How to cook a turkey
Finding out how to cook a turkey is a lot easier than it once was. You used to have to follow a set of instructions about two pages long. Now you can simply watch a video. I recommend the BBC website which has tips on both cooking and carving turkey including how to test when it's cooked, or for American visitors to the site foodnetwork.com.
What the presenters don't necessarily take into account however is that their viewers may have an inefficient old oven or have never bought or cooked a turkey before so here are some useful tips:
* If you're buying a frozen turkey be sure to defrost it thoroughly. The British Turkey Information Service (the industry body which represents turkey producers) recommends 20 hours in a cool room for a 5kg turkey (you can use their nifty little calculator to work out how long your bird will take). Even if you've bought a chilled bird bring it to cool room temperature before you cook it - and don't forget to remove the giblets which are sometimes left inside the turkey carcass!
* Don't be tempted to buy too big a turkey even if it seems an incredible bargain. The bigger they are the harder they are to cook right through. A 4.5-5kg bird is big enough to feed 8-10.
* Don't put the stuffing in the body of the bird which will slow down the cooking time and also tends to discolour the stuffing and make it soggy. It's best to use a small amount (about 250g) to stuff the neck then cook the rest in a separate dish (if you've room in the oven. If not you can always cook it on its own in a frying pan)
* Keep the skin moist. I'd initially rub the bird lightly with oil or a mixture of oil and melted butter then spoon over the pan juices every time you check the bird (see below)
* Trust your senses. Because turkey is cooking for a long time you need to check it every so often. I personally recommend giving it an initial blast at a high temperature (about 220°C/425°F/Gas 7) for about 20 minutes to get it going then loosely covering the body of the bird with a large piece of foil tucked round the edges of the tin to stop the breast and legs cooking too quickly then turning down the heat to 190°C/375°F/Gas 5 and cooking for about 20 minutes per 500g/1lb. Check it after 40-45 minutes. It should be sizzling away and beginning to smell delicious. If nothing much seems to be happening turn the oven up a degree. If it seems to be browning too quickly turn the heat down a bit. Either way cover the bird up again. When you next check there should be a considerable amount of fat in the pan. After spooning a little over the breast, carefully pour or spoon most of the remainder off taking care to leave behind the meaty juices. You can add a small glassful of wine, stock or water at this point to stop them burning but continue to keep the bird loosely covered with foil. While you're cooking the turkey you can par-boil (partly cook) the potatoes and whatever veg you're serving to be finished off at the last minute.
* When you think the turkey is ready you should double check that it is properly cooked. If you insert a sharp knife or skewer into the thickest part of the leg the juices should run clear. Or tug at a leg - it should pull away slightly from the carcass. Take the foil off at this point, spoon some of the juices over the bird, turn the heat back up to 220° C and finish off browning the breast. If your potatoes are not already in the oven put them to roast now
* Rest the turkey for about 15 minutes at the end of the cooking time, loosely covered with foil while you make the gravy and finish roasting up the potatoes, turning the heat up again if they're not crisp and brown enough. Keep everything warm while you carve the turkey and serve on warm plates. (Just plunge them in a sink filled with hot water for a couple of minutes. And dry them, obviously!)