Turkey is traditional at Christmas

Christmas demands a turkey. Food traditions run deep. They are reinforced from infancy to adulthood both with our earliest memories of how we celebrate Christmas and with the media who create a view of how we should celebrate the season. Invariably, this view involves a picture of the family sitting around a beautifully-set Christmas table featuring – you guessed it – a glossy, rich, succulent turkey. Certainly as a food writer, you learn not to tamper with the core of a Christmas dinner. You can offer suggestions for a variation of a menu: a new stuffing recipe, a special gravy or a vegetable casserole but variations only. Turkey is central. Families expect, yes, yearn for the food of their childhood.

With this in mind, I have some ‘variations’ on a theme. So, let’s talk turkey!

Easy Roast Turkey or Chicken
For years now, I have been – or rather my husband has been – preparing turkey and chicken this way with great success. So successful in fact, we no longer consider any other method. Why? It is super simple, fool-proof and scrumptious. In fact, it’s so easy that when people are ‘ooohing’ and ‘ahhing’ about how great it tastes, it is hard to explain just how simple the technique really is, and you don’t have to wash up afterwards. What could be better? There are three secrets. You use a fresh turkey or roasting chickens (preferably free range); you barbecue it (yes, even with the snow flying!) using the method described below. Finally, you use a disposable roasting pan. Great for the busy host with only one oven and ideal for those of us who like to spend time with our guests, a glass of wine and a minimum of fuss.

Herb Stuffing for Turkey, Chicken or Turkey Breast
You will need to make a trip to the dollar store to buy a roasting pan. (Ah, the sense of freedom, no dishes!) then a trip to your butcher’s to order a free range turkey, chicken or chickens or a turkey breast. (Tony at the Butcher Shop, Kingston Road and Markham, is great, but you probably have your own favourite.) Don’t leave it too late and forget to order the bird. Also, if the bird does not come with a ‘pop it’ meat thermometer already inserted in the breast, ask your butcher for one and have them insert it for you. The thermometer ensures that your chicken or turkey is cooked to the correct temperature without being over done. The reason the barbecue works well for small to large birds is you are cooking with tremendous heat that surrounds your bird while keeping the bird moist roasting it in a covered pan with stock and water. Even a fresh 20 pound turkey can be ready in two to two and a half hours. However, if it is a very cold Christmas day, position your barbecue in a sheltered spot, which makes it easier to maintain heat. This stuffing mixture is delicious placed between the flesh and the skin of the turkey or chickens. (When roasting on the barbecue, do not fill the cavity with stuffing, it upsets the cooking time.) If you love stuffing, simply double the recipe and bake the remaining stuffing in a casserole at 350˚F (180˚C) 35 to 40 minutes.

Herbed Stuffing
1/4 cup (50 mL) melted butter
1/2 cup (125 mL) fresh minced parsley
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp (15 mL) finely grated lemon rind
1 tbsp (15 mL) dried tarragon
1/2 tsp (2 mL) thyme
1/2 tsp (2 mL) rosemary
1/2 tsp (2 mL) salt
1/4 tsp (1 mL) fresh black pepper
3 cups (750 mL) bread crumbs freshly made from stale French bread
In a mixing bowl or food processor, combine butter, parsley, garlic, lemon rind, tarragon, thyme, rosemary, salt and pepper with breadcrumbs. Combine well.

Barbecued Turkey or Chicken with Herb Stuffing
1 turkey ( 15-20 lb/7-10 kg) or
1 chicken (5 lb/2.5 kg) or 2 chickens (2.5 lb/1 kg)
2 lemons, sliced
sprinkle of the following:
salt, pepper, thyme, rosemary and tarragon
mixture of dry white wine and chicken stock to cover bottom of pan up to 1 inch/2.5 cm
1 lemon, sliced
Herbed Stuffing (above)
Preheat the barbecue to medium high. Meanwhile, with the turkey or chicken breast side up, tail end towards you, gently place your hands between the skin and the flesh of the bird to loosen the skin as far as you can go on both breasts to the legs. Remove hands and taking a handful of stuffing, gently insert it under the skin patting to smooth it to an even thin layer of stuffing. Repeat as many times as necessary to cover the breast of the bird and some of the legs with stuffing beneath the skin being careful not to rip the skin.
Any remaining stuffing can be baked in a covered casserole at 350˚F (180˚C) for 35 to 40 minutes. Sprinkle the turkey or chicken with salt, pepper, thyme, rosemary, and tarragon. Arrange lemon slices over the bird. (Remember when barbecuing, do not stuff the cavity. Extra stuffing needs to be baked in a casserole.) Place the turkey or chickens on a rack in the roasting pan; pour white wine, chicken stock and juice of the lemon around the bird to approximately cover the bottom of the pan up to 1 inch (2.5 cm.). Cover tightly with barbecue foil and barbecue with lid down for one to one and one-half hours for small birds up to two to two and one-half hours for large 20  lb/ 10 kg turkeys, or until the internal temperature of the bird reaches 185 F with a meat thermometer or the ‘pop-it’ thermometer has popped, you can feel it beneath the foil. Once cooked, let the bird stand tented with foil for about 15 minutes before carving. Juices may be drained and used to make gravy.

Roast Turkey Breast with Herb Stuffing
1 turkey breast about 3 lbs (1.5 kg)
Herb Stuffing (above)
Preheat oven to 450˚F (230˚C). Using a sharp knife butterfly the turkey breast through thickest part to open like a book. Place between two pieces of waxed paper and pound with meat mallet to flatten to about one-half inch (1 cm). Gently spoon stuffing onto one side of the turkey; fold the other side of the breast over to enclose stuffing and roll up to make a neat package. Secure with skewers or tie with string. Place in an ovenproof casserole large enough to hold the turkey breast. Cover with lemon slices and the juice of a lemon. Sprinkle with salt pepper, rosemary, thyme and tarragon. Reduce heat to 350˚F (180˚C). Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until juices run clear and internal temperature reaches 185˚F (190˚C). Let stand 10 minutes before slicing.

Jan Main is an author, cooking instructor and caterer.

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