Monday, 2 January 2012

Christmas Turkey

Well, I have been very slack over the past few weeks with my blogging. I have been cooking up a storm, but no blogging! I apologise to all my loyal supporters. To make it up to you, I promise the coming days will provide you with a blogging frenzy.

Christmas was awesome, brilliantly awesome. I love Christmas. What better time of the year to cook and cook and cook. I have lots of Christmas stories to regale you with, so bear with me. They will all come in handy next year (or, in my case, when we have our mid-winter Christmas dinner).

I’ll start with my turkey. Why? Because I cooked two. Why? Because I had two :-)

We have a flock of wild turkeys on our family farm and my wonderful Dad shot two and escorted them to Wellington for me (well, technically he didn’t come down only to bring the turkeys - he and my Mum came to visit my sister and I, but still). How lucky am I? Two beautiful, free-range wild turkeys hand-delivered for Christmas.

The only problem I encountered? Where on earth do you find room to store two massive turkeys in the freezer while you wait for Christmas to arrive? My solution? Pull everything out of my tiny freezer, including the shelf, and either eat or give away as much as possible and then jam one turkey in, packing the remaining frozen goods around it, slam the door and pledge not to open it until it’s time to defrost. One down, one to go. I surveyed our work freezer, nope right full. My sister’s freezer? Nope. (Dad also kindly bought with him some mince, steak and sausages from a recently butchered home-kill beast, so they had to find a temporary home in my sister’s freezer, no room in mine!) Hmmm, need a plan. Luckily my sister’s flatmate’s aunty (how many degrees of separation is that, haha) has a giant chest freezer and she was happy to provide a temporary home to my turkey. Yay!

Wild turkeys are different to farmed turkeys in a number of ways. Firstly they have a lovely gamey taste. Second, they have very little fat on them and therefore require careful cooking. My turkeys also came with another special addition, (animal lovers close your ears) a few shotgun pellets... Only one family member found one in her dinner, luckily before she bit down on it!

So, what did I do with these turkeys?

The first one I cooked for Christmas Day. I had been reading up about brining. Naturally, I had also been watching Nigella Lawson Christmas (as an aside, I am now the proud owner of Nigella's Christmas cookbook - what a great present!) From my reading and from Nigella’s advice, I was convinced that my turkey would benefit from a brining before cooking. According to my research, a brine should make the turkey much more tender and juicy.

I followed Nigella’s brining instructions, kind of. I mixed water, salt, maple syrup, honey, pepper corns, black mustard seeds, bay leaves, crushed ginger and garlic, a couple of oranges, cloves, and a couple of cinnamon sticks. I soaked the defrosted turkey (I defrosted it overnight in the fridge and for half a day in the kitchen) in the brine for 24 hours. I used a giant plastic bin, the ones you get from the Warehouse. Usually this bin houses my winter bedding; it found a temporary home in the spare room. I have read that you can also use a giant bucket or basin. I’m pretty sure my Mum has used the laundry tub in the past. Because it’s summer, I also had to make sure my turkey remained chilled to ensure I didn’t give everyone food poisoning. I did this by adding a bag of ice every 12 hours to the brine. This seemed to work.

I made a stuffing of free-range pork sausage meat, breadcrumbs, thyme and orange juice. I stuffed this between the skin and meat of my turkey breast to try and ensure the breast meat remained lovely and moist. I also tossed a little loosely in the cavity of the turkey for extra flavour.

I put half an orange in the turkey cavity to add flavour. Before cooking I smothered the turkey in butter to add more fat. This was kind of fun in a gross kind of way.

I cooked the Christmas turkey in an oven bag. Interesting logistics getting the turkey into the bag...

I cooked the turkey for six hours at 150 degrees. I think this was about half an hour too long. But, the result was still delicious!

As I was carving the turkey and plating it for serving, my partner was pouring over the turkey cooking juices that accumulated in the oven bag. The cooked turkey was just slurping up those juices and the result was the most delicious moist turkey meat.

The second turkey I cooked on December 31 as a New Year's Eve treat. This time I brined it as before, but cooked it without the oven bag. I covered the turkey in a bottle of apple cider, about a cup of orange juice and about 200g of melted butter. I used this liquid to baste the turkey every half an hour throughout the five hours of cooking at 150 degrees. The result was equally delicious and tender. This was a much more labour-intensive method compared with Christmas when we just put the turkey in the oven and forgot about it, but considering it was bucketing down outside this wasn't a problem!

I'll blog soon about the sides I served with my turkey.

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