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Roast Turkey

How to roast a turkey and prepare traditional trimmings

 

See, also:-   Christmas Main Page  Countdown to Christmas  |  Buying Christmas food  |  Turkey Tips and Quantities  |  Christmas Recipes  |  Parties

 

Jump to:-  Turkey Preparation  | Turkey quantities & Roasting Times  | Before Serving your Turkey |

Trimmings/ Accompaniments Preparation  Trimmings/Accompaniments Quantities

Christmas Lunch/Dinner Menu  |  Time Plan | Leftovers

 

Cooking a roast turkey dinner with all the trimmings for friends and family at Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter or New Year, can be daunting, especially if you've never done it before.

 

This guide has been written to ensure you serve a well cooked bird which is full of flavour and with the full compliment of trimmings including stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce,  bread sauce, bacon rolls,  cocktail sausages, roast potatoes and vegetables to make the perfect celebratory meal.

 

There again, if you want to keep it simple and only cook the turkey plus a couple of veg, this guide is broken down sufficiently to enable you to do so.

 

 

How to prepare a turkey

If you have bought a frozen bird do make sure it is well defrosted first. Check by putting your hand inside the body cavity to see if there are any ice crystals left. Smaller turkeys (up to 7 kg) take about 24 hours to defrost in a cool place (around 18 °C), larger birds up to 48 hours.

 

If possible, remove it from the plastic packaging and re-wrap in aluminium foil as the plastic tends to make the bird "sweat".

 

Make sure you remove the giblets (if present) from the cavity and neck areas and wash the bird inside and out under cold running water. Don’t stuff the body cavity. Instead lift the neck flap and press your stuffing up against the wishbone, replacing the flap of skin and securing with metal skewers, wooden toothpicks or sewing up with a needle and thread.  Any remaining stuffing can be placed in a well greased shallow baking tin or made into balls then covered with foil and cooked separately.

 

For extra flavour place half an onion and/or half an orange in the body cavity (both with the skins still in tact) and pour some medium/sweet sherry all over the bird before placing in the oven. The resulting juices are a good addition to the gravy.

 

For a tasty and attractive finish, sprinkle the turkey with ground paprika and crushed thyme or dried mixed herbs before cooking and don't forget to season all over the bird with salt and pepper.

 

Before placing in the oven, smear the breasts with plenty of softened butter and protect with foil. Better still, cover the breasts and legs with LOTS of streaky bacon secured with wooden toothpicks then cover loosely with foil until the last  45 minutes of the cooking time.

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Turkey Quantities and Roasting Times

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Allow 20-25 minutes per lb (50-55 minutes per kg) plus and extra 20 minutes at 180C, 350F, Gas Mark 4 and remember to include the stuffing weight when calculating the timing.  Some say to start it off breast side down which isn't a bad idea as the cooking juices flow downwards into the breast helping to keep it moist. If you are going to use this method, don't smear the breasts with butter at the start as it will just melt and run into the roasting tin. Use the streaky bacon method below instead and still cover loosely with foil. It should be noted that very good results are still achieved just roasting the bird on its back for the entire cooking time.

 

Approximate cooking times (make adjustments to suit your own oven in particular for fan assisted ovens):-

Servings are approximate and sufficient to have leftovers

2.7kg/ 6 lb (serves 4+ )

2 hours 50 minutes  (plus 20 minutes resting)

4.5kg/ 10 lb (serves 6+ )

4 hours 30minutes  (plus 20 minutes resting)

5.4kg/ 12 lb (serves 8+ )

5 hours 20 minutes  (plus 20 minutes resting)

6.8kg/ 15 lb (serves 10+ )

6 hours 35 minutes  (plus 20 minutes resting)

8.1kg/ 18 lb (serves 12+ )

7 hours 50 minutes  (plus 20 minutes resting)

9.4kg/ 21 lb(serves 14+ )

9 hours   (plus 20 minutes resting)

 

If using the above method, half way through the cooking time, turn the bird onto its back, baste well with the cooking juices, then re-cover loosely with foil before returning it to the oven.  If you feel so inclined, you can baste the bird every 1-2 hours,  however if you use the foil method, basting 3-4 times during cooking is sufficient.

