Birds with bravado: how to flavour your turkey

Birds with bravado: how to flavour your turkey

by Great British Chefs 5 December 2016

If you think turkey's a bit bland, it’s easy to amp up its flavour profile with a few extra ingredients. From flavoured butters and brines to stuffings and marinades, get some inspiration and make this year’s Christmas dinner the best ever.

Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews.

Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews as well as access to some of Britain’s greatest chefs. Our posts cover everything we are excited about from the latest openings and hottest food trends to brilliant new producers and exclusive chef interviews.

Poor turkey. For more and more people it’s something eaten once a year at Christmas, maybe a few other times as mince or diced into a curry, then forgotten about until the festive period begins again. It even polarises opinion at Christmas – while for many of us it’s a bird bursting with nostalgia, childhood memories and quintessential Christmas cheer, others see it as a bland, dry, tasteless thing that’s served for no other reason than tradition.

But this is unfair – like other festive ingredients some of us turn our noses up at (see: Brussels sprouts), it’s the cook rather than the bird that’s to blame. When prepared properly, turkey is moist, tasty and a real treat; it just needs a little helping hand in the form of salt, herbs and spices. Here are five ways to ensure this year’s bird is gobbled up with glee.

Brine it

A wet brine is the single most important thing you can do to your turkey to ensure it doesn’t dry out. By submerging it in salted water (fifty grams of salt for every litre of water) for eighteen hours in the fridge, the bird will absorb moisture and retain it in the oven. You can also add other ingredients into the brine for extra flavour – infusing the water with herbs, sugar and spices or replacing some of the liquid with cider helps tailor the turkey to your tastes.

The only downside with wet-brining meat is that the skin doesn’t crisp up in the oven, but if you drain the bird twelve hours before it goes into the oven, rinse it, pat it dry and leave it in the fridge, the surface will dry out and you’ll be rewarded with a flavourful moist turkey with a browned crispy skin.

Joint it

Because turkeys are so big they’re notorious for cooking unevenly, leaving flustered cooks waiting for one part to cook while another gets drier and drier. Removing the legs – which take the longest – and getting them started for half an hour before the rest of the bird (which can be placed on top) not only ensures everything is cooked to perfection at the same time, it also saves precious oven space.

Marinate it

If you haven’t got the fridge space to brine your turkey, then a marinade can help tenderise the meat and add flavour. All you need is some citrus juice, wine or vinegar, oil and flavourings (like spices and herbs). The more marinade and the longer you leave it, the better. Placing the bird in a sealed plastic bag with the marinade and turning it regularly is the best way to ensure it permeates the skin and adds flavour throughout.

Butter it

Even if you’ve brined, jointed and marinated your turkey, a little bit of butter can’t hurt. While rubbing it into the skin will ensure a crisp finish, you’ll need to constantly baste it back on as the bird cooks, which means opening the oven, losing heat and taking up precious time that could be spent cooking everything else or (more importantly) opening presents. Instead, tease the skin away from the flesh with a knife, then use your hand to make a pocket between the two. Stuffing the butter into this cavity will hold it in place and give you wonderfully crisp skin and flavourful meat. Don’t just use boring everyday butter though – soften it and stir in some chopped herbs or spices beforehand.

Stuff it

Stuffing turkey has fallen out of fashion a little lately, as it increases the cooking time even longer and leaves less surface area to crisp up. But if done properly, it can add flavour and help moisten the meat whilst taking on the roasting juices at the same time. Only stuff the neck cavity rather than the body (unless you don't mind the extra time it will take to cook) and cover with the neck skin, securing it with a cocktail stick. If you’ve used breadcrumbs in your stuffing, pack it loosely as it will expand – it’s always better to under-stuff than over-stuff a turkey.