Here, Dervilla O’Flynn, Head Chef, Ballymaloe House, shares an alternative way to cook Christmas turkey
A COUPLE of years ago, we installed a (very) Big Green Egg in the kitchen. It’s as much of an oven as barbecee or grill.
During the summer we took it outside, where it made a dramatic focus for wedding canapés and parties.
We grilled prawns and drizzled them a lemon and rosemary salmoriglio (herb olive oi). Cumin seed flavoured — lamb burgers dipped in fresh yoghurt raita.
Now, in winter we’re cooking with the lid closed. The fierce, red hot coals from the summer are now a low-glowing bed of gentle heat, perfect for long, slow cooking.
For our annual Thanksgiving dinner, and again for Christmas, this is where the turkey will go.
You will need to use a heat diffuser plate under the bird to stop the bottom burning. A tile or flat stone, placed between the coals and the grill will work fine as long as there is room for the wisps of charcoal smoke to circulate. A little smoky flavour goes a long way and a hint is better than too much. Save your butter wrappers in the fridge, stick them all over the well-seasoned turkey (you can supplement them with foil if you don’t have enough).
Use the top and bottom air vents to get the temperature to a steady 160-180 degrees C and cook for three to four hours depending on the size of the bird and whether or not you have stuffed it.
Cooking on a fire means that you do have to keep it in mind all the time. Watch the temperature. Open it as seldom as possible, particularly during the first two hours.
A temperature probe is invaluable. Check the thickest part, it should read over 75 degrees C.
The skin should be a dark, golden brown. Rest for at least half an hour.
Don’t attempt this for the first time on Christmas morning. Try it out with a chicken once or twice in advance so you get a feel for your oven.
Start cooking earlier than you think you need to. It will sit very happily in the oven as it cools or in a conventional oven indoors for an hour or two while you get everything else ready.
The roasting juices will be very strong and smoky. Make stock and a gravy from the giblets.
You can add a spoon or two of the smoky juices if you like.
You can also cook your stuffing separately. If you do, putting an onion, a few cloves of garlic, a halved lemon and a generous sprig of rosemary along with a good pinch of salt and pepper in the cavity, will gently flavour the bird and help it to cook more quickly and evenly than if it is stuffed.
TIPS on PICKING YOUR TURKEY BY EIMEAR O'MAHONY
“A GOOD quality free range turkey usually needs to be ordered from your butcher a few weeks before Christmas,” says Eimear O’Mahony, whose family has a stall in Cork’s English Market.
The stall was opened by Katherine O’Mahony in 1974 and her son Eoin and daughter Eimear are now at the helm.
Eimear also advises: “It’s best to buy your turkey from a reputable butcher; supermarket turkeys are killed up to four weeks before Christmas and gas flushed to prevent them from spoiling.
“A good quality outdoor reared bird will taste much better and is a more sustainable product with low food miles.
“A 5kg/12lbturkey will comfortably feed 10 to 12 people with leftovers.”
EIMEAR’S TIPS ON HOW TO COOK YOUR TURKEY
Preheat the oven 180 degrees/fan 160. Allow a cooking time of 45 minutes per kg and 20 minutes over.
A good tip to ensure a succulent turkey is to roast the turkey on its’ side as the leg is the widest part of the bird this will ensure the meat doesn’t dry out.
Check that the bird is cooked thoroughly by ensuring the juices are running clear or by cutting through the leg of the turkey.
It is a good idea to invest in a meat thermometer as it gives you a clearer indication of when the bird is cooked.