Christmas a la Jack
turkey big enough to feed a dozen people, then the average family oven is not going to have both room for it and the roast spuds and parsnips. The answer is to take out the bird and let it rest in a warm place under a blanket of kitchen foil covered, perhaps, by a couple of tea-towels. A large bird will keep warm for an hour if protected and this is an excellent way of allowing its juices to flow back into what could otherwise be dry turkey meat.
Which brings us to Matt
Mason’s number one Christmas foodie tip: buy a kitchen temperature probe.
“The one essential bit of kit I’d recommend is a meat probe to insert in the thickest part of your turkey. You’ll be looking for 60 to 70 degrees in a free range bronze turkey. The point is you can buy one for less than a tenner nowadays – and you can use it every time you cook a steak (just over 50 degrees for medium rare).
“If you are spending £60 or £70 on a big bird, why risk it? You do not want to serve your guests with raw meat and you don’t want them eating dry overcooked meat – so buy a meat probe and you’ll know exactly when the bird is done. Put the probe into the thickest part of the breast or into the thigh – for turkey your looking at 65 degrees – we take ours to 60 and let it rest.”
However, what Matt does is to bone and roll his turkey legs and cook the crown separately. I do this in the Hesp household where I feed a dozen people every year, in the knowledge that you cannot cook an entire large free-range turkey perfectly. The tougher legs need a longer cooking time than the breast and that is a fact that cannot be ignored if you want the white meat to be succulent and juicy. Matthew, by the way, also agrees with me when it comes to the subject of brining the turkey. He recommends it, saying: “Brining does season the meat right thorough. If you add things like citrus or spices to the brine – those flavours run through the meat. If you put salt and pepper on something it might flavour just the top of that food. The brine enables you to be creative – cinnamon, star-anise… you can use a myriad of flavours – and it does help a bird like a turkey.”
As for the rest of the big meal, Matt has one major bit of advice I’ve heard other top chefs declare in recent years. It refers to that oft-used Christmas phrase, “all the trimmings”.
“A lot of a few – rather than many different things,” said Matt. “People think they’ve got to have red cabbage, swede, parsnips, sprouts etc. Why? You are asking a lot of yourself and you’ll end up not doing them right. And think of all those pans and all that washing up. More of a few – that should be your motto.”
I winced. I know it to be true, but I counted 14 different items on our Christmas lunch plates last year. I might need to go into therapy to rid myself of the habit, but my lot love the pigs-in-blankets, the bread sauce, the chestnuts in the sprouts etc.
“Make life easier for yourself,” said Matt. “For example, if you are catering for larger numbers, do canapes rather than proper starters. And how about a lovely honey vodka to get you into the mood? That’s what we’re doing rather than mulled wine – our hot honey vodka will sort you out.”