Multi award-winning butcher Geoff Riley gives us his turkey tips for Christmas dinner
The pressure to create the perfect Christmas dinner can break the coolest of cooks. We asked a local expert to share his secrets. Photography: Ash Goldie
It’s a sobering thought that the stress caused by cooking Christmas dinner is so great that more than a quarter of people will have some kind of culinary calamity. Well, you can prove anything with statistics but, just to be on the safe side, Jess Marsi joined multi award-winning butcher Geoff Riley in his family kitchen to talk turkey.
Q: How do I get the right turkey? A: Know how many people you will be cooking for so you don’t buy a bird that is too large or expensive. Half a kilogram per serving is the perfect measurement. If in doubt, I’d say ask your local butcher for advice and remember to get your orders in at the beginning of December to avoid rush buying. People often think they need to buy a whole turkey even if there are just two but that isn’t the case. To avoid a turkey overload buy a boneless breast which the butcher can make to a size that suits you.
Q: Which breed do you recommend? A: It has to be a free-range bronze turkey. The combination of traditional farming methods, fresh air, exercise and a more natural diet make it an obvious choice over any frozen bird. I hear people complaining that their turkey is tasteless and dry but natural methods used to rear a bronze help to achieve that true turkey taste and firm textured, moist meat.
Q: What do I need to do to ensure my it is kept fresh in the days before Christmas? A: Store it as low down in the fridge as possible. If space is tight, find anywhere cold and dry, like the shed or garage. Ensure there is a space for air to circulate around it and keep it somewhere clean – covered on a tray or in a box. Keeping it at room temperature for more than a few hours in December is a sure fire way to have a turkey disaster.
Q: What about on Christmas day? A: Ideally, your turkey should be kept at room temperature for an hour before cooking. Cleanliness is extremely important so wash your hands before and after handling it and always prepare on clean boards.
Q: Should I stuff the turkey or make stuffing to serve on the side? A: If you do want to use stuffing, only stuff the neck cavity. A peeled, halved onion is all that is required in the turkey cavity to compliment the flavour of the meat.
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Q: How do you avoid a dry turkey? A: Along with the right type of bird, the temperature and timing is key. Pre-heat your oven to 210c/gas mark 7 and cook the turkey at this for the first 30 minutes. Then turn down the oven to 170c/gas mark 4 for the remaining cooking time. Cooking time is approx 35 minutes per kg for turkeys up to 6.5 kg and 30 minutes per kg for turkeys over 6.5kg. My advice is to cook the turkey upside down until the last 30 minutes. Stab the breast with a meat fork and if the juices run clear, it’s ready.
Q:Any tips to avoid disasters? A: Extreme care should be taken when removing the turkey from the oven. Use dry oven gloves. When carving, first remove the legs, by cutting behind the drumstick to the base of the thigh. Next the breast should be removed by cutting down the side of the breastbone and following the carcass down the wing. The meat should then be sliced in quarter inch slices from the thick end to the thin end.
Q: What is your top turkey taste tip? A: Less is more, leave it simple and only add a little bit of salt if you want to add extra flavour. The turkey is sure to taste delicious on its own if my guidelines are followed.
Riley good for meat
Riley’s is a multi-award winning butcher’s shop and deli based on Burnley Road, Crawshawbooth, run by Geoff and Paula Riley. It was named one of the top three butchers in the north of England in the Butcher’s shop of the Year awards in 2010, 2011 and 2012, won the Retailer of the Year in the Rossendale Business Awards 2010, and is up for a Lancashire Telegraph award 2012. Riley’s won 13 Smithfield Awards in 2010 and another six in 2012. They have a history stretching back more than 150 years and source all of their products locally. Photographer Ash Goldie is from Pro Pix Studio, Crawshawbooth.