Thursday, December 28, 2006

The best roast turkey

The first post after Christmas is proving difficult to write - or, more honestly, I have been lacking the impetus to write it, feeling over-sated with food and wine and conversation, and just wanting to loll around reading, which is anyhow what I do best. I took a mini-break from my project over Christmas mainly because Christmas cooking is steeped in traditions, both familial and (inter)national, that the wannabe foodie messes with at her peril. More than that, Christmas foods seem to be designed to stuff you so full that you don't ever feel hungry, or not really, and you certainly don't crave more food, which makes me wonder how these edible traditions came about and how they have lingered for so long. It would seem, for example, that tradition dictates a starter before roast turkey and Christmas pudding - but how many people ever make it to the pudding stage? Our family habits involve no starter, a roast turkey dinner with all the trimmings, including Yorkshire puddings, because my nana is from Yorkshire and expects it, and then a dessert, be it Christmas pudding or cake, ice cream, or, on occasions in the past, a half-coated chocolate digestive biscuit for me, which in the Picky Years was my all-time favourite dessert. I am not sure anyone really wants dessert after roast turkey with its trimmings; I don't, but I did have one this year - part of the (Nigella) buche de Noel that I made and forgot to take a picture of until it had been eaten down to a Yule stump. Our Christmas was muddled for reasons too complicated to explain here, so we had Christmas dinner (turkey...) on Christmas Eve, and then beef on Christmas Day: the roast rib of beef with beetroot from Jamie's book, that I have made and blogged before. My dad hates any form of roast dinner, eats it under duress and sometimes, often, even, slathers it with vinegar rather than gravy, but he loves beetroot and cauliflower cheese and the roast rib of beef with beets and cauliflower cheese won him over on Christmas Day. Another Jamie result. Before I get onto Christmas dinner, other culinary anecdotes from the holiday weekend: we made tapas for Saturday evening, including yummy patatas a lo pobre and my mother's fantastic tortilla; my sister-in-law made a yummy chocolate and cranberry roulade. The kitchen was almost permanently occupied by one person or another and by my brother's dog, who was lured in by the attractive smells and scored a few illicit treats as a result.

The major meal was, of course, the roast turkey dinner. I seized the chance to try Jamie's roast turkey recipe from Cook with Jamie, because we don't have a particular family tradition for turkey-cooking - last year I followed Jamie too, but a different recipe - and because although Jamie suggests that you can eat this at any time of year, I don't know many people who roast huge turkeys in July. To prepare the turkey, I boiled the giblets to make the gravy; meanwhile, I made Jamie's stuffing by throwing pancetta strips, sage leaves and butter into a hot pan, adding chopped garlic cloves, celery and onion and cooking until golden brown. I then removed the pan from the heat, added breadcrumbs and chopped apricots and, once cool, added minced pork, lemon zest, nutmeg, egg and seasoning.

I sliced more strips of pancetta in half and wrapped each around a rosemary sprig and a garlic sliver. Except I missed the garlic out this time because my nana finds garlic difficult to digest. I rolled each strip up and my brother made slits in the turkey's thighs and drumsticks into which I inserted these little rolls. The point of this is to give the legs flavour and keep them moist.

At this point I felt as though I was getting too close to the turkey for comfort. We had -well, my sister-in-law did, and it stuck - named the turkey and it began to feel uncomfortably human as I massaged stuffing under the skin and spread it carefully, and then plonked an orange that had briefly been microwaved into its cavity, before rubbing it with oil, seasoning it and placing it in the hot oven. It is strange how knowing that you have bought a turkey which had a nice life somehow makes you more aware that it was once alive than buying a cardboardy supermarket one does; that is probably a good thing.

Here is our turkey before:

And after:

I don't really need to say that the turkey was delicious - even cardboard turkey would taste good smothered in gravy. And this gravy was pretty good because it came from the giblets and from the water my mother used for her yummy sausage and sage stuffing. I have, however, been eating this turkey on and off ever since (with salad; with cranberry sauce in a sandwich; with bacon for a variant on a club sandwich, and in curry) and I can therefore confidently say that the turkey was moist and delicious, frankly. It looks a tad burnt in the above pic; that is just where the stuffing was thickest under the skin. This stuffing was amazing - I used what was left over to make little stuffing balls and they were all quickly eaten up. I will use this again when we next have roast chicken, because you can taste the apricot and lemon and it works really well, somehow. And who knows - maybe I'll try a turkey again before next Christmas? Then again, we've been eating leftovers for days and I've kind of had my fill of turkey now, so probably not.

Christmas food may be very much the same thing every year but that in itself is comforting, warming, part of the whole return-t0-childhood that marks this time of year. I am happy to say that leftovers are now finished and we can turn back to the Jamie project with renewed vigour, even if it does get in the way of reading my new books.... about which more, shortly...


FreyaE said...

The turkey looks picture perfect! I brined our turkey and that worked out well although I didn't 'soak' it for long enough so it didn't taste as spiced as I would have liked. Still, it went down well the American family! My husband made the leftovers into toasted cheese and turkey sandwiches..the dogs ate any other inedible bits!
Freya x

charlotte said...

Your turkey looks fantastic. We did a goose this year, since we live in Germany and that is the trad thing to do, but will definitely seek out a turkey next year. Goose is large and cavernous, fatty, but with very little flesh. It tastes good, but there are no leftovers, which, when you are used to turkey sandwiches or salads the next day, is a little disappointing.

I agree, though, with your sense of relief when the leftovers are eaten up and we can get on with eating more standard fare.

Kathryn said...

Charlotte - I've never had goose, can you believe? Duck, but not goose. Maybe I need to try it.

Freya - my favourite leftover use of turkey to date this week was frying some chorizo briefly to release its oil, tossing chorizo and some of its oil with a variety of lettuce leaves, and adding shredded turkey and balsamic vinegar. Yum.

NYE tonight - a whole new culinary ball game, so to speak...