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How To Cook The Perfect Christmas Turkey

With the family Christmas dinner just around the corner, we are all getting a little hot under the collar thinking about cooking the ‘perfect’ turkey. Rest assured, help is at hand because The Headland Hotel’s very own Head Chef has pulled together an easy-to-follow Christmas turkey recipe that is sure to give you your crown in the kitchen!

First and foremost, you need good quality meat. Pipers farm in Devon produces a fabulous bronze turkey, slowly matured as nature intended. Twice the amount of time and effort has gone into producing these beauties compared to most other suppliers and the annual hand-plucking of the birds brings together colourful members of the community in what has become more akin to a social event rather than a baneful chore. The day-old chicks hatch in the third week of May and are kept in a warm barn for a month. Once the feathers have come on, it’s straight out to the cider orchard where they immediately take to grass and begin to feast on falling apples by the third week of June. The turkeys continue their orchard sojourn until the end of September, reaching full maturity. Peter Greig, founder of pipers farm, believes that ‘leaving them past the point of maturity lets flavour develop. This is what sets our birds apart.’  add to this the unheard of three-week hanging post-kill, and you have a turkey unlike any I have ever had the pleasure of coaxing along to Christmas perfection.

To us chefs, reductions play a huge part in our cooking. The reducing of a stock to intensify the flavour, the numerous alcohol, fruit or meat reductions all hell bent on building a flavour or thickening a sauce. Hanging a beast for a prolonged period reduces the moisture content, thus intensifying the flavour that the farmer has lovingly built through time, care, environment and correct feed.

Pipers Farm have developed two ingenious methods to give choice and ease to the unlucky cook that ends up with the short end of the wishbone on that fattening festive day. The ‘Apricot and Hazelnut Simplest Turkey’ is a complete no brainer. Legs and breast have been boned out, stuffed with an apricot and hazelnut stuffing, rolled and tied. Pipers own sausages wrapped in their sublime streaky bacon accompany, and a tub of turkey stock for your gravy making is tossed in for good measure. Seriously, one hour… one turkey dinner.  For those of you wanting something more traditional, you can buy a whole boned, rolled and stuffed turkey that will take half the time of bone in; it still gives you a birdy shape for the table but with the meat cooked more evenly than tackling the whole bone-in shebang. Of course, if these two tempting tricks can’t dissuade you, the whole bird can be purchased and prepared old school. But not if I have anything to say about it!  You cannot, I repeat… you cannot properly cook a whole turkey on the bone. Can’t be done. Sure, brining for 10-12 hours helps, but it won’t be perfect. The breasts will be overcooked before the legs are just right. It is always best to break big birds down, confit the legs or bone and stuff, even separately roast.

Ask yourself, what of basting? The skin of a bird is designed to keep things out. Basting is like an old wives’ tale; means nothing, does nothing. If anything, basting means you keep opening the oven door, hindering the cooking and crisping of the very skin you’re trying to get just right. Also, never stuff a whole bone-in turkey. It’ll take years to cook as your breasts become parchment. Make a beautiful stuffing separately and pour all those delicious resting juices from the bird into the stuffing and mix well. Yum.

So there you have it. What you trade for that impressive looking dead fowl centrepiece can be presented even more alluringly with platters of uniform sliced stuffed ballotines garnished with all the trimmings. Trust me, I’m a chef.

Christmas Turkey a la Carte
Ingredients for 2 

250gm turkey breast
2 young parsnips
4 Brussel sprouts
3 Chestnuts, cross hatched
Dried cranberries
A few fried sage leaves
Chopped pumpkin pieces
Rapeseed oil & butter


1) Roast the parsnips and rough chopped pumpkin in a pre-heated hot oven with a little oil, butter and seasoning for about ten minutes. Keep warm.
2) Roast the chestnuts dry in a separate tray for around the same time. Peel when still warm.
3) Steam the Brussel sprouts for ten minutes or boil for five. Add to the other vegetables.
4) Using a hot fry pan, add a little rapeseed oil and fry the seasoned turkey breast until golden, adding a little butter to froth.
5) Heat the gravy.

To serve:

Arrange the turkey pieces, vegetables and chestnuts fairly between two plates. Top with the fried sage and dried cranberries. Spoon over the gravy. Mulled wine, hot cider or a bold, cold white will do the trick. Merry Christmas… restaurant style.’

We wish you happy cooking and a wonderful Christmas enjoyed with your dearest.  

If you and your loved one’s fancy getting in some taste testing, why not come to The Headland to experience our decadent Festive Lunches? These are available daily between 12.00-15.00pm in the Terrace Restaurant throughout December. For more information visit our website or to make a booking call 01637 872211.

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