Yesterday I outlined the preparation of red cabbage for Christmas Day, now I want to move on to the rest of the meal. Firstly to the turkey, in our case a 22lb Norfolk Bronze. The stuffing is key here and I normally do two. The first is sausage meat in the crop and I always use Wild Boar sausage, it has a richer more gaming taste than ordinary sausage and there is no need to enhance it with herbs and spices. For the main body I mix a dozen each of oysters and chestnuts with a handful of apricots with the breadcrumbs and dampen with milk until it holds together. All of that gets trussed up and put into the bottom oven at the Aga for 15 hours.
Now this is something that only Aga owners can achieve. The bottom oven provides slow cooking that retains moisture far better than a conventional oven. It also means that you put the Turkey in at midnight and its ready at three o'clock the following afternoon. I cover the turkey in streaky bacon and protect the thighs with silver foil for a bigger bird, net result is self-basting and I don't open the oven door until the meat thermometer shows that there is around 40 minutes to go. I invested some years ago in an external meat thermometer that is connected via a shielded cable and has various alarm settings. I set it for 160°F which gives me around 50 minutes to get everything else ready, and of course the main oven is available throughout.
The essence of a good Christmas dinner is not to have the chef in the kitchen, but a part of the dinner table. To achieve this I have a set of vegetable recipes that can be prepared in the morning, then placed in the oven at the last minute. This year we went with the following:
Now all of that can be prepared in advance. With a quarter of an hour to go before the meal (assuming the oven thermometer is progressing) I put the tatws on to boil and follow the sequence described above. However I can now hand over the kitchen to my son who manages the starter (Scollops and bacon in Madeira source). AAs he serves that I get all my 15 minute jobs into the oven and then go and join the family for the first course, served with a Rose wine. As they finish I return to the kitchen and remove the turkey from the oven. This will be the first time I have seen it since midnight the previous day so its a tense moment! It gets moved onto a wooden platter and is loosely covered with tin foil to keep it warm while allowing it to settle. I pour most of the turkey fat/juice into a large bowl leaving enough to blend with flour. I then add flour and fat/juice progressively (using a whisk) until I have a thick liquid which I cook in the original pan on the hot plate for around 5 minutes before slowly adding in the stock prepared the night before. A dash of whisky and the gravy is complete. Various minions (otherwise known as children) are in the meantime carrying through the vegetables, but Turkey comes last.
I love carving the turkey, its the one time in the year when I bring out the carving set I inherited from my mother. It has been in the family know for four generations so its special. Two bottles of a rich Pinot Noir and a contented meal follows. Christmas Pudding is reserved for Boxing Day, it would simply be too much on top with everything else.