The turkey turnaround: Lower the cooking temperature, cut browning time and let it rest longer for a juicy dinner, say producersThe British Quality Turkey organisation's guide to the perfect Christmas bird
22:00 GMT, 14 December 2012
If your Christmas turkey turns out so dry that only drowning in gravy can rescue it, maybe it’s time to change your cooking method.
Producers have come up with a new guide to producing a juicy and moist bird without the risk of food poisoning.
It argues for a lower oven temperature, together with a shorter browning time and a longer resting period.
What would Nigella say The Domestic Goddess favours a hotter oven and shorter cooking time than the turkey producers' guidelines
But you’ll have to wait until next December, at the earliest, to receive the information with the turkey itself. This is because not all producers and supermarkets were happy to sign up in time to get the instructions on to their Christmas packaging this year.
The industry is also waiting for approval from the Food Standards Agency, which must be satisfied the change does not create a food poisoning risk.
The delay in going public will add to the confusion about how best to cook a turkey, which has been fuelled by celebrity chefs from Nigella Lawson to Delia Smith and Jamie Oliver.
While Nigella favours blasting the turkey at a high temperature and cooking it quickly, the others suggest that cooking the same bird could take as much as two hours longer.
Nigella's opposite: Jamie Oliver cooks his turkey 40 minutes longer than recommended by producers
It also suggests removing the foil just 25 minutes before the end of the cooking time, rather than the current 40 minutes.
There has also been a change to the recommended resting time – once the bird has been removed from the oven – with an increase from the current 15-20 minutes up to 20-30 minutes.
The industry’s recommended cooking times remain the same at 20 minutes per kilo plus 70 minutes for a turkey under 4kg, and 20 minutes per kilo plus 90 minutes for larger birds.
Under these rules a 6.5 kilo (14lb) bird would take three hours and 40 minutes to cook. However, even this is far too conservative for Nigella who believes the same turkey should be cooked at a higher temperature in just two hours 45 minutes.
The main concern about opting for a short roasting time is simply that the bird will not cook through, allowing food poisoning bugs such as campylobacter and salmonella to survive.
But Nigella has always been unapologetic about her method, saying: ‘The truth is we have all been overcooking our turkeys for years.’ The managing director of Bernard Matthews, Rob Mears, confirmed that most home cooks have erred on the side of caution by cooking their turkeys at a high temperature for longer than they need.
But the chairman of the British Poultry Council’s turkey section, Paul Kelly, defended the decision to delay announcing the new roasting advice.
‘Due to the wide variety of turkey products available to consumers this Christmas, it has not been possible to reach a consistent set of cooking guidelines across all retailers,’ he said.
‘Therefore, until further testing has been carried out to achieve this, we recommend consumers follow the existing guidance for cooking their Christmas turkey.’
He said all ovens vary and cooks can confirm a bird is ready by piercing the thickest part of the thigh with a skewer to ensure the juices run clear.