Jane Sanderson's Food Among Friends
PUBLISHED: 11:50 08 December 2008 | UPDATED: 11:39 28 February 2013
We are delighted to introduce the first in a new series of food columns by Jane Sanderson. This month she's passing on tips from Nigella - and her grandma Nellie.
If it's Christmas, it has to be turkey. There are those who disagree, and any number of food writers offer festive alternatives, but in our family we pay no heed. For us, nothing quite pleases the crowd like a bronzed and glistening 15lb turkey. It doesn't have to be a posh Norfolk Bronze either; our neighbours at Springfield Farm do us proud every year with a less exalted cousin, which nevertheless looks regal enough on its platter.
However, the prospect of cooking turkey used to be loaded with anxiety. I grew up in a house where Christmas lunch was served at 1pm, and since the received wisdom in the 1970s was that your average turkey took at least an hour per pound to "cook through", that meant getting the bird in at dawn if we were to eat at the appointed hour without all of us being struck down by food poisoning.
This national ritual overcooking of the Christmas turkey diminished it in status; for years we all forced our turkey to endure many hours in a hot oven, then moaned cheerfully about its dry tastelessness, swamping it in gravy to lend some much-needed moisture. Plus, from a personal perspective, my mum was always cross and tired on Christmas Day because she'd had to get up so early.
Only when I began cooking Christmas lunch myself did I realise it needn't be an epic test of endurance for either the turkey or the cook, and I credit Nigella Lawson for the moment of revelation. In 1998, she published her first cookery book, How to Eat, which assured me that if I roasted my stuffed 15lb turkey for just under three hours, cooking it upside down until the last half hour, and basting it regularly throughout, all would be well. And it was.
True, the weight of the bird, upside down in the roasting tin, squishes it out of shape slightly, while the palaver of turning over a big, heavy, hot roast bird - which you must do, because it needs to brown properly on top - was rather traumatic because Nigella didn't tell me how I should achieve this manouevre and I ended up with hot fat on my suede boots and the turkey sliding across the work top. I initially tried to turn it, ridiculously, using two wooden spoons as levers, but over the years I realised that I simply have to sacrifice a pair of oven gloves to the cause and haul it over manually.
No-one needs a recipe for accompaniments. Christmas Day is a time for tried and tested formulae, and we all have our own favourites. For the 11 of us, as we sit down for an extended family Christmas lunch - no longer at lunchtime, by the way, but between 3pm and 5pm depending on champagne consumption - it has to be braised red cabbage with apple; carrots roasted with a sprig of rosemary and a generous drizzle of honey; sprouts with chestnuts; pured parsnip; roast potatoes; and - I don't get this, but the children demand it - cocktail chipolatas wrapped in bacon. There are two different kinds of stuffing which I buy, unashamedly, from Waitrose because, frankly, something has to give.
However, what to do with the leftovers is more open to variation. This year I urge you to go easy on the turkey sandwiches, and make sure there's plenty of meat left to make turkey hash. My grandma Nellie used to make hash every Monday with the Sunday roast leftovers, and it works as well with turkey as it does with beef or lamb. The joy of it is that everything can go in - leftover gravy, leftover stuffing (although not too much), leftover cranberry sauce, they all just add to the comfort of it.
Don't reuse cooked vegetables because they end up a soggy mess, but chop and saut a couple of onions, then add diced carrots, parsnips, celery, potatoes - whatever you can lay your hands on. Throw in whatever turkey you have left, along with the gravy dregs, a tin of chopped tomatoes, and some hot stock Add salt and black pepper to taste, and a squirt of honey. Cook until everything is tender, then serve in a bowl with crusty bread. Delicious. Chopped flat-leaved parsley is nice, but not essential.
The quantities are deliberately vague, because they really don't matter. Every time I make turkey hash it's slightly different from the last but just as tasty. And it has the added advantage, by using up all the leftover turkey, of hastening the removal from the kitchen of that sorry-looking carcass.