 

About 45 minutes before the end of the cooking time, remove the foil (and bacon if you prefer), baste with the cooking juices and continue to roast. This will allow plenty of time for the bird to brown.

 

Check the meat is cooked by parting the skin between the leg and breast. If it is still a little pink then allow an extra 20 minutes on top of your calculated time. When pierced with a skewer at the thickest part of the thigh the juices should run clear not pink.

 

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Before Serving your Christmas Turkey

Transfer the bird to a large serving platter, making sure you drain any juices which will have collected inside the cavity.  You can add these juices to the gravy for extra flavour.

 

Leave the cooked turkey to stand in a warm place for about 20 minutes before carving.  This may seem a long time but trust us - just cover it loosely with a foil ‘tent’ to retain its heat. You'll be surprised how hot it will remain and this resting time makes carving a doddle. This extra time can be used to finish cooking all the accompaniments.

 

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Christmas Dinner Trimmings and Accompaniments

Traditional accompaniments for a Christmas roast turkey include  gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce, bread sauce, bacon rolls, small sausages, roast potatoes,  red cabbage, roast parsnips and Brussels sprouts. Full timings are given later on in the Time Plan.

 

Depending on how much time you'll have on the day, you may wish to prepare some of the trimmings such as the giblet stock for gravy, stuffing, and bacon wrapped sausages the day before. Indeed, items such as brandy butter and cranberry sauce can be prepared 2-3 days ahead.

 

Our advice is to do as much as possible before the actual day and refrigerate it so you don't have to spend too much time preparing the bits and pieces on Christmas morning.
 

If possible, get a turkey with the giblets so that you can make a well flavoured gravy.

 

Unless you are fortunate enough to have a very large or double oven it's likely that you'll have to do some juggling in order for accompaniments like roast potatoes, roast parsnips, and bacon rolls to be browned and crisp without overcooking.

 

The 20 minutes whilst you are resting the bird as above is the prime opportunity for you to brown and crisp up all your accompaniments however, this relatively short time means you'll have to steam or boil potatoes and parsnips in advance until almost cooked.

 

20 minutes before you are ready to take the bird out of the oven to rest, turn the temperature up to very high - at least 220C, 425F, Gas Mark 7. This will ensure that whatever you put into the oven once the turkey is removed will brown and crisp in the 20 minutes you have spare.  Keep a watchful eye and reduce the oven temperature or even turn it off if items are browning too quickly.

 

Trimmings and Accompaniments Quantities

 

Stuffing The amounts below are approximate and sufficient to stuff the neck end of the turkey with some left over for baking separately in a tin or making extra stuffing balls. If you prefer you can cook the whole amount outside of the turkey in a shallow tin or made into balls.

Number of servings

Amount of Stuffing

Serves 4   

480ml/ 16fl.oz.

Serves 6   

600ml/20fl.oz.

Serves 8   

900ml/30fl.oz.

Serves 10 

1L/35fl.oz.

Serves 12 

1.2L/40fl.oz.

Serves 14 

1.4L/46fl.oz.

 

Other Accompaniments If you are serving the full compliment of turkey, trimmings and vegetables as mentioned above you should allow:-

 

Roast Parsnips   - 1 per person

Roast Potatoes   - 2 - 3 pieces per person

Brussels Sprouts   -  125g/+4oz per person

Red Cabbage   -  125g/+4oz per person

Bacon Wrapped Sausages   - 2 per person

Gravy   - 180ml/6fl.oz. per person

Cranberry Sauce   - 30ml/1fl.oz. per person

Bread Sauce   - 60ml/2fl.oz. per person

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Christmas Dinner Menu

The menu below is our suggestion for a perfect traditional Christmas dinner with all the trimmings however you can pick and choose which bits you want and the time plan below makes allowances for cooking the whole menu or just the turkey and vegetables.

