Christmas would not be the same if it wasn’t for the age old Christmas turkey; stuffed, oiled, basted and baked, it’s prepped for weeks for the big day, left half eaten and then stuck in a sandwich or a curry. But why has the turkey become synonymous with Christmas in the UK? And what does everyone in Britain eat them with?
The turkey was brought to the British Yuletide table in the 16th Century by William Strickland, an enterprising trader who had gone exploring the Americas, only to bring back some turkeys to sell at Bristol market. They were an instant success among the upper classes, being larger and meatier than a chicken – the previous bird of choice – and tastier than other larger birds like swans or peacocks that the upper classes indulged in during the festive season. However, the turkey remained a luxury feature at Christmas for the higher echelons of society to enjoy until the 1950s, when fridges became commonplace and the bird became significantly cheaper. And so the turkey became the festive fowl that it is today.
Comparing the price of a turkey through the ages to the average weekly wage of the working class, the price has dropped considerably. From allegedly costing less than £1 in 16th Century to now costing about £30, a fresh turkey is now served as the centrepiece of the majority of families in the UK at Christmas – in fact, 10 million are eaten on the day.
Today the turkey is traditionally stuffed, sometimes with herbs, onions and pork or orange and apricot. The centrepiece fowl is accompanied by its stuffing, roasted vegetables, Brussels sprouts, pigs in blankets (cocktail sausages wrapped in bacon), cabbage and splashed with gravy.
So the time to have a Christmas dinner panic is nearly upon us, except for this year Bruno Loubet’s recipe for turkey paupiette with dried cranberry is here to make the turkey centrepiece a delicious breeze.
1kg skinless turkey breast, cut into 6 thin slices (you can ask your butcher)
240g boneless turkey thighs, minced
2 tbsp dried breadcrumbs
50ml white wine
1 large onion, finely chopped
180g smoked streaky bacon, minced
4 sage leaves
1 egg, lightly beaten
⅓ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
salt and black pepper
1 onion, chopped
100g celery, chopped
1 garlic clove, sliced
3 tbsp cider vinegar
300ml veal or dark chicken stock
100g dried cranberries, soaked in hot
water for 1 hour then drained
1 tbsp cranberry jelly
3 tbsp chopped chives
If you cut the turkey breast yourself and have any trimmings, mince them and add to the minced thigh meat. Place a piece of cling film on a chopping board. Brush some water over it using a pastry brush, then lay a slice of meat on top. Brush with water again then cover with another piece of film to sandwich it. Tap it with a rolling pin (not too hard), to start breaking up the fibres, then roll it out in all directions to get a thin 5mm slice (an escalope). Repeat with the other five slices.
Preheat the oven to 220C/fan 200C/Gas 7. Soak the breadcrumbs in a bowl with the white wine. With the back of a fork, mash to a purée. Heat the butter in a small pan, then add the onion and sweat until soft. Pour the onion and butter into the breadcrumb mixture, making sure you scrape out all the butter that is in the pan. Leave to cool for a few minutes, then add all the remaining ingredients to make the stuffing. Mix well with a wooden spoon.
Lay the turkey escalopes out on a work surface, then shape the stuffing mixture into six even balls and place on top of each escalope. Wrap the escalopes around them to form balls, then wrap tightly in a double layer of lightly oiled foil. Transfer to a roasting tin and place in the oven for 15 minutes.
Remove from the oven, then unwrap the foil over the roasting tin to collect any juices and fat and transfer the turkey paupiettes to a plate, cover with cling film and set aside.
To make the sauce, add the onion, celery and garlic to the roasting tin. Place over a medium heat to colour the vegetables, then add the vinegar. Bring to a vigorous boil, then add the stock and the paupiettes. Cover with foil and return to the oven for 10 minutes.
Remove from the oven and place the paupiettes on a serving dish or plates. Pass the sauce through a fine sieve into a small saucepan, then add the cranberries and the jelly. Bubble to reduce it if it looks too thin, then add the butter and heat through.
Swirl the pan for the sauce to absorb the butter, then add the chives. Pour the sauce over the paupiettes and serve immediately.
To cut the turkey breast, place the whole breast on a chopping board. Using a long, thin sharp knife, slice at a 45° angle starting from the top. Cut a slice and repeat to get 6 slices in total.
If you do want to roast a whole turkey, then I suggest you spike the turkey breast with fatty pieces of bacon dusted with black pepper and a bit of ground cinnamon and also place some butter under the skin.