My Christmas turkey is the brined one. For not only does it tenderise and add subtle spiciness, but it makes carving the turkey so much easier. How hard is it to fill a pan or large plastic bin or bucket with water and spices and lower a turkey into it? At this time of year, it’s fine just to leave it in a cold place. I sit mine by an open window in the kitchen. It means everyone freezes, but who am I going to put first – my turkey or my family? Out in the garden if you’re lucky enough to have one would also be fine, though the pan must be securely covered: I cover it twice with foil then put my son’s skateboard on top to prevent foxy foraging. Though you might find it hard to believe, a raw turkey covered in brine – with its oranges, cinnamon sticks and scattering of spices – looks so beautiful that I can never help lifting the lid for quick, blissfully reassuring peeks.
SERVES 10-16 AS PART OF THE CHRISTMAS FEAST, OR 8-10 IF NOT
Approx 6 litres water
1 large orange or 2 smaller, quartered
250g packet Maldon salt or 125g table salt
3 tbsp black peppercorns
1 bouquet garni
1 cinnamon stick
1 tbsp caraway seeds
2 tbsp allspice berries
4 star anise
2 tbsp white mustard seeds
200g caster sugar
2 onions (unpeeled), quartered
6cm piece ginger (unpeeled), cut into 6 slices
4 tbsp maple syrup
4 tbsp runny honey
Stalks from medium bunch of parsley (optional, if you have some parsley hanging around) 5.5kg turkey
FOR THE BASTING GLAZE
75g goose fat or butter
3 tbsp maple syrup
- Put the water into your largest cooking pot, a clean bucket or plastic bin. Squeeze the juice from the orange quarters into the water before you chuck the husks in, then add all the other ingredients, stirring to combine the salt, sugar, syrup and honey.
- Remove any string or trussing from the turkey, shake it free, remove the giblets, if not already done, and put them in the fridge (or straightaway set about making the stock for the gravy), then add the bird to the liquid, topping up with more water if it is not completely submerged. Keep covered in a cold place, even outside overnight or for up to a day or two before you cook it, remembering to take it out of its liquid (and wipe it dry with kitchen paper) 1-2 hours before it has to go into the oven. Preheat said oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6.
- Melt the goose fat (or butter) and maple syrup together slowly over a low heat. Paint the turkey with the glaze before roasting in the oven, and baste periodically throughout the cooking time. Roast for 2 1⁄2 hours.
- When you think it’s ready, pierce the turkey with the point of a sharp knife where the body meets the leg, and if the juices run clear, it’s cooked; if still pink, cook it for longer until they run clear, or use a meat thermometer (see below). Then take the turkey out of the oven and let it sit, tented with foil, for 20-40 minutes or even longer if you like, as I do.
How long to cook a turkey for
The cooking times here always seem shockingly short to other people but we’ve all been overcooking turkeys for years then complaining about how dull and sawdusty they are. If your turkey is at room temperature, and is untrussed and without stuffing, and your oven thermostat is working correctly, these cooking times hold. If you want to be really scientific, insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part: when it reads 74C it’s cooked. Free-range turkeys cook faster than a very lean, more mass-produced bird, since the free-range turkeys have more marbling and this conducts the heat faster.
Allspice gravy recipe
The best gravies are made by deglazing a joint’s cooking juices in the roasting tin but, with a brined bird, the liquid it gives off is too salty; you can’t use more than 2-3 tablespoonfuls. You could simply drain off the excess but, given the stress of Christmas Day, making the gravy in a saucepan is a better route as you can make it ahead – the stovetop will be busy enough.
Giblets from turkey (not including liver)
1 litre water
1 tbsp allspice berries
1⁄2 tsp black peppercorns
3 bay leaves
4cm stick cinnamon
1 stick celery, halved
2 carrots, peeled and halved
1 onion (unpeeled), halved
1 tbsp Maldon salt or 1⁄2 tbsp table salt
Juice of 1 clementine/satsuma (approx 60ml), plus pulp from fruit
2 tbsp plain flour
2 tbsp honey
- Put all the ingredients, except the flour and honey, into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Cover with a lid and simmer gently for 2 hours.
- Strain the gravy stock through a sieve (or just pour, holding back the bits) into a large measuring jug: this should give you approx 1 litre. All this can be done well ahead (see below).
- On the day itself, whisk the flour in a saucepan with 2 tbsp of the salty juices from the turkey roasting tin, then put the saucepan on the heat and slowly whisk in the rest of the stock and the honey.
- Let the gravy bubble away, stirring every now and again with a wooden spoon, until it thickens a little and the floury taste disappears.
- If you are preparing the gravy stock ahead, make sure when you add the flour and juices and reheat that it gets piping hot; preferably fill the gravy jug with hot water for 10 minutes before draining, drying and filling it with hot, aromatic allspice gravy.
MAKE AHEAD Simmer the gravy stock for 2 hours and stir in the honey. Cool, cover and keep in the fridge for up to 2 days. Finish the gravy with flour and turkey juices as directed.
Food styling: Emily Kidd. Prop styling: Luis Peral. Photo assistant & retouching: Sophie Bronze. Food styling assistant: Susanna Unsworth. Recipes taken from Nigella Express, At My Table, Feast, Simply Nigella, Nigella Christmas, Cook Eat Repeat. For more, visit nigella.com.