 

Full recipes are linked to in the time plan where applicable.

 

Roast Turkey with Sherry

Stuffing

Gravy

Cranberry Sauce

Bread Sauce

Bacon Wrapped Sausages

Roast Potatoes

Roast Parsnips

Spiced Red Cabbage with Apple

Brussels Sprouts

 

* * * * *

 

Christmas Pudding with Cream

Mince Pies with Brandy Butter

 

* * * * *

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Christmas Dinner Time plan

This time plan is based on the premise that only one oven is available to use, that the turkey is either fresh or has been thoroughly defrosted (remember a large bird can take 48 hours to defrost properly) and that the bird will be roasted breast side up for the whole period.

 

The most important article is the turkey. Decide what time you wish to serve the meal then work out how long your sized turkey will take to cook using the chart above and start at the appropriate time.  E.g. You wish to serve the meal at 1.30pm and your turkey weighs 4.5kg/ 10 lb  which will take 4 hours 30minutes plus 20 minutes resting time,  so you need to put it in the oven at  8.40am.

 

Everything else will follow on very simply, provided you always keep in mind what time you want to serve the meal.  To make things even more simple for you. the time plan below has a space for you to put in the exact times to do things (depending on what time you want to serve. Take 30 minutes out the day before to fill in the appropriate times then use the time plan on the day. You can set your kitchen timer or even your mobile phone to sound an alarm when the next  "thing to do" is due.

 

Click here for a Print friendly version of this time plan

 

Time

    Basic Roast Turkey Dinner

      The whole works!

Done
At least 2 days before
 

Start the Christmas Pudding.
It will still need re-steaming on the day.

 

Start the Christmas Pudding.
It will still need  re-steaming on the day.

 

.
At least  1 hour before you start cooking the turkey

 

Make the Brandy Butter . Cover with clingfilm and refrigerate.

Make the stuffing up (homemade or packet), allow to cool if necessary and refrigerate until later.
 

Make the Brandy Butter. Cover with clingfilm and refrigerate.
 

.
20 minutes before you start cooking the turkey (or the day before)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Preheat the oven whilst you prepare the turkey. Remove the giblets from the neck and inside the cavity if they are present and set aside. Wash the bird thoroughly, both inside and out, preferably under cold running water. Pat dry with kitchen paper then season the bird all over with salt and pepper and other seasonings if using e.g. herbs, paprika etc.

Place the turkey, breast side up, in a large roasting tin and either smear liberally with softened butter or place lots of rashers of streaky bacon on the breast and legs so that they completely cover the surface and secure to the bird with wooden toothpicks. Just poke the toothpicks through the bacon into the turkey.

Cover the whole tin loosely with heavy duty aluminium foil, securing the ends to the lip of the roasting tin then carefully place in the pre-heated oven.  It will be heavier than you think so take care.
 

Preheat the oven whilst you prepare the turkey. Remove the giblets from the neck and inside the cavity if they are present and set aside. Wash the bird thoroughly, both inside and out, preferably under cold running water. Pat dry with kitchen paper  then season the bird all over with salt and pepper and other seasonings if using e.g. herbs, paprika etc.

Place half an orange and half an un-skinned onion in the cavity of the turkey.

If you wish you can use some of the stuffing to fill the breast/neck cavity then fold the excess neck skin over to enclose the stuffing and secure with wooden toothpicks, small wire skewers or sew up with a needle and thread.

Place the turkey, breast side up, in a large roasting tin and either smear liberally with softened butter or place lots of rashers of streaky bacon on the breast and legs so that they completely cover the surface and secure to the bird with wooden toothpicks. Just poke the toothpicks through the bacon into the turkey.

 

Slowly pour at least 120ml/4fl.oz. of sherry all over the bacon plus a little into the cavity.

Cover the whole tin loosely with heavy duty aluminium foil, securing the ends to the lip of the roasting tin then carefully place in the pre-heated oven.  It will be heavier than you think so take care.
 

.

5 minutes later

 

 

 

 

 

.

