In previous blogs we’ve emphasised the importance of adhering to the key food safety principles of ‘Clean, chill, cook, separate’ (see infographic here https://bit.ly/2QCwsfc) in ensuring your chicken handling skills in the kitchen are up to scratch and that your roast chook doesn’t make you crook – but how does this relate to preparing a Christmas turkey? The bacteria that may be present on raw turkey are basically the same as those that may be found on raw chicken, so the general food safety tips still apply, but the size difference between turkeys and chickens means there are some nuances to preparing your roast turkey.
The size of a whole dressed turkey (up to 6kg) is generally much larger than the size of a whole chicken, which means it takes a lot longer for a frozen turkey to defrost – in fact for the really big turkeys it can take a couple of days for them to defrost (covered and in the fridge which we all know is the way to go, not on the bench)! Make sure your defrosting turkey, or any of its juices, don’t come into contact with other foods while it’s in there.
Once your turkey is defrosted, next, consider the food safety aspects of its preparation… make sure all the utensils and benches/cutting boards are clean before starting preparation of the turkey and have a plan for making sure those utensils and other items don’t come into contact with anything else once they’ve been in contact with the raw turkey and before they have been thoroughly cleaned again. Consider filling the sink with hot soapy water while you are dealing with raw meat, so you can put any dirty utensils straight in once you’re finished with them. And remember – don’t wash the turkey! It’s as clean as it’s going to be without being cooked!
Now to the cooking.. Not all ovens these days are big enough to fit a large turkey roast so make sure your oven is big enough to fit the turkey you plan to cook with enough space around it for the air to circulate, which is needed to ensure the cooking is even. A large turkey will take a long time to cook thoroughly, but as always it must be cooked all the way through (a meat thermometer is useful to check that the temperature in the thickest part has reached the required 75°C). A turkey being cooked with stuffing will take longer to cook than one without because the stuffing absorbs heat too. One option is to consider cooking the stuffing separate to the turkey and then reassembling before serving.
Once it’s prepared, it’s time to feast! It’s best to serve the turkey while it still hot and not long out of the oven – the longer it is out and the cooler it gets, the greater the food safety risk. The general advice is to put any cooked food in the fridge once it’s stopped steaming. Then you can enjoy the leftovