Traditional Christmas turkey

If you are after a truly traditional Christmas dinner, this spectacular spread from Paul Merrett will certainly deliver the goods
By Paul Merrett
Traditional Christmas turkey
  • Rating:
  • Serves: 8
  • Cook Time: plus 1hr 30min resting
  • Prep Time: 1 hour 30 minutes plus cooling overnight
  • Effort: medium


For the turkey and gravy

  • 1 chicken stock cube
  • 5 sprigs thyme
  • 1 onion, peeled
  • 1/2 head garlic
  • 1 star anise
  • 250 g unsalted butter
  • 5 kg free range turkey, Norfolk bronze are good
  • 250 g dry cured streaky bacon
  • 2 tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley
  • 2.5 tbsp cornflour
  • 1 glass red wine

For the stuffing

  • 300 g of a good selection of wild mushrooms
  • 200 g button mushrooms, sliced
  • 4 banana shallots
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 8 good quality, thick, cumberland sausages
  • 1 tsp thyme leaves
  • 1 tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley
  • 1/2 tin sweetcorn, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp dried cranberries
  • 2 tbsp dried apricots, diced
  • 1/2 loaf of white bread, made up into breadcrumbs

For the bread sauce

  • 1 large onion
  • 16 whole cloves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 500 ml milk
  • 75 g butter
  • 8 black peppercorns
  • 110 g freshly made, white breadcrumbs
  • freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 tbsp double cream

For the roast potatoes

  • 2 kg floury potatoes
  • 6 tbsp duck fat
  • 4 sprigs rosemary
  • 1 head of garlic, separated but not peeled

Tips and Suggestions

Before you do anything else to perfect your Christmas turkey, do this: buy the best one you can afford. Christmas is a time for overspending but a big bird is good value for money not only on the day but also for all those sandwiches and leftovers that fill the following week.

If buying from a butcher, get your order in early. This ensures youll get the variety and size you want. Fridge space is also a consideration but you can collect your fresh turkey a day or two before Christmas.

If youre lucky enough to have a larder or outdoor storage space, all the better the weather is usually cold enough. Always ask for the giblets (to use for stock and gravy) and remove them from the cavity of the bird as soon as you get it home. With a frozen turkey, always make sure it is fully defrosted before cooking.


1. For the turkey and gravy: preheat oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6. Remove the giblets, wing tips and wishbone from your turkey. Place these in a pan with about 3 pints of water, the stock cube, thyme, onion, garlic and the star anise. Simmer gently for 3 hours. The stock may produce a scummy froth which should be removed. After 3 hours the stock will have reduced by about ½ pint. Sieve to remove all the bits. Cool the liquid and keep in the fridge until needed.

2. Make a flavoured butter by dicing the butter and bringing up to room temperature and then mixing in the thyme, parsley and some cracked black pepper.

3. Lift up the breast skin and separate it from the flesh so that you can slide some of the butter under the skin but on top of the flesh. Use about half the butter for this. Pull the skin back over and from the outside smooth the butter gently until it covers the breast.

4. Next smear the other half of the butter over the breasts and legs. Finally cover the breast with the streaky bacon.

5. A 5kg bird will take about 3 ½ to 4 hours to cook but you should also allow a good 1 ½ hours to rest the bird before carving. Place your bird on a roasting tray bear in mind there will be a lot of juice so make sure the tray has a lip.

6. Cook the bird for about 30 minutes at a high heat then drop the oven temperature to 150C/130C fan/gas 2. The bird should roast on its back and be basted every 20 minutes.

7. Towards the end of cooking remove the bacon from the breasts and keep warm. This allows the breasts to brown and crisp. I use a digital probe for most meats the thickest part of the leg should read 70C when done. The bird should now be rested in a warm place on a serving platter.

8. All the roasting juices should be brought to a simmer with the gravy stock. Simmer and test to ensure that it has a good strong flavour. Mix the corn flour and the red wine and pour in to thicken the gravy.

9. For the stuffing: this can be made up to 2 days in advance and then cooked on the day. Fry the mushrooms in a hot frying pan until they caramelise you may need to do these in batches. Allow to cool and then roughly chop.

10. Next sweat the shallots and garlic and cool. In a large bowl squeeze the meat from the sausage skins.

11. Mix in the herbs, cooled mushrooms, cooled shallots and garlic, sweet corn and the dried fruit. Season the mixture and add bread crumbs until the mixture is fairly dry.

12. Lay out a sheet of foil and lightly butter it then spread the mixture in the middles making a sausage shape about 6cm thick. Tighten the foil at the ends. Now wrap in a second coating of foil.

13. When ready to cook, place the stuffing roll on a roasting tray and bake for about 40 minutes or until your digital probe reads about 70C. Turn the roll a few times during cooking so that the shape remains even.

14. For the bread sauce: place the onion and cloves in a small pan. Add the bay leaves to the pan with the milk and butter. Season generously with pepper.

15. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and allow to simmer gently for 20 minutes, until the onion has softened. Remove and discard the bay leaves. Roughly tear the bread into even-sized pieces or blitz roughly in a food processor, then stir into the milk with a wooden spoon. Add the nutmeg and season.

16. Return to the heat and simmer for a further 3-4 minutes. Stir in the cream and serve warm. A knob of butter on the top will stop a skin from forming

17. For the potatoes: peel and cut the potatoes into equal sized pieces. Place in a large pan with a good pinch of sea salt and cover with cold water.

18. Bring to a boil and cook for about 7-8 minutes or until they start to soften. Drain and then leave overnight to cool and dry out.

19. Heat a large baking tray with the duck fat and tip in the potatoes along with the rosemary and garlic. Toss to coat everything with the fat and then season well.

20. Roast in the oven at 180C/160C fan/gas 5 for 30 minutes or until the potatoes are golden brown and crispy.

21. Serve the turkey with all the trimmings and seasonal accompaniments.

Rate This Recipe