For more years than I care to remember, I have cooked my turkey upside down (i.e. on its breast) in the bottom oven of my Aga overnight on Christmas Eve, finishing it off in the top oven in time for Christmas lunch.
The Aga: Country House Icon
(For those who don’t know, the Aga is a traditional accoutrement of the English country house, and although I don’t (and never have) lived in an English country house, many of my relatives did. I was brought up knowing and loving the all day every day heat of the Aga, and got one of my own as soon as I could. Now it’s part of the family and I would miss it desperately if I didn’t have it.)
Cooking a Turkey in the Aga
When I cook the turkey in the Aga, I stuff the bird at both ends with sage and mashed potato stuffing and a more traditional celery apple and herb mix on Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve in our house (generally speaking) is spent in a joyful festive miasma of cooking aromas, alcohol fumes and the elusive scent of tinsel.
Sage and Mashed Potato Stuffing
I use this stuffing for the neck end of the turkey. It’s recommended for goose, but it’s so tasty that I also use it for turkey – it’s very moist and complements the gamey flavour of turkey as well as adding to the general air of festivity as an additional accompaniment to the Christmas meal.
1.5 lb of mashed potatoes
1 large onion, chopped finely, fried until translucent and added to the mashed potatoes
1 oz butter
3 fl oz double cream
2 oz finely chopped fresh sage leaves
salt and black pepper to taste
Boil and mash the potatoes, add the chopped onions, butter, cream, sage leaves and seasoning. Use the mix to stuff the neck end of the turkey.
Nigella’s method of cooking a turkey involves an enormous bucket filled with cold water and (from memory) a big bunch of sage, rosemary, thyme and parsley, a couple of cinammon sticks, black peppercorns, star anise, maple syrup,honey, caraway seed, cloves,salt, sugar, a quartered orange (full recipe to be found via the link) and a skateboard. The skateboard is used to cover the brine bath and ward off marauding cats.
The turkey is plunged (ruthlessly) into the brine bath (preferably by a glamorous woman wearing a tight sweater and fur trimmed Marigold gloves) and left to its own devices for a few days before being cooked on Christmas Day.
A Better Turkey In My Opinion
I tried it, gentle reader, and it was not an improvement on my normal method, which involves (as described) stuffing the turkey at both ends and cooking it (upside down) at a low heat for 12 hours plus.
The Nigella turkey seemed to us to be dry and hadn’t taken on any discernible flavours of herbs, spices, orange etc.
The following year, I reverted to my normal turkey cooking method, and the result was succulent and delicious.
A Word of Warning
If you choose to cook your turkey overnight at a low heat, don’t stuff it too firmly, as this may result in the turkey not cooking all the way through. Popping it into a hot oven (right way up) for 30 – 45 minutes before serving should both brown the bird and ensure that it is completely cooked. Test by inserting a sharp knife into the turkey thigh joint. If the juices run clear, the turkey will be cooked.
The Spirit of Experiment
Having said all of this, I’m all for experimentation in cooking, so maybe everyone should try the brine bath method just once.
I wouldn’t do it again, but it may work better for you.