Christmas dinner disasters: If you forget to defrost the turkey, overcook the bird or burn it, don't worry you're not alone

Email:

karen.ogrady@midlandtribune.ie

You've defrosted the turkey, peeled the spuds and you made the Christmas cake weeks ago – what could possibly go wrong?

Well, a lot actually. No matter how well we plan what can be one of the most important meals of the year, disasters are commonplace when cooking and serving Christmas dinner.

From forgetting to take the bag of giblets out of the bird to an enthusiastic dog helping themselves to half of the ham on Christmas Eve, and that time lighting the plum pudding ended up with a trip to the hairdresser in the New Year to trim a singed fringe, we all have had our fair share of festive mishaps.

It can be like something from a Christmas comedy movie, spending hours making the Christmas dinner and then see it all go badly wrong. According to new research commissioned by safefood, one in four people in Ireland have experienced a Christmas cooking disaster.

Now, thankfully, personally we hadn't experience a major one actually on Christmas Day yet in our house but there was the year our dog ate all the scotch eggs and I set the oven on fire while cooking some sausages over the festive period a couple of years ago.

However with the festive season upon us, and plenty of cooking ahead, safefood provided some tips and advice to help our readers have the safest, tastiest turkey this Christmas.

In Ireland, almost a million turkeys are prepared and cooked on Christmas Day but 15% of Irish people have had issues with undercooking the bird (6%) or overcooking (9%) their turkey. The research also shows that forgetting to turn on the oven (7%) or defrost the turkey (4%) were two of the most common causes of a Christmas Day cooking calamity.

Dr Linda Gordon, Chief Specialist Food Science, safefood commented; “Christmas dinner is one of the most special meals of the year, with turkey often taking centre stage. But it can be an overwhelming experience for some, especially if you haven’t cooked it before or aren’t used to cooking for big groups. Planning ahead is the best way to stay on top of things in the Christmas kitchen. Last year, over 80,000 people visited the safefood website between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, with the most popular searches including: how to defrost a turkey; where to store it; cooking times; whether to stuff it or not; and how to know when it’s properly cooked.”

“We’re here to take the stress out of Christmas for cooks and whatever cooking method, timings or recipes you use, you know your turkey is properly cooked when there’s no pink meat in the thickest part of the breast and thigh, the juices run clear and the meat is piping hot throughout. Our website www.safefood.eu is stuffed with lots of useful resources including a turkey cooking-time-calculator, how-to videos, lots of tasty Christmas recipes. And for any last-minute questions on Christmas Day itself, our safefood Chefbot will also be available to answer questions through Facebook messenger @safefood.eu.”

Supporting safefood’s Christmas food safety campaign, Chef Adrian Martin said; “Christmas Day is one of the most enjoyable times of year. It’s a day when you can share a special, traditional dinner with your friends and family. However, it can be stressful to prepare a safe, tasty and nutritious meal for a large group of family and relations. It’s important that proper food hygiene practices are followed to ensure no one gets sick. My top tip is to have a plan on the run up to Christmas. You can find everything you need to ease the stress and help you cook safely this Christmas Day on www.safefood.eu.”

"12 tips of Christmas from safefood"

 

1) Get your fridge ready

Ahead of the festive rush give your fridge a good clean with warm soapy water; you can also re-arrange the shelves to make room for your turkey - remember to store it on the bottom shelf so any drips won’t land on ready to eat foods which could spread germs leaving these foods unsafe to eat. You should also ensure any foods past their use-by-date are thrown out. If you need to make extra fridge space, you can store vegetables and drinks (except milk and fruit juices) in a cool place.

2) How much turkey do you need?

Don’t buy too big a turkey – you may be fed up with it before it is all eaten. If you’re unsure, ask your butcher and think about how many people you’re cooking for (children eat less than adults) and whether you want any leftovers.

For 4-6 people, a 3-4kg turkey should do

For 6-8 people, a 4-5kg turkey should do

For 8-10 people, a 5-6 kg turkey should do.

3) Give yourself enough time to defrost

For a frozen turkey or any frozen poultry, the safest and recommended way to defrost it is to place it on a dish or tray on the bottom shelf of your fridge. You should allow 24 hours for every 4-5 pounds/2-2.5kg and give yourself plenty of time – it can take up to three days to fully defrost a frozen 7.5kg/15lb turke. . You’ll know it’s fully defrosted when: the body is soft, the legs can be moved and there are no ice crystals inside the cavity. Once thoroughly defrosted, a previously frozen turkey cooks the same way as a fresh turkey.

4) Don’t wash that bird

Do not wash your turkey or any poultry as this splashes food poisoning bacteria around your kitchen through drips, drops and splashes - proper cooking will actually kill any germs present. If you do need to clean the bird, wipe it with a disposable paper towel, discarding the used paper towel and any packaging directly in to the bin.

