The ultimate guide to choosing, preparing and cooking a perfect Christmas turkey

The star attraction of a Christmas dinner is unfortunately often the thing that goes the most wrong. Read our top tips to avoid disaster and present a turkey cooked to perfection, or near enough.

Once a year, one chosen house per family experiences a unique phenomenon whereby a tsunami of people converge on the kitchen, demanding meal times, offering distinctly unhelpful tips and altogether for the most part being absolute nuisances.

‘Are you sure you know what you’re doing?’ Certain matriarchs in my household are prone to saying, promptly forgetting that I’ve done this exact thing in three different kitchens for the past few years and it’s always turned out to be acceptably decent. ‘Are you absolutely sure that you don’t need any help?’ They’ll ask, reaching for a bottle of white.

‘I’ve been asked if I want my potatoes pealed, my carrots chopped, my pigs turned and my Brussels tossed with bacon, but I’ve never been asked if I want my turkey cooked for me’

It’s not all bad. ‘I’ll do the vegetables for you.’ My sister will say when it’s my turn to cook, knowing that this excludes the potatoes, the only thing that we’ve ever had anything close to an argument about over the last 6 years.

‘Are you sure we have enough food?’ Someone will say in jest, before topping up their glass of prosecco and promptly exiting the preparation area.

Later, panic levels will reach an all-time high. ‘Can you carve?’ I’ll shout at my older brother at T-2 minutes while balancing a tray of pigs in blankets in one hand and a clovey Christmas ham in the other.

Rhug Estate

I’ve been asked if I want my potatoes pealed, my carrots chopped, my pigs turned and my Brussels tossed with bacon, but I’ve never been asked if I want my turkey cooked for me. I’ve never even been offered a smidgeon of advice on how to see it cooked to perfection.

Why, I ask you?

It’s simple. Everyone knows it’s the hardest part and ultimately, a bit of a let-down given the amount of time and effort it takes to cook. The truly decent thing to do would be to offer to handle it, take the blame off the main chef and leave them enjoying the successful parts of the meal, safe in the knowledge that they haven’t destroyed Christmas by presenting a lacklustre turkey.

This will never happen. For that reason, I’ve pulled together some helpful tips I’ve garnered from Raymond Blanc and the Rhug estate (in my opinion, the only place to purchase your Christmas turkey) so that you’re a little more prepared when it comes down to the wire. Merry Christmas.

Top tips for choosing and cooking the perfect turkey

  • The quality of your bird is key and will likely determine the success of your roast. As previously mentioned, the Rhug estate organic turkeys are absolutely top tier when it comes to a perfect bird – they’re even used in the Oxfordshire kitchens of RB himself.
  • When choosing your bird (if you haven’t already, good luck), allow for 1lb per person.
  • It may seem obvious but if you’re defrosting a bird (particularly in the case of a rather large turkey that’s been in the freezer since October), please ensure it is thoroughly defrosted before you begin.
  • Similarly, Allow your bird to come to room temperature for an hour before cooking, otherwise the outside and top layers of your bird will be dry long before the breasts are done.
  • Remove the wishbone. It makes the bird infinitely easier to carve. Have your butcher do it for you or, if you buy your chicken from the supermarket / order it prior to Christmas, watch this tutorial here.
  • Raymond’s top tip is to separate the crown of the turkey from the wings and legs and cook each increment separately, as the two sections cook at entirely different rates and you risk drying out the crown. I don’t have the oven space to do this so I rarely do, but if you have a smaller group to cook for, consider just buying a crown on its own.
The main attraction: A perfectly cooked Rhug turkey.

The main attraction: A perfectly cooked Rhug turkey.

  • The most insistent tip given by Raymond through his cookery school’s head chef Michael John is to rest your bird for at least as long as you cook it for. If this scares you, you can knock half an hour off the cook time, take the bird out and cover it with foil until everything else is done. The turkey will continue to cook and just taste better if it’s properly rested.
  • If you want a more traditional method of cooking (giving your guests food poisoning is never a good idea) then allow 15 minutes per 1lb, plus 15 minutes extra. Cook at 185 degrees.
  • Rhug recommend you cover the breast with tin foil to keep it moist. If you want to crisp your skin instead, aim for regular bastings every 20 minutes.
  • At the end of cooking time, clear liquid running from a stabbed thigh will let you know your chicken is cooked.
  • The nightmare isn’t over until the bird is carved, the gravy poured and you’re sitting down, but at least the hard part is done.

Merry Christmas.