If making gravy with the giblets, start it now. Wash the giblets, place in a large saucepan with 600ml/20fl.oz. Water, a good splash of sherry, the remaining half onion (peeled and halved) and orange (unpeeled and halved), 1 teaspoon of dried mixed herbs or a large bushy sprig of thyme and a bay leaf, salt, pepper and a teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce. Bring to the boil then reduce the heat to VERY low, partially cover and leave to simmer very gently.
 

.

5 minutes later

 

.

If serving extra stuffing separately, form the cold stuffing into balls about the size of a large walnut then refrigerate until ready to bake.
 

.

5 minutes later

 

Peel the potatoes, cut into even chunks and par-boil in salted water until just tender. Drain well, cover with cold water and set aside.

Peel the potatoes, cut into even chunks and par-boil in salted water until just tender. Drain well, cover with cold water and set aside.

.

5 minutes later

Peel or scrub the parsnips, cut larger ones in half lengthways  and par-boil in salted water until just tender. Drain well, cover with cold water and set aside.
 

Peel or scrub the parsnips, cut larger ones in half lengthways  and par-boil in salted water until just tender. Drain well, cover with cold water and set aside.
 

.

1 hour later
 

 

 

Baste the Turkey
Continue to baste the turkey every 1 hour

 

 

Baste the Turkey
Continue to baste the turkey every 1 hour

Check the gravy adding more water or sherry  if necessary to top up the level

.
2 ½ hours before serving

 

If you used the Christmas Pudding recipe given here you should start to re-steam it now. Smaller shop-bought puddings will take less time. Check the instructions now.
 

If you used the Christmas Pudding recipe given here you should start to re-steam it now. Smaller shop-bought puddings will take less time. Check the instructions now.
 

.

2 hours before serving

 

Start the Spiced Cabbage

 

Start the Spiced Cabbage

Prepare the sausage and bacon rolls, cover with foil and refrigerate.

Make the Cranberry Sauce. Set aside to cool.
 

.

1 hour before serving

Prepare the Brussels sprouts, place in a saucepan without water and set aside

Check the spiced cabbage and baste the turkey if necessary

Check the water level of the Christmas pudding and top up with extra boiling water if necessary.

Prepare the Brussels sprouts, place in a saucepan without water and set aside

Check the spiced cabbage and baste the turkey if necessary

Check the gravy adding more water or sherry  if necessary to top up the level.

Check the water level of the Christmas pudding and top up with extra boiling water if necessary.

.

45 minutes before serving

 

 

Drain the potatoes and parsnips very well and blotting with kitchen paper if necessary, then transfer to a large shallow baking tin. Pour over enough olive oil or melted goose fat and turn to coat on all sides. Set aside.

Turn the oven up to very hot - at least  220C, 425F, Gas Mark 7 .

Remove the turkey from the oven, remove all of the bacon and very carefully drain the cooking juices from the cavity of the bird and from the tin into a saucepan (set aside to make the gravy later).

Baste the turkey with a little more sherry or some of the cooking juices then return to the oven, uncovered.

 

Drain the potatoes and parsnips very well and blotting with kitchen paper if necessary, then transfer to a large shallow baking tin. Pour over enough olive oil or melted goose fat and turn to coat on all sides. Set aside.

 

Turn the oven up to 220C, 425F, Gas Mark

Remove the turkey from the oven, remove all of the bacon and very carefully drain the cooking juices from the cavity of the bird and from the tin into the saucepan containing the giblet gravy. Continue to let it simmer.

Baste the turkey with a little more sherry or some of the giblet gravy then return to the oven, uncovered.

Remove the stuffing balls and bacon rolls from the refrigerator and place on a lightly oiled foil lined baking sheet.
 

.

25 minutes before serving

Remove the turkey from the oven, transfer to a large serving platter, cover loosely with foil and set aside to rest.

Place the prepared potatoes, and parsnips in the very hot oven.

Check the Spiced Cabbage

Remove the turkey from the oven, transfer to a large serving platter, cover loosely with foil and set aside to rest.

