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MasterChef star's tips to cook the perfect Christmas turkey

By Andrew Dixon

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By Sarah Rankin

Follow these tips and you should end up with a moist, juicy bird full of flavour, says Sarah Rankin.
Follow these tips and you should end up with a moist, juicy bird full of flavour, says Sarah Rankin.

Turkey is by no means essential at Christmas and in fact if you are a festive season purist, you’ll know it’s not even that traditional. Dicken’s mention of it in A Christmas Carol cemented it as the prized meat for December 25, but previously goose and chicken had been much more popular.

They are not indigenous to the UK but have been found here for several hundred years. Henry VIII – probably our most famous glutton – dined on it regularly.

I once came across a wild one while running in California and was utterly terrified at the size and scale of the beast. It was enormous, tremendously ugly and very bad tempered. That slightly put me off, and I’ll admit, turkey isn’t always on our table during the festive season.

However, if you do intend to grace your table with a turkey, you’ll need to bear in mind a few key tips to ensure you get the best out of your bird.

Turkey is dry. There is no getting away from that. So, you’ll need to try and lock in as much moisture as you can prior to cooking to ensure it stays juicy. Brining is the prefect way to do this.

I use a cool box in my garage which I fill with a seven per cent salt brine. So, for every litre of cold water, add 70g of salt. Table salt is fine. Add in whatever aromats you like. I use mustard seeds, whole black peppercorns, thyme, sage and rosemary.

Leave the bird – untrussed so that the brine can work its magic – in there overnight. Place a couple of ice packs in the bottom if the temperature is unseasonably warm and make sure the chiller has an air-tight lid. Take it out and pat dry an hour or two before it needs to go in the oven. It must be room temperature before cooking.

Mix chopped herbs like parsley, chives and rosemary with some softened butter and spread under the skin of the breast. Your hands are the only tool for this job. Be gentle so you keep the skin intact. Sprinkle some sea salt on the skin to maximise crispiness. Wash your hands thoroughly afterwards.

BBC MasterChef finalist Sarah Rankin.
BBC MasterChef finalist Sarah Rankin.

Cook the bird on a trivet of thickly sliced lemons, oranges and onions. This allows air to circulate underneath and also creates a bit of steam from the liquid content of the fruit.

Place a whole, pierced lemon and orange in the cavity before cooking, again this will create a bit of steam to help keep the flesh moist. Baste a few times during cooking with the pan juices, but be quick so that your oven temperature doesn’t drop.

Ignore the timings on the packaging. Preheat the oven to 180°c fan, buy a quality meat thermometer and when the internal temperature reads 74°c between the leg and breast, it’s done. Remove from the oven and loosely cover in a tepee of foil. Leave to rest for 30 minutes. This is essential to allow the meat fibres to relax and will result in a juicy bird.

Follow these tips and you should end up with a moist, juicy bird full of flavour. Good luck and Happy Christmas!

Sarah Rankin is a MasterChef finalist, food writer, cookbook author, private dining chef, food event host and demonstrator and lover of all things local. Check out her content @sarahrankincooks

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