Copas Turkey – not just for Christmas:
Those of us who write food and lifestyle blogs know only too well that turkey is not just for Christmas. Whilst we might not start Christmas planning QUITE as early as the supermarket product development specialists, many of us do spend a few happy days in the summer wandering around rooms decked with holly, Christmas trees and fake snow. We get to trial all the things which should be reaching the shops later in the year in a series of events known as Christmas in July. It’s a slightly surreal experience – one minute you are in a snowdome with Santa, the next standing outside in the blazing sunshine. Now, Christmas is really close so much to the amazement of my friends I had absolutely no hesitation in agreeing to review a turkey. My brother has been visiting and I wanted to prove to him that good free-range turkey, carefully cooked, was nothing like the dry, cardboard bird we used to eat every Christmas at home. So, I was thrilled to be offered a sample Copas Free Range Turkey to review
My mother struggled with Christmas only in her effort to make everything perfect for everyone. She wasn’t a particularly keen cook, but nevertheless insisted on making everything from scratch for Christmas. We always started the day with fresh grapefruit, toast, butter and marmalade and, for everyone except me, soft boiled eggs. Mum would have been up early, trying to make sure the turkey was defrosted and generally bundling the whole thing into a bucket of luke warm water to speed things up a bit. The table would be set with our special Christmas tablecloth, red, with appliqued angels and stars. There was a sense, not of peace and goodwill, but of impending doom.
We moved on to opening presents immediately after breakfast. That kept us happy but meant my mother was distracted and well away from the kitchen. More often than not at around 11.30am, friends and neighbours would appear at the door. My father was the local doctor and there seemed to be a tradition of popping in for a quick sherry. Meanwhile, the turkey might or might not have made it into the oven. I don’t remember there ever being a schedule for cooking, it was considerably more haphazard an affair and we would eventually sit down to Christmas lunch at any time from about 3 to 8pm. The advent of the microwave helped things on a lot. Until then, Christmas pudding was FAR more likely to appear on Boxing Day.
I suspect that trying to cook your first ‘family’ Christmas lunch when you have three children under the age of five may just have set a bad precedent. Eventually we moved on to casseroled spiced pheasant or roast venison for Christmas lunch. Which, in my view, was a bit of a shame because something like a Copas turkey really makes for a special Christmas meal. And for me, even if you are cooking a festive meal for two, turkey still seems appropriate.
Christmas in November might not be quite as silly as Christmas in July, but I still couldn’t bring myself to serve Christmas pudding. Instead I concentrated on what, for me, is the basis of a good Christmas lunch, or Thanksgiving for that matter – a whole free range roast turkey.
My Copas free range turkey came with a useful pop-up timer and a cooking guide. The booklet even had a guide for slow cooking in an Aga – but, sadly, my London kitchen doesn’t come THAT well equipped. Instead I used the timings for conventional cooking and wrote myself out a schedule.
A 3.5kg bird takes just over 3 hours to cook, if you don’t stuff it. And, while I love stuffing, I know that in the next few days I simply won’t have time to eat up any more leftovers, so I left my turkey unstuffed. I did however, boil up the giblets for a couple of hours with an onion, stick of celery, carrot salt, peppercorns and bayleaf to make a gravy stock, while the bird was in the oven
This is what my schedule looked like
Rinse giblets under running water and put in pan with other stock ingredients. Cover with cold water, bring to the boil and simmer for 2 hours, topping up with water as necessary.
Pre-heat oven to 230c
Put turkey on a large roasting pan, breast side down. Season well with salt and pepper and cover loosely with foil. Put in the oven
Peel potatoes and parsnips. Place in a saucepan of cold water
Prepare sprouts by removing outer leaves, trimming stalk and cutting a cross in the base
Put green vegetables into saucepans and cover with cold water
Turn the oven down to 170C
Par boil the parsnips and potatoes by bringing to the boil, adding a pinch of salt and boiling for 2-3 minutes. Drain the water. Cover the pan with a lid and shake vigorously to roughen the surface and help create a crispy shell as they roast.
Heat a tablespoon of rapeseed oil in a heavy based roasting pan and add the potatoes.
Add the parsnips to the roasting pan with the potatoes (if you are cooking for a lot of people you may need an extra roasting pan)
Remove the foil from the turkey and turn it over. Baste it with any juices
Strain the giblet stock and set to one side
Start to heat the brussels sprouts. Bring the water to the boil, salt and then turn down to simmer gently
Start to heat the broccoli. Bring the water to the boil, salt and then turn down to simmer gently for 5 minutes
Remove the turkey from the oven, place on a board and cover with foil to rest for at least 10 minutes. Check the roasting vegetables and adjust the oven temperature appropriately – up to 230c if you want to brown and crisp things up, down to around 100 to keep warm and stop any further browning.
Add a little flour to the meat juices in the roasting pan and stir over a low heat until it browns and thickens. Stir through some red or white wine to deglaze. Add in stock to make gravy whisking vigorously. I tend to cheat and add in a teaspoon or two of gravy granules till I get the right thickness
Drain the green vegetables, add a little butter and cover to keep warm till needed
Heat through bread sauce if you are using it.
Carve the turkey and serve!
Now, this is all a lot easier if you are not trying to manage a houseful of children at the same time. But, for me, the trick to a good Turkey dinner, whether that is for Christmas, Thanksgiving or ANY time of the year is to schedule. And the trick to a good meal is to start with excellent ingredients. Copas free range turkeys are succulent and full flavoured. They have a rich, almost gamey taste and the meat is firm. My turkey was sent frozen, in a chiller box with ice packs so that if I’d wanted to pop it in the freezer I could have done so. Instead, I let it defrost slowly in the fridge for 48 hours, then took it out to come to (cool) room temperature an hour before I wanted to cook. I didn’t need to baste the turkey while it was cooking and I added nothing except a little salt and pepper. If you are lucky enough to be cooking a Copas free range turkey this Christmas I’d suggest just stuffing the neck, or making stuffing balls to cook around the turkey to make sure that your turkey cooks through easily.
I’m also in the middle of reviewing wines to drink with Christmas lunch at the moment, so in the interest of research we opened two bottles that were recommended to me
My preference is generally for red wine and if I’d simply picked a bottle myself it would have been the Campo Viejo Rioja Grand Reserva 2009. A beautifully smooth, indulgent red it made a pleasant accompaniment to the turkey. But, I suspect it might have been better still with venison or even saved for a chocolatey dessert or to drink with cheese.
By comparison the Brancott Estate Malborough Sauvignon Blanc was minerally, a little lighter, slightly citrussy and herbal but still robust enough to complement the turkey perfectly. We all agreed it was the better match of the two, though a die-hard red wine drinker wouldn’t have been disappointed by the Rioja.
Watch out for more about the Copas turkey farm (I’m visiting this week) and about suitable wines for Christmas celebrations. In the meanwhile, you can order YOUR Christmas free range turkey online from Copas here