Place the prepared potatoes, parsnips, bacon rolls and stuffing balls in the oven

Check the spiced cabbage
 

.

15 minutes before serving

 

Start the Brussels sprouts. Don't be tempted to start them any earlier unless you like soggy sprouts. Bring the water to the boil then reduce the heat and SIMMER.

Make the gravy as follows. Make up the level of the of the reserved cooking juices in the saucepan with extra water if necessary, add 1 or 2 stock cubes, bring to simmering point then thicken with a little cornflour mixed with water or gravy granules. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Keep warm.

Make the bread sauce . Keep warm

Start the Brussels sprouts . Don't be tempted to start them any earlier unless you like soggy sprouts. Bring the water to the boil then reduce the heat and SIMMER.

Make the gravy as follows. Strain the giblet stock into a clean saucepan, taste and if necessary add 1  stock cube and adjust the seasoning. Bring to simmering point then thicken with a little cornflour mixed with water or gravy granules. Keep warm.
 

.

10 minutes before serving

Check the potatoes and  parsnips,  and turn or baste as necessary.

If you wish to serve hot mince pies, place them on a baking tray ready to put in the oven later.

Remove the brandy butter from the refrigerator.

Check the potatoes, parsnips, bacon rolls and stuffing balls and turn or baste as necessary.

If you want to serve the cranberry sauce hot, reheat gently.

If you wish to serve hot mince pies, place them on a baking tray ready to put in the oven later.

Remove the brandy butter from the refrigerator.

.

5 minutes before serving

Turn the oven off.

Uncover the turkey, draining any remaining cooking juices from the cavity into the gravy and transfer to a large carving platter.

Transfer the gravy to a gravy or sauce boat.

Drain the Brussels sprouts.

Transfer the sprouts, cabbage, potatoes and parsnips to serving dishes.

If you want to serve hot mince pies, place them in the turned off oven with the door slightly ajar to warm through whilst you're eating the main course.

Check the water level of the Christmas pudding and top up with extra boiling water if necessary.

SERVE THE MAIN COURSE

Turn the oven off.

Uncover the turkey, draining any remaining cooking juices from the cavity into the gravy and transfer to a large carving platter.

Transfer the gravy to a jug or sauce boat. 

Transfer the bread sauce to a gravy or sauce boat.

Transfer the cranberry sauce to a serving bowl.

Drain the Brussels sprouts.

Transfer the sprouts, cabbage, potatoes, parsnips, bacon rolls and stuffing balls to serving dishes.

If you want to serve hot mince pies, place them in the turned off oven with the door slightly ajar to warm through whilst you're eating the main course.

Check the water level of the Christmas pudding and top up with extra boiling water if necessary.

SERVE THE MAIN COURSE
 

.

At your leisure

Serve the Christmas Pudding and mince pies.

If you want to flame your pudding, simply heat 3-4 tablespoons of brandy in a small saucepan or metal ladle, set fire to it then slowly pour over the pudding.

Don't forget the cream and brandy butter.
 

Serve the Christmas Pudding and mince pies.

If you want to flame your pudding, simply heat 3 tablespoons of brandy in a small saucepan or metal ladle, set fire to it then slowly pour over the pudding.

Don't forget the cream and brandy butter.
 

.

 

 

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Leftover Turkey Recipes

Here are some recipes for leftover turkey.....if you have any !

 

Oriental Salad     CD  MC  15mins plus cooling

Turkey Hash     HT  MC  25mins

Turkey & Spinach Bake HT MC British 40mins

Turkey Biryani    HT  MC  40mins

Turkey, Almond and Cheese Bake    HT  MC   British  45mins

Turkey and Stuffing Bake    HT  MC  50mins

Turkey Cacciatora    HT  MC   Italian  50mins

Turkey and Ham Crumble    HT  MC  55mins

Leftover Turkey Pancakes    HT  MC  60mins

Leftovers Turkey Pie HT MC British 65mins

Cranberry, Almond Turkey Flan    HT  MC  British  75mins

Turkey Soup      HT  SP  140mins

 

 

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