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Florence Knight’s perfect Christmas lunch: the best roast turkey recipe

DEBBY LEWIS-HARRISON. FOOD STYLING: EMILY JONZEN. PROP STYLING: TONIA SHUTTLEWORTH
The Sunday Times, 

Simple food is made easier by careful choice of ingredients and preparation, so that as little as possible needs to be done at the last minute: exactly as Christmas should be. It’s a good opportunity to stock up on carefully sourced vinegar, chutney and cheese — indulgences that might be overlooked at another time of year.

Cotechino, a rich pork sausage found in Italian delis, is the perfect antidote to a potentially dry turkey. Brining the bird, either dry or wet, needs no specialist equipment and keeps meat tender and flavourful (but isn’t essential if you’re short of time).

For roast potatoes, try getting hold of golden wonder or yukon gold. A few russet apples or a handful of fresh rosemary will make a welcome addition before they go into the oven. A glug of port gives depth to spiced red cabbage, though I always seem to manage to find the only whole clove left in the bowl — a pungent version of the traditional sixpence.

Get ahead: December 24

Dry-brine your turkey and make the turkey-stock base from the giblets.

2 Prepare and cook the red cabbage.

3 Prepare and cook the lentil stuffing (without the apples and fresh herbs).

4 Peel and parboil the potatoes and place evenly over a cake rack in the fridge overnight.

5 Cook and prepare the cotechino.

Let’s go! December 25

10.30am Clean and halve any larger sprouts. Clean the carrots, leaving 1cm green tops.

11.20am Heat the oven to 150C (170C non-fan). Take the turkey, cabbage, potatoes and stuffing out of the fridge.

11.50am Stuff and baste the turkey, then place in the oven.

1.45pm Caramelise the apples and chop the dill and parsley.

2pm Turn the oven up to 200C (220C non-fan). Heat the oil on trays in the oven.

2.10pm Place the potatoes in the oil and roast for 15 minutes. Turn and cook for a further 15 minutes.

2.30pm Remove the turkey and wrap it loosely with foil.

2.35pm Blanch the carrots for 5 minutes and cut larger ones in half. Reduce the oven to 190C (210C non-fan) and cook for 15 minutes.

2.40pm Remove the potatoes and place them in a warm oven.

2.45pm Put the sprouts in the oven at 220C (240C non-fan) for 10-15 minutes. Make the tray gravy and finish with the premade stock.

2.50pm Add the butter, treacle and walnuts to the carrots and cook for further 5 minutes. Heat the red cabbage and lentil stuffing on the hob. Stir the apples and fresh herbs through the stuffing. Once hot, cover and set aside.

3pm Add the butter, lemon zest and juice to the sprouts. Bring everything to the table and carve the turkey.

The best roast turkey

Norfolk bronze or black are some of the best-flavoured birds and are worth seeking out as a festive centrepiece. It’s very important the turkey is at room temperature before you start cooking it; a meat probe will give you peace of mind. As a general guide, allow 40 minutes’ cooking time per kg. If you can’t find cotechino, use any fresh Italian seasoned sausage with a high fat content.

Serves 6 people

INGREDIENTS

  • 20g baking powder
  • 60g fine sea salt
  • 1 x 4kg turkey, at room temperature
  • 1kg cotechino (in bags)
  • 3 white onions, peeled and halved
  • 1 bulb of garlic, halved horizontally

01 Mix the baking powder and salt and rub the mixture all over the turkey skin. Leave in the fridge, uncovered, overnight or for up to 24 hours.

02 Heat the oven to 150C (170C non-fan). Lower the cotechino in its bags into a large pan and cover with cold water. Set over a medium heat and bring to the boil, simmering for 30 minutes. Remove the cotechino and set aside to cool in a bowl.

03 Open the bags and slit down the length of each sausage, removing and discarding the skins. Mash the sausage meat and, if preparing in advance, leave in the fridge overnight.

04 Remove the turkey from the fridge and, starting at the neck, loosen the skin with your hand. Spread the fat (it will have separated) of the cotechino beneath and over the skin, covering it well. Stuff the cotechino meat into the neck cavity, then the body cavity, leaving room for some air to circulate.

05 Place the onions and garlic into a roasting tin and sit a rack over them. Place the turkey on the rack, then into the oven for 2 hours.

06 Turn the oven up to 200C (220C non-fan) and roast for a further 30-40 minutes. The meat probe should read 75C. The juices should run clear when the thickest part of the thigh is pierced.

07 Take the turkey out of the oven, cover with foil and leave to rest for 30 minutes before carving.

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