How big? How long should you cook it for? How to stop it drying out? And what on earth are giblets?
Cooking a turkey on Christmas Day can be a big deal to some, especially if you add the pressure of preparing a one-off meal for hungry family members into the equation.
Thankfully help is at hand as over the past few weeks, Hawarden Estate Farm Shop’s butcher Simon Roberts has been hosting a number of question and answer sessions on all things Christmas dinner.
After a bit of persuading, Simon agreed to share his advice with Leader readers eager to cook up their own festive feast this yuletide.
“It’s a very busy time for a butcher,” laughs Simon, taking a break from behind the counter.
“The Christmas dinner is the most important family meal of the year and people do want to get it right, but the key to getting it right is to remember that it’s nothing to be scared of.
“At the end of the day it is a roast on a grand scale and although roasts aren’t easy if you follow the butcher’s guidelines, you can’t go too wrong.”
For Simon, the first step to making a cracking Christmas dinner comes with the ingredients and in terms of the turkey that means free-range.
“With husbandry and the welfare of the turkey paramount these days it is a far better product to cook,” says Simon.
“Fifteen to 20 years ago there were a lot of mass produced and watery turkeys on the market, but since then the industry has got its act together and improved.
“The actual turkey you now start with is a better product that lends itself to easy cooking thanks to the fact there are more free-range bronze turkeys and more mature birds.
“It’s no longer that watery, insipid meat that you have to cook for hours and then goes really dry.”
This year Simon and his team chose Usk Vale Farm in the rolling hills of Monmouthshire for their turkeys and the butcher is confident he’s made the right choice.
“We went down there with the butchery team for a visit last year,” he recalls.
“It was a glorious autumn day and the mist was just clearing when we arrived and it’s all overlooking a rather splendid reservoir.
“The turkeys there are allowed to roam the countryside and they can flap around in the dust and pick berries off the bushes.
“All that stuff is important and it is reflected in the quality of the meat.
“Even their barnyard birds were well kept and I’d never seen anything like it – they had open sided barns with natural light and natural ventilation and plenty of toys for them to play with.”
Following the two question and answer sessions held at the Farm Shop, Simon confirms size is what is most important to many people.
“The most common questions have been about portion size,” he says.
“How much they need and if they’re having it on the bone how big a bird they need and if it will leave them with enough leftovers for turkey sandwiches on Boxing Day and curry in February!”
When it comes to cooking times, Simon advises 2.25 hours for a turkey of 4kg with each added kilogram adding 25 minutes to the time spent in the oven.
“Cooking time is very important. From a food safety point of view a turkey needs to be cooked properly,” says Simon.
“Once the recommended cooking time is reached, insert a skewer into the thickest part of the thigh – if the juices are pink, return it to the oven and repeat the procedure at 10 minute intervals.”
When I ask Simon for any secret turkey tips, he grins before offering some sound advice.
“The most important thing is don’t bring your turkey straight out of the fridge,” he says.
“Once you put a cold turkey into the oven it will hold the cold inside its cavity and all the benefit of pre-heating the oven is lost.
“The first hour of your cooking time is basically taken up with making up for that heat loss.
“Bring it out for the fridge and leave it at room temperature for about two hours. As long as it’s a gradual temperature rise there should be no issues with food safety.”
As for some Royle Family-esque kitchen nightmares, Simon remembers one Christmas when his mum’s absence led to a typical turkey trauma.
“My mum was in hospital one year in the run-in to Christmas for a serious operation and we left my father at home,” he laughs. “He managed to put the turkey in the oven with the blue polythene bag of giblets still in the cavity alongside a knife with a plastic handle.
“When we got home the kitchen was full of rather toxic blue smoke and it was egg and chips for us that year.”
When it comes to trimmings, Simon has no doubt about a few of the Christmas dinner essentials.
“You’ve got to have your pigs in blankets,” he says. “Good quality stuffing is a must and personally I do love my bread sauce as long as it has plenty of cloves and onion in there.
“Cranberry sauce is great and then you’ve got your traditional veg which for me should include parsnips and sprouts.
“All our birds come with their own giblets so I’d make my own gravy out of that and use it as a natural stock full of rich flavour.”
For the days following Christmas, Simon is full of ideas beyond the traditional cold sandwiches.
“I quite often cook up some pasta dishes which turkey goes well with,” he suggests.
“If you’ve got the end of a ham left you can make a nice carbonara – there is plenty you can do with it.
“Also don’t forget to use the carcass to make a great stock for soup for months to come.”
This year will see Simon hanging up his apron and putting his feet up on Christmas Day as he heads for Nantwich to spend time with his daughter.
“She’s taking on the cooking this year and she’s really keen,” he adds.
“I’ll just monitor from the background and aim to be comatose around mid-afternoon. After all the hard work during the year it’s nice to spend time with the family.”