How to cook the perfect Christmas turkey
1. Our frozen poultry is prepared in the same way as our fresh birds, then rapidly frozen. Defrost in the fridge, because the temperature is constant, allowing 18 hours per kg, or in a cool place, for seven hours per kg. Keep the still-packaged bird on a tray to catch drips. It is defrosted when the cavity is free of ice crystals. To make completely sure it's defrosted, use a fork to test the thickest parts of the meat.
2. Don't wash your turkey or goose before cooking. Washing is more likely to splash food bugs on to worktops dishes and other foods. Proper cooking will kill bugs.
3. Remember, food takes longer to cook when you have several dishes in the oven at the same time and need to keep opening the oven door. It is better to prepare some items ahead and keep them warm rather than finding that food is undercooked when you're ready to serve. To avoid last-minute panics, cook the turkey or goose up to an hour in advance and keep it warm – wrapped in a double layer of foil and a tea towel – while all the other dishes are cooking.
4. Plan your cooking time properly. Follow the cooking times and other instructions on the pack. As a general guide, for a turkey weighing less than 4.5kg, allow 45 minutes per kg plus 20 minutes; for one weighing between 4.5kg and 6.5kg, allow 40 minutes per kg plus 20 minutes; and for those over 6.5kg, 35 minutes per kg plus 20 minutes. All turkeys should be cooked at 180°C, 350°F, Gas Mark 4 (after the oven has been preheated). Follow pack instructions for cooking times for goose or other roasts.
5. Check your turkey or goose is properly cooked by piercing the thickest part of the thigh with a skewer. It is ready when the juices run clear and there is no pink meat. If the bird needs more cooking, return it to the oven for another 15 minutes, then test again.
6. Make sure you allow the meat to rest in a warm place for at least 30 minutes before carving. This allows the juices to settle back into the joint or bird and will result in more succulent meat, which is also easier to carve.
7. Avoid having to wash up roasting trays with burnt, stuck-on bits by lining the trays with foil. Simply discard the foil at the end of cooking.
8. If you need a bouquet garni for your gravy stock, why not make a fresh one? Bunch together a bay leaf, a few sprigs of parsley and a sprig of thyme or sage, and wrap in a leek leaf or leafy part of a celery stalk. Tie with kitchen string. You can use your turkey or goose carcass to make stock.
Risks of not cooking your turkey safely
Campylobacter is the most common food bug found on turkeys. A recent study of poultry found contamination on more than half of the raw turkey sampled. The study, carried out in raw retail poultry on sale in Northern Ireland, reported that 56% of turkeys and 91% of chickens were contaminated. This is natural contamination that affects the whole industry.
The Food Standards Agency has identified campylobacter as the biggest source of food poisoning in the UK, and estimates more than 370,000 people got ill from it in 2009, with around 26,500 cases in December 2009 alone. Symptoms include severe abdominal pain and diarrhoea.
But cooking your turkey properly will kill campylobacter and any other bacteria.
Bob Martin, a food safety expert at the Food Standards Agency, says: 'Campylobacter is commonly found in poultry in the UK – unfortunately it is too common.
'This is why we have identified reducing these levels as our number one food safety priority and are working closely with poultry producers and retailers to tackle the problem.
'However, people shouldn’t worry and certainly shouldn’t take turkey off their Christmas menu – because food poisoning can be easily prevented. Cooking your turkey properly will mean it is safe to enjoy.'