5) How long to cook your turkey

Raw poultry and meat can contain germs like Salmonella and Campylobacter, so it’s important to cook these foods thoroughly. Preheat your oven to 180° (Fan Assisted) and cover the turkey with tinfoil during cooking as this helps it to cook more evenly and gives a more “juicy” product. The turkey should be basted every hour during cooking. (The tinfoil can be removed for the last half hour to finally brown the skin). You can find cooking times for your turkey size at www.safefood.eu

6) What about stuffing?

For stuffed turkeys cooked in a fan oven, you should allow extra cooking time as safefood research has shown that when a turkey is stuffed in the body cavity, it is the centre of the stuffing that is slowest to cook. So with stuffed turkeys, it is essential you check the stuffing itself is piping hot all the way through as well as making sure the meat at the thickest part of the breast is cooked thoroughly before serving. Try not to overstuff the turkey; use a maximum of 10% of the weight of the bird in stuffing for example no more than 500g of stuffing for a 5kg turkey. To help with this, we have a Turkey Cooking Time calculator on our website.

For any other oven types, we don’t recommend you stuff your turkey and that you cook it separately in a suitable dish. That’s because the heat may not penetrate to the centre of your turkey.

7) Don’t rush to carve the stuffed cooked turkey

One way of making sure that the stuffing is properly cooked, without risking overcooking the meat, is to remove the turkey from the oven when the meat is fully cooked and leave it to rest for 30 minutes, loosely covered in tinfoil.

8) How to check your turkey is cooked

Using a clean fork or skewer, pierce the thickest part of the breast and thigh. You’ll know it’s cooked when: It’s piping hot throughout. Its juices run clear. There is no pink meat left. Any stuffing is piping hot throughout

9) How to store leftovers

Cover any leftovers and place in the fridge within two hours of cooking. Ensure any meat is cooled as quickly as possible – cutting it into pieces will help with this. Once in the fridge, any leftovers should be eaten within three days.

10) Freezing meats

If freezing leftover meat or poultry, wrap well and make sure it is stored in a suitable container for freezing. Freeze cooked meat for no more than six months approx. – this is for quality rather than safety.

11) If already cooked – only re-heat food once!

When re-heating food, ensure it is piping hot all the way throughout. Make sure food is only re-heated once!

12) Healthier options

If you’re looking for healthier options at Christmas, you can also: trim the skin from your turkey or fat from your ham

Try a breadcrumb, nut and seed stuffing instead of sausage.

Roast potatoes in a little vegetable oil as a healthy alternative to butter.

Steaming vegetables instead of boiling or roasting them

Adrian Martin’s Top Tips for Christmas Cooking

What kind of turkey?

Remember to buy your turkey as close to Christmas as possible and store it in your fridge or freezer as soon as you can. There are a few types of turkey you can choose, these include:

Traditional free-range turkeys on the bone ranging from 3kg-8kg. Boned and rolled turkeys, stuffed or unstuffed: this is the whole turkey taken off the bone and rolled and tied into a nice joint. It contains the white breast meat as well as the darker leg meat.

Other options are: The Turkey Crown (white breast meat still on the bone) or boneless turkey breast (just the white meat), these are perfect for smaller gathering.

My top tips for preparing, cooking and storing your turkey:

Why don’t you try get some prep done the day before, like making your soup, having the dessert ready and peeling and chopping all your vegetables. You want to relax and enjoy yourself on Christmas Day, so delegate out the different jobs.

l Turkey breast can be lean so covering the breast with strips of bacon or prosciutto will help keep the moisture in and add extra flavour.

l. You can rub butter over the bird and under the skin to help flavour the Turkey and the skin and season it with salt and pepper. 

l Always baste the turkey during the cooking process, I advise every hour.

l A turkey will cook more evenly if it is not over stuffed, consider loosely filling the cavity with garlic and thyme, or small wedges of lemon or clementine.

l Always allow the turkey to rest before you serve. Do this by covering with tin foil and then with a couple of tea towels. This will ensure the bird can rest without losing too much heat and it also allows all the juice back into the bird for a moist turkey.

How do you know your turkey is cooked?

l At the thickest part of the leg the juices should run clear from the bird. Ensure there is no pink meat and turkey should be piping hot all the way through. If you have a good thermometer (this might be a nice Christmas present) and probe the thigh, it should read about 75oC.

Carving the Turkey:

l Make sure your knife is very sharp. Hold the turkey secure with a large fork. Cut the skin between the thigh and the breast. Bend the thigh outwards, cut through the hip joint, removing whole leg. Separate the thigh from the drumstick. Cut towards wing, cut through the wing joint.

l Hold the fork against the side of the breast. Slice evenly starting at the neck cavity.Lift the slices off with the fork and knife.

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