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Take the stress out of cooking this Christmas

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Pushed for time on Christmas Day? Keep it simple and you can still produce a turkey with the wow factor, says Jeananne Craig


What’s your earliest Christmas memory? Peeling the wrapping paper off your very first bike? Sledding down some powdery snow on a tea tray? Or lovingly laying out mince pies and port for Santa?

Mine is of my poor mother’s face as she carved her golden, cooked-to-perfection turkey to discover a plastic bag of its internal organs still stuffed inside. Luckily, our Christmas wasn’t ruined (we got to watch Mary Poppins with a lap dinner of cold veg and spuds), but we didn’t have turkey again for years.

There’s something about roasting ‘the bird’ on December 25 that makes us more stressed than a Bake Off contestant whose Baked Alaska has melted – particularly if, like many of us, you’ve been too busy buying pressies, catching up with friends and recovering from your office party to plan ahead with your cooking.

But preparing your last-minute Christmas dinner needn’t feel like an audition for Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. You can still produce a perfectly delicious turkey, minus the frazzle.

What’s more, with a simple recipe like the ones below, and the odd shortcut when it comes to the trimmings, you can still find time to unwrap presents and quaff Buck’s Fizz with the rest of the family.

First things first, chose the right turkey. If you’re feeding a large party and have the time (and oven space) for a big one, all well and good. It will also supply you with plenty of leftovers for turkey sandwiches.

If, on the other hand, you prefer to do things last minute and your oven is closer in size to an A4 envelope than an Aga, a turkey crown (where the wings and legs have been removed) is probably your best bet. It’s also easier to carve – perfect when you have a host of hungry mouths to field. Some even come in a roasting bag, meaning you can just pop it in the oven, seal in the flavour and save yourself some washing up.

As for the trimmings, time-saving options needn’t involve sawdust-style dry stuffing and that jar of instant gravy that’s been gathering dust since last December. These days, supermarkets offer plenty of pre-prepared, deluxe options if you want to wow and are happy to spend a bit more: fresh stuffing and gravy, posh cranberry sauces, vegetable selections, and potatoes already seasoned, basted, and ready for roasting.

So bung it all in the oven, put your feet up (keeping an eye on the time), and make sure you have some helpers around when it comes to plating up. Just don’t forget to have a rummage in your turkey beforehand…
Looking for a fuss-free, time-saving turkey recipe for December 25? Try one of these:

(Serves 6)
Prep: 30mins
Cook: 2hrs

4 garlic cloves, crushed
2 handfuls of parsley leaves, finely chopped
100g butter, softened
3kg turkey crown
11/2kg new potatoes, halved if large, quartered if huge
Salt and pepper

For the sauce:
2tbsp plain flour
3tbsp chunky cranberry sauce
Splash of port
600ml chicken stock
1tbsp soy sauce (optional)
Salt and pepper

Heat the oven to 200C/180C fan/gas mark 6. Tip the garlic, parsley and butter together in a bowl, season generously with black pepper and a pinch of salt, then beat with a wooden spoon or squish through your fingers until everything is combined. The butter can be prepared up to a day ahead and chilled or made two weeks ahead and frozen. Soften before using.

Place the turkey crown on a board with the thick part of the breast facing away from you. Use your hands to make two pockets between the skin and the meat, then smear the flavoured butter beneath the skin and all over the breast, working down so that the breast is completely covered.

Tip the new potatoes into a large roasting tray. Sit the turkey on top, skin side up, then roast for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven, sit the turkey on a board and give the potatoes a good shake. Then place the turkey back in the tin, spoon over some of the buttery juices and continue to cook for another 40-50 minutes until the turkey is dark golden.

Transfer the turkey to a board to rest, loosely covered in foil, then continue to cook the potatoes for 20 minutes to brown. Use a slotted spoon to scoop the potatoes into a serving dish, reserving the buttery juices in the pan. Put the potatoes to one side and keep warm.

To make the cranberry gravy, place the roasting pan on a lowish heat and stir in the flour. Let everything sizzle and brown, then add the cranberry sauce and a splash of port. Sizzle everything for a few minutes until really sticky, then stir in the stock, bring to the boil and cook until thick or to your liking, seasoning to taste. If the gravy is on the pale side or a bit too sweet, stir in a splash of soy sauce.


