/Gas Mark 5. Add the potatoes, turn to coat in the fat then cook in the oven for 45-50 mins, turning occasionally, until golden and crisp.

Turkey Breasts with Red Onions & Pancetta

For a quick cook turkey meal to serve 4, gently fry 2 thinly sliced red onions with 100g chopped pancetta or streaky bacon in 2tbsp olive oil for 10 mins until very soft. Add 1tbsp juniper berries and 1tbsp chopped fresh rosemary leaves. Flatten 4 x 175g pieces turkey breast fillet by placing between sheets of cling film and bashing with a rolling pin. Divide half the onion mixture between the flattened turkey pieces, roll up and tie with string. Fry the turkey rolls in 2tbsp olive oil for 5 mins until browned, add the remaining onion mixture with 300ml chicken stock and a dash of white wine. Simmer until the liquid is reduced and thickened slightly then cover and simmer for 15 mins until the turkey is cooked.

Celebrity chef tips

"If you're in a reasonable state at the end of your Christmas Day celebrations, strip the turkey meat from the carcass the same evening and place in the fridge for sandwiches. Put the carcass in a large pan with some root veg and stock to create a base of a soup or stock, this will give you a bit more space in your fridge!"

Antony Worrall Thompson

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