You need a whole free range turkey (not a monster, 10-12 kilos is about right) and a whole goose (6-7kg). And then a selection of 8-10 smaller birds, all plucked and drawn (ie oven ready).
You don’t need all eight birds to be different – you could use, say, three pheasants and five pigeons. So choose from the following:
NOTE: Please DO NOT use very high or well-hung game birds, as they will contaminate the subtle flavours of the other birds.
For the stuffing, you need 1 kilo of fatty sausagemeat, 250g streaky bacon, 100g breadcrumbs, fresh sage, brandy, port and red wine. You can also add chestnuts and/or apples.
You also need some good butcher’s string and a darning needle.
Step one: Boning the turkey:
If you fancy your knife skills, you can try boning out the turkey yourself. You only need to remove the breast and back bone (ie the central skeletal frame of the bird). Leave the wings and drumsticks on, as they give vital balanceand structure to the roast, which would otherwise be an enormous round sausage!
You start by making a long straight cut down the back of the bird from the neck to the parsons nose. Then start to peel back the skin either side of the cut. Pop out the thigh joints from each side of the carcase and then use the point of a very sharp knife to cut the meat away from the back and breast, as close as possible to the bone. Do a little at a time, alternating from one side of the carcase to the other until you come to the ridge of the breast bone. This is where you have to be careful not cut through the skin, as you slice along the ridge, so that the whole main frame of the carcase is released. Carefully ease this out, nicking any little sinews that still connect it to the rest of the bird. You now have a big empty bag of a bird, albeit with legs, wings and breasts still attached. Think of it as a suitcase that needs filling, then stitching up.
Step 2: Preparing the other birds
Slice the breasts off all the other birds (again, you could ask a butcher to do this), as close to the breast bone as possible, to maximise the meat. Peel off the skin. Then put all the breasts to one side. Now take a small, sharp knife and cut as much worthwhile meat as you can from the legs, wings and the rest of the carcase. Trim or tear out any stringy looking sinews, and coarsely chop the meat. Put this chopped meat in a separate pile. Joint or tear up what’s left of the carcases, and place in a large roasting tin. Roast in a hot oven for 15 minutes. They’ll then make great stock, which can be strained, perked up with a good slosh of red wine, and reduced, by boiling hard, to a fantastic intense sauce (see making the gravy below).
Step 3: Making a forcemeat stuffing
A good stuffing, and plenty of it, is vital, to fill all the gaps between the breasts, and keep them all nicely lubricated. So, take at least a kilo of well-fatted coarsely ground free range pork (half shoulder meat, half belly is good). Finely chop 250grammes of unsmoked streaky bacon, and add that too. Add all the chopped meat from the other birds, 100 grammes of fresh breadcrumbs, 200 grammes each of chopped cooked chestnuts and chopped raw dessert apples (coxes are good). Add a slosh of brandy and port, and 100 ml of red wine. Season with 5-10 grammes of salt, plus black pepper, fresh chopped sage and a good pinch of mace.
Step 4: Rebuilding the bird
Lay the boned-out turkey breast side (and outside) down, inside facing up. Start by pressing a good layer of the stuffing around the inside of the bird. Now take the two largest breasts (ie from the goose), and place them roughly in the middle. Cover them with a bit more stuffing. From here on, there is no set pattern for arranging the remaining bird breasts and stuffing inside the boned out bird. You just have to feel your way, and do the best job you can.
When you feel like the bird is fairly well-stuffed, bring the two cut sides together over the stuffing, to see if they will come together nicely. In the end you need to be able to sew the two edges together (with strong butcher’s string and a stout darning needle) ideally with a nice overlapping blanket stitch. It should be fairly full and tight, but not bursting. So, assess how much more of the breasts and stuffing may be required…. and proceed accordingly.
When you have stitched up the bird, turn it over, breast up again, stitched back side down, and place it on its roasting tin. A certain amount of massaging may now be required to bring it to a nice shape, so the breast is again plump and rounded, and the legs and wings are standing out nice and symmetrical.
Step 5: Making the gravy
Place all the roasted carcases in a large stock pot with plenty of fresh stock veg and herbs (ideally carrots onions and celery, parsley stalks and bay leaves) cover with water, bring to the boil and simmer gently for at least 3 hours. Thoroughly strain the stock (first through a colander, then through a cloth, or muslin). Return to a clean pan,add a whole bottle of wine, and reduce by boiling hard, to an intense, lightly syrupy sauce. You can boost the gravy with the strained de-glazed juices from the roasting tray while the bird is resting. Season with a pinch of salt only at the very end.
Step 6: Cooking the bird
The biggest battle is to prevent the breast meat of the turkey drying out. So, smear the skin of the bird thickly with soft butter or, better still, rendered fat saved from the goose. Then cover the breast with streaky bacon, and wrap a single layer of giant tin foil over it. Place in a pre-heated oven at 200 C for a good hour. Then turn the temperature down to 150, and cook for another 4-6 hours, depending on the size of the bird. BY FAR the best, and safest way to test that the meat is done, is to stick a meat probe into the very centre of the roast. When the temperature reads 70 C, the roast is cooked. Baste the bird regularly throughout the cooking, and remove the foil for the last hour or so, to brown and crisp up the skin.
You may want to pour off some of the fat from the roasting tray several times during cooking. Transfer the bird to your carving tray, or board, and deglaze the remaining juices in the pan, and add to the gravy. The roast should rest for at least 20 minutes, while you fix the gravy and the rest of the trimmings.
Start by removing the legs of the bird. They should be completely tender and cooked through, and therefore easy to prise away from the rest of the carcase. You might need the carving knife just to slice through the ball and socket joint where the thighs meet the body of the bird.
Now the roast is effectively boneless, making for very east carving. But don’t try and slice too thinly, and cut at a slight angle across the bird. The first few slices will be more or less “turkey only”, which may suit some of your guests. More likely you will have to make a few slices before you come up with the crowd-pleasing slices that have a little bit of everything. It is, of course, part of the challenge, and the fun, of this dish, to try and make sure everyone gets to identify, and taste, the various meats that interest them most.
Step 7: Serving
Put a slice or two of the roast on a warmed plate and trickle over a little of the gravy. Then arrange the trimmings around the plate. Of course you already have plenty of meat, and the stuffing, so the extras we would suggest are some nice crisp roast potatoes, perhaps some roast parsnips too, some fresh, lightly cooked greens, such as kale, cabbage, or the beloved Brussels sprouts. Bread sauce is optional (but in my house, compulsory!)....a breve la traduzione...
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