Originally from America, where turkey remains synonymous with Thanksgiving, early European settlers incorrectly identified this big bird as guinea fowl. We now know differently, of course and turkey is one of the most nutritious meats to grace our dinner plates.
While turkey meat is arguably more flavourful and healthful than chicken it hasn’t captured the British public’s tastebuds in the same way as it has in America, where it’s very popular. But substitute turkey for chicken in any chook recipe and you won’t be disappointed: Kiev, curry, sweet and sour, escalopes, stir-fries, and burgers.
When buying turkey, choose a free-range, organic bird if you can: the better the living conditions of the bird, the more flavourful the meat will be.
Like all poultry, store turkey in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer (for up to 6 months) and make sure to fully defrost before cooking.
It’s a travesty to save turkey for Christmas Day – they’re ideal roasting birds if you’re cooking for a crowd, regardless of the time of year. All chefs are in agreement that, after cooking turkey, you must rest the bird for at least 20 minutes before serving, as well as basting well throughout cooking. Check that the meat is cooked using a meat thermometer.
Slow cooking is perfect for cuts such as turkey leg and thigh, which can be slow cooked to absorb flavour and tenderise to such an extent that it just falls off the bone. Braising or pot-roasting is a popular method of cooking turkey in the US. Simply brown the meat, pour over stock, then cover and bake in an oven.
The best way to roast turkey depends on personal taste – some options are: soaking the bird in brine first (it helps the meat to retain moisture and the salt adds flavour); pre-poaching; pre-browning; steaming; or slow roasting.
One of the quickest ways to eat turkey is to pan-fry the breast, or dice or mince the meat and add to a stir-fry. Stuffing or breading the breast will add flavour and moisture.
To add more flavour before pan-frying or roasting, marinate the turkey overnight, or cut a pocket into the flesh, stuff it with herbs and butter and wrap with bacon or pancetta before baking.
Poaching or steaming delicate white meat can make it superbly tender and juicy and both processes don’t require fat, so they’re healthy ways to cook. It’s important that the water or stock remains below boiling point – too hot and it will adversely affect the texture of the meat. How long it takes depends on the cut of meat and the recipe but neither method takes as long as roasting.
Turkey is one of the more versatile meats around. Traditionally, the bird is roasted and served with a variety of vegetables and roast potatoes, Alyn Williams shows us how in his Christmas turkey recipe.
It may be celebrated during the holiday season but turkey isn’t just for Christmas; it makes an excellent alternative to the usual Sunday roast, goes well in a sandwich and, because it’s so lean, makes a healthy replacement for beef – use minced turkey in your burgers, meatballs and bolognese.
Punchy Asian flavours complement the relatively mild flavour of turkey - as with Andy Waters' Turkey larb - as do creamy or herby sauces. Turkey is also wonderful in salads, as demonstrated by Dominic Chapman's Turkey, chicory, stilton and walnut salad.