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Traditional Roast Turkey

Turkey was introduced to Europe in the seventeenth century following the colonisation of the New World. It has gained popularity across the Western world and in many places it has replaced traditional dishes at the Christmas meal. Amongst others, in Britain it has taken over from the once popular goose and in Greece it is often served instead of the traditional roast pork.
There are many regional variations and different stuffings and gravies for the Christmas roast turkey, but some are so widely spread that they are part of the tradition of serving turkey. Chestnut stuffing, Cranberry sauce and roast potatoes are among such traditions. Here are some simple recipes for the traditional Christmas turkey with all the trimmings:

Roast turkey
Chestnut, Leek and Sage stuffing
Pork, Sage and Onion stuffing

Cranberry sauce
Bread sauce
Giblet gravy
Roast potatoes

Chestnut, Leek and Sage Stuffing

850g (1½lb) cooked and chopped
Chestnuts or canned chestnuts
3 medium leeks
60g (2oz) butter
5 tablespoons of chopped fresh sage
or 4 teaspoons of dried sage
Grated rind of 1 lemon
125g (4oz) fresh breadcrumbs
Salt and pepper
1 egg (beaten)

The best breadcrumbs can be made from two-day old white loaf. Remove the crusts and then grate or use a food processor. Finely chop the leeks. Then melt the butter in a large pan and then fry the leeks for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the chestnuts, sage lemon rind, breadcrumbs, egg, salt and pepper, and mix until thoroughly combined. Cover and leave in a cool place until ready to use.

Traditional Pork, Sage and Onion Stuffing

1kg (2lb) of quality sausage meat
4 tablespoons of bread crumbs
1 large onion (chopped)
1 tablespoon of dried sage
1 egg (beaten)
Boiling water
Salt and pepper

The best breadcrumbs can be made from two-day old white loaf. Remove the crusts and then grate or use a food processor.Combine the breadcrumbs, onion and sage by mixing a little boiling water. Then add the sausage meat and season with salt and pepper. Cover and leave in a cool place until ready to use.

Traditional Roast Turkey

(serves 8)

 6.5kg (14lb) oven-ready turkey
1 onion
2 carrots
2 bay leaves
1 quantity stuffing
180g (6oz) of softened butter
Salt and pepper
225g (8oz)of very fat streaky bacon

Remember frozen turkeys must be completely thawed before cooking. This can be easily checked by ensuring that there are no ice crystals inside the body cavity. The legs should feel flexible, rather than rigid. It is advisable even with fresh turkey to ensure that it is at room temperature when you are ready to cook. Rinse the turkey before cooking.

To make a giblet stock for the gravy, remove the giblets from the turkey as soon as possible. Put the giblets in a pan with the onion, carrots and bay leaves and 600ml (1 pint) of water. Bring to the boil and then simmer for about one hour. Strain and allow to cool until needed.

Then preheat your oven to 220ºC (425F/Gas 7). Start stuffing the turkey using your favourite stuffing. This is done by filling the stuffing into the neck end of the turkey. Recipes usually advise only stuffing the neck cavity and not to pack the stuffing too tightly, however the body cavity can be filled too, but only if you are sure that the turkey is thoroughly defrosted. Form the left-over stuffing into small balls and keep to one side. Tuck skin under the the bird and truss it with the wings folded under the body and the legs tied together. Spread the softened butter generously over the turkey, especially the breast and thigh areas. Season with salt and pepper. Finally cover the turkey breast with the bacon, making sure the rashers overlap. The bacon helps to keep the bird moist and also adds a great flavour.

Line a large roasting tin with strong, wide foil and then place the turkey in the tin. Cover with foil, tucking under the rim of the pan. Roasting the turkey in this foil tent helps to keep the meat moist and prevents over-browning. Cook at 220ºC (425F/Gas 7) for about 40 minutes and then lower the temperature to 170ºC (325F/Gas 3) and cook for a further 3½ hours. Remove the turkey from the oven and then increase the oven temperature to 200ºC (400F/Gas 6). (You will want to place your roast potatoes in the oven at this point.) Uncover the foil from the turkey and remove the bacon rashers. Now is the time to add in the balls of left over stuffing to cook. Baste the turkey using the turkey juices in the roasting pan. Return to the oven for approximately 40 minutes allowing the turkey to brown. You should baste the turkey often during this last period of cooking to prevent the meat drying out.

To test to see if the turkey is cooked, insert a skewer into the thickest part of the thigh. If the juices run clear it is ready, if not return to the oven for a little longer. Leave the turkey to stand for up to 30 minutes to rest which allows the flesh to firm up, making carving easier. Remember to save the pan juices for the gravy!

Cranberry Sauce

(serves 8)

250g (8oz) of cranberries
90g (3oz) light muscovado sugar
150ml (¼ pint)of water

Place the cranberries, sugar and water into a saucepan and simmer on a medium/low heat until soft, this should take approximately 10 minutes. Leave to cool and then transfer the sauce to a serving dish and then leave to chill, until ready to serve.

Bread Sauce

(serves 8)

1 onion
8 whole cloves (or grated nutmeg)
900ml (1½ pints) milk
3 bay leaves
180g (6oz) fresh breadcrumbs
60g (2oz) butter
salt and pepper
3 tablespoons of double cream

The best breadcrumbs can be made from two-day old white loaf. Remove the crusts and then grate or use a food processor. Start by skinning the onion and stick the cloves in it, eight will provide a medium clove taste, but use more or less depending on your preference (or use grated nutmeg instead). Put the milk and bay leaves in a saucepan add salt and pepper to taste and then bring just to the boil. Then remove from heat and leave for 30 minutes in a warm place to infuse.

When you are ready to start the sauce, remove the bay leaves and onion and stir in the breadcrumbs and butter and return to a low heat, stirring gently until the sauce thickens. Again leave the sauce in a warm place until it is almost time to serve. Reheat gently and stir in the cream.


(serves 8)

pan juices from the cooked turkey
2 tablespoons of plain flour
600ml (1 pint) of giblet stock (made earlier)
150ml (¼ pint) red wine
salt and pepper

Pour the turkey cooking juices from the foil into the roasting tin. Drain off the excess fat, leaving only the turkey juices. Add the flour and cook, stirring for 2 minutes, making sure there are no lumps!. Whisk in the stock gradually and then the red wine. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 3-4 minutes, until slightly thickened and smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

Roast Potatoes

(serves 8)
1.5kg (3lb) of baking potatoes
6 tablespoons of oil or you can use 50g (2oz) of lard
Salt to taste

Peel and halve the potatoes and place in a saucepan to par-boil for about 10 minutes. Drain the potatoes and then carefully place in a roasting tin. Add the oil or lard and place on a direct heat until hot and the potatoes begin to sizzle. Then place in the oven to cook for approximately 1¼ hours until golden brown and crisp.

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