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Top turkey tips by British Turkey

British TurkeyWith Christmas just over two weeks away, turkeys are flying off the shelves as the nation prepares for its Christmas day feast.

But whether you collect your bird from your local butcher on Christmas eve or buy one early from the supermarket and freeze it, when the big day arrives, knowing how to defrost it, prepare it and cook it can give you a headache before you’ve even started on the mulled wine!

Different weight birds require different cooking times, and with lots of conflicting advice out there from chefs and cookery writers alike on how to make the perfect Christmas lunch, it can be confusing. To help you on your way on the big day, The British Turkey Hotline have provided the following top turkey tips. There’s also a number of leftover turkey recipes, to help you avoid a month of Turkey sandwiches.

1. What are the new recommended cooking times?

  • Cooking times have got shorter – resulting in a juicy, beautifully cooked bird with more time for you to relax! Calculate 20 minutes per kg plus 90 minutes at 190°C/375ºF/Gas Mark 5. (If the bird weighs less than 4kg allow 20 minutes per kg + 70 minutes.)
  • Bring the bird to room temperature, then smother the breast with butter and bacon and cover loosely with foil.
  • Remove foil for last 40 minutes of cooking time to brown.
  • Test it is cooked using a skewer in the thickest part of leg – the juices should be clear.
  • Allow to rest for 15 - 20 minutes before carving.

2. When should I start defrosting?

  • The turkey should be thawed either in a fridge, a cool room or at room temperature – no more than 20ºC
  • Thawing in a fridge (4ºC) - allow 8 - 12 hours per kg
  • Thawing in a cool room (17.5ºC) – allow 3 - 4 hours per kg
  • Thawing at room temperature (20ºC) – allow 2 hours per kg
  • After thawing remove all the packaging, take out giblets and store separately. Lightly cover on a deep plate or dish (to prevent any of the juices dripping onto other foods in the fridge) towards the base of the fridge. (Ensure the fridge is at a temperature of no more than 4ºC).
  • Once thawed and in the fridge, the turkey will keep for 2 days. Bring back to room temperature before cooking.

3. Do I need to be careful about stuffing?

  • Turkeys should be stuffed just before cooking.
  • You can prepare the stuffing beforehand - either a few weeks and freeze then allow to thaw completely before using or simply make the breadcrumbs and freeze those. Or the day beforehand, allow to cool then store covered in the fridge before using.
  • Only stuff the neck cavity - never the body cavity. If liked, you can place sliced onion or lemon and fresh herbs in the body cavity to infuse the meat with additional flavours. Make sure you weigh the bird once it is stuffed to calculate the correct cooking time.

4. Can I cook overnight?

  • We would never recommend slow cooking overnight even if you have done it before.
  • Harmful bacteria that may be left present would not be destroyed during cooking. The bacteria is killed at a high temperature which means that the internal temperature of the turkey needs to reach 76ºC and be maintained for at least 15 minutes. This is achieved by cooking at 190ºC/375ºF/Gas Mark 5 for 20 minutes per kg + 90 minutes (or 20 minutes per kg + 70 minutes if it is under 4kg.

5. How long can I use leftovers for?

  • Its safe to store cooked, cold turkey in the fridge for up to 3 days. Cool quickly after cooking by transferring to a cold plate and putting it in an unheated room or in the garage. When cold, wrap any leftover meat in foil or plastic film and put it into the fridge.
  • If freezing cooked turkey, remove from the carcass first and freeze separately. The meat will remain moist and succulent if frozen either in stock or gravy.

6. How can I be sure that I am buying the best quality turkey available?

  • Look out for the familiar farm assured Red Tractor logo alongside the Quality British Turkey mark, your guarantee you are buying turkey farmed in the UK to high standards of food safety, traceability and animal welfare.
  • If all else fails contact British Turkey Hotline.
  • The freephone helpline is 0800 783 9994 and is open Monday to Friday 9.00am - 5.00pm including up until 5.00pm on Christmas Eve to answer your queries.
  • Alternatively there are plenty of advice and recipes on the website, including a handy online “calculator” with cooking and thawing guidelines.