FOOD Turkey 09122161042

(Serves 8 with leftovers)
Prep: 20 mins
Cook: 4hrs 45mins

7kg fresh turkey
2 onions, halved
1 lemon, quartered
75g soft butter
3tbsp finely chopped fresh sage
2tbsp plain flour
200ml Marsala wine or Madeira
400-500ml hot chicken stock
1tbsp cranberry jelly
Salt and pepper

Heat oven to 170C/150C fan/gas mark 3-4, and place the turkey in a large roasting tin. Tuck three of the onion halves and the lemon quarters into the cavity and season. Cover with foil, make sure there’s plenty of space between the turkey and foil for the air to circulate and seal the edges tightly, so that no steam escapes. Roast for four hours.

Meanwhile, finely chop the remaining onion half, and mix with the butter and sage. Take the turkey out of the oven and raise the temp to 200C/180C fan/ gas mark 6. Brush the sage and onion butter all over the turkey and return to the oven, uncovered, for 45 minutes until crisp and dark golden. If you’re making the roasties, then start them in the oven when the turkey goes back in, uncovered.

Transfer the turkey to a warm serving plate, cover loosely with foil and leave to rest for 30 minutes. Tip the juices out of the pan into a bowl, leave for a moment to settle, then scoop the buttery oil from the surface into a separate bowl. Spoon two tablespoons of this oil back into the tin and return to the heat.

Stir the flour into the tin using a wooden spoon, scraping the residue off the bottom of the tin as you go. Cook for two minutes, then stir in the Marsala or Madeira and bring to the boil. Make the reserved turkey juices up to 500ml using hot chicken stock and pour into the tin. Bring to the boil and simmer for a few minutes, then add cranberry jelly. Keep warm until ready to serve.

FOOD Turkey 09122882068

(Serves 4 to 6)
Prep: 20 mins
Cook:1hr 10 mins plus 20 minutes brining and chilling time

1 1/2kg turkey crown
50g butter, softened
1 shallot, softened
200g wild mushrooms, finely chopped
50ml Madeira
100g chestnuts, finely chopped
Bunch thyme sprigs
3tbsp truffle oil

For the brine:
3L cold water
140g salt
5tbsp clear honey or brown sugar
Bunch thyme sprigs

For the gravy:
1 shallot, finely chopped
1tbsp flour
100ml Madeira
400ml chicken stock

To make the brine, heat 200ml of the water, salt, honey or sugar and a couple of thyme sprigs in a small pan. When the salt has dissolved, stir together with the remaining water. Place the turkey in a bowl and pour over the brine. Cover and chill for four to eight hours.

For the stuffing, heat a knob of the butter in a frying pan. When melted, add the shallot and fry for a couple of minutes until softened. Add the mushrooms and fry for five minutes until they start to turn golden. Pour over the Madeira, add the chestnuts and the leaves from one thyme sprig. Cook for 10 minutes more until all the liquid has evaporated. Drizzle with the truffle oil and leave to cool, then mix together with the remaining butter.

Remove the turkey from the brine and discard the liquid. Use kitchen paper to gently pat the meat until it’s dry all over, then use your fingers or a spoon to gently ease under the skin of the bird, making a pocket between its flesh and skin. Smear the truffle butter all over the flesh, following the contours of the breast. Brush a little more butter over the skin, then place in a roasting tin. You can chill it at this stage up to one day ahead.

Heat oven to 200C/180C fan/gas mark 6. Roast for one hour (about 40 minutes per kg). Halfway through cooking, baste with the juices and loosely cover with foil if the skin is browning. Check that the turkey is done by piercing the thickest part with a skewer – the juices should run clear. Remove from the tin and leave to rest, covered loosely with foil, for 10 minutes.

While the turkey is resting, make the gravy. Pour away any excess fat from the roasting tin, then place the tin over a medium heat on the hob. Tip in the shallot, then cook for a couple of minutes, stirring often. When the shallot has softened, sprinkle over the flour and mix through. Slowly pour in the Madeira, scraping up any caramelised cooking juices. If the gravy starts to turn lumpy, quickly whisk out any lumps. Bring to the boil and simmer until reduced by half, then pour in the chicken stock. Simmer for five to 10 minutes until lightly thickened. Strain before serving, if you like.

Recipes supplied by BBC Good Food.