To ensure turkey perfection this Christmas, we took a masterclass with Paul Kelly and Jamie Oliver. Here’s all you need to know about buying, cooking and roasting the big bird.

With the added expense and crammed schedule that comes with the festive season, it can be tempting to cut corners when it comes to food shopping. But one thing we shouldn’t scrimp on is the meat centrepiece, says Paul Kelly, managing director of KellyBronze and turkey carving world record holder (it takes him an impressive 3 minutes 20 seconds).

Image of Jamie Oliver serving Mel a turkey sandwich
Jamie Oliver was on hand to serve our editor Mel a turkey sandwich

Tips on buying

Most supermarket turkeys have a lifespan of around 12 weeks, whereas organic farmed turkeys, such as KellyBronze, are aged until six months. There’s nothing wrong with young turkeys, they’re amazing value in terms of pounds spent for grams of protein. But you won’t get the same juices from a young turkey – all the wonderful stock and gravy – because it hasn’t got the bone marrow.

Renowned chef and HFG’s 2018 Health Hero, Jamie Oliver, co-hosted the event and even shared  his favourite leftovers recipe. Here are some interesting tips we took away:

Turkeys taste better with age

Bred for economics: faster and faster, younger and younger, the average supermarket turkey now only reaches 12 weeks of age. This means that they’re killed when they’re still in the stage of skeletal development and haven’t developed all of their muscle, or their fat.

Paul with turkey
Paul looks proud of his roasting skills…

Dark meat is a sign of quality

The darker colour in the legs comes from the production of myoglobin (a protein found in the muscle tissue of animals). Free range turkeys are able to move more, meaning that the leg meat gains a darker colour and a richer flavour.

Whole turkeys are more cost effective

70% turkeys bought at the supermarket now at Christmas are crowns, rather than whole birds. Presumably, this is because crowns can suit smaller groups or might be an accompaniment to other chosen mains. But this means that 100,000s of legs and drums get thrown away. In terms of costs, you’ll pay around £4/kilo for a whole bird and £7/kilo for a crown, so whole birds are more cost effective. You can also make stock and gravy from the bone marrow in the back bone and the legs, which you won’t get from a crown.

You don’t need to get up in the night to start cooking

Hundreds of years ago, turkeys were walked to London from farms in Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex, to sell for Christmas. It could take the farmers up to three months to get them there, walking them very slowly, so that they didn’t lose weight. If they didn’t sell them, they had to walk them home again for next year. This means the meat on the birds was tougher, from lots of exercise and had to be cooked for longer. Most turkeys sold are relatively young now, and none of them have had to walk to London and back, so they don’t have as much muscle and don’t need as much cooking time – starting on Christmas morning will do just fine!

Jamie Oliver and Paul Kelly
Jamie and Paul say you should always go for a whole bird…

Keep things simple

On the morning of 25th, get up and take the turkey out of the fridge. Set the oven to 160°C if your is fan-assisted, or 180°C if not. When the bird is close to room temperature, put it breast-down in a roasting tin. Pour 500ml water in, season, and add any vegetables you fancy to the tray. About half-way through cooking, turn the turkey over and add some more water if it’s mostly evaporated. 20 minutes before the recommended cooking time, check the turkey with an internal thermometer for a temperature of 74°C. Once it’s reached this temperature, take it out of the oven. Your turkey will stay hot for a couple of hours, so don’t be tempted to cover it with foil, or it will continue to cook. Rest for at least an hour before serving.

Jamie filming Paul carving
Jamie looks like he’s learning a thing or two…

Don’t cook your turkey until the skin is crispy

If the skin is really crispy when you take the bird out of the oven, chances are you’ve cremated it! Instead, the skin should be just a little bit soft.

Carve properly to get more out of your bird

By breaking the turkey down into pieces, before carving, you can increase your number of servings by 30%. First, take a sharp knife and cut off one of the wing tips. Then, on the same side, cut down into the leg and pull it away from the carcass. Put these aside into a dish. Now that the breast is exposed, take your time to remove it. Follow the line of the bone down to the keel and take off the whole lobe. Repeat on the other side.

See ‘the Kelly way’ of carving demonstrated below (although we’d recommend skipping on the crackling if you’re following a healthy diet this Christmas!)

What you don’t need, don’t carve

Once you’ve removed the lobes from the carcass, you can begin to carve them. But don’t cut more slices than you need to if you want to avoid your leftovers drying out.

What’s Jamie Oliver’s favourite leftover turkey recipe?

‘It’s like asking me which is my favourite child,’ he says. ‘But I do love a pastry-topped turkey pie with leeks and herbs, or I might like it zingy with ginger, chilli, lime and coriander. Depends on what I fancy.’

For tips on tricks with what to do with those Christmas Day remnants (besides making endless rounds of turkey sandwiches) check out our five ways with leftover turkey.

And for more information on KellyBronze and Paul Kelly, visit www.kellybronze.co.uk

Photography: Justin Goff