For the stuffing:
1 tbsp olive oil
50g butter
2 onions, chopped
2 large sprigs rosemary, leaves
only, chopped
100g cooked wild and long grain rice
50g dried cranberries
100g dried apricots, roughly chopped
175g fresh white breadcrumbs
6 good
quality pork and herb sausages, skinned
1 lemon, finely grated rind | 1 egg, beaten

For the turkey:
5.6kg British turkey, thawed if frozen, giblets removed
1 lemon, halved
1 bay leaf
50g butter
1/2 tsp saffron threads


  • Heat the oil and butter in a saucepan and fry the onion and rosemary for 5 - 6 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining stuffing ingredients until well combined. Season.
  • Preheat the oven to 190°C/Gas mark 5.
  • Melt the butter in a small saucepan, stir in the saffron threads and leave to cool slightly.
  • Push some of the stuffing into the neck end of the bird packing it right up to the breast meat. Secure the neck skin with cocktail sticks. Roll the remaining stuffing into balls (these can be cooked separately for 30 minutes).
  • Weigh the turkey and calculate the cooking time at 20 minutes per kg + 90 minutes at the end.
  • Push the lemon halves and bayleaf into the cavity and place in a roasting tin.
  • Brush the whole bird with the saffron butter and season well.
  • Cover with foil and roast.
  • Remove the foil and baste with any remaining saffron butter and roast uncovered for the last hour of cooking time.
  • To check to see if the turkey is cooked push a metal skewer into the thickest part of the leg - if the juices run clear the turkey is cooked if the juices are slightly pink pop back into the oven for a further 15 minutes before checking again.
  • Cover with foil and allow to rest for 20 - 30 minutes before carving.

Serves: 12



50g butter
1 tbsp olive oil
3 sweet potatoes, cut into chunks
225g chestnut mushrooms
400g leftover cooked British turkey breast, cut into chunks
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only
1 tbsp brandy | 100ml chicken stock
150ml double cream
75g Stilton, crumbled
375g pack ready rolled puff pastry
1 small egg, beaten
rock salt


  • Heat the butter and oil in a large frying pan and fry the sweet potatoes and cook over a low heat for 8 - 10 minutes until just beginning to soften. Stir in the mushrooms, cooked turkey, garlic and half the thyme and cook for a further 4 - 5 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas mark 6.
  • Pour the brandy over the turkey mixture and allow to bubble for 1 minute, then add the stock and cream and warm through gently.
  • Remove from the heat and stir in the Stilton.
  • Unroll the pastry. Cut 4 pastry lids slightly larger than the 400ml dishes you are using.
  • Divide the filling between the 4 dishes.
  • Wet the rim of the dishes with water.
  • Lay the pastry circles over the top and press to the rim firmly.
  • Brush with beaten egg and scatter with rock salt and remaining thyme.
  • Bake for 20 minutes until golden.

Makes: 4


These bubble and squeak cakes make a delicious mid-week supper and are a great way of using up leftover cold meat after a roast.


25g unsalted butter
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
450g potatoes, cooked and mashed
350g cooked British turkey thigh, chopped
300g cooked cabbage or spinach, chopped
salt and freshly milled black pepper
3 tbsp olive oil
dry breadcrumbs
2 tbsp flour
1 egg lightly beaten
vegetable oil for cooking
4 lightly poached eggs
Jar of hollandaise sauce
1 bag of watercress
150g French beans, cooked


  • Heat the butter in a frying pan and cook the onions for 2 - 3 minutes, until slightly soft and translucent.
  • Place the mashed potatoes, cooked onions, turkey, cabbage and salt and pepper into a bowl and mix well.
  • Add the olive oil and a few dry breadcrumbs to form a firm but not stiff mixture.
  • Form the mixture into 4 balls, flatten on both sides to make thick cakes, and dust with flour.
  • Brush the cakes all over with egg and coat with more breadcrumbs.
  • Heat a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil in a frying pan and cook the cakes on both sides for 3 minutes until golden brown.
  • Place a little watercress on a warm plate, top with a cake, and a poached egg on top.
  • Serve with French beans and hollandaise sauce.

Serves: 4

British Turkey

Published 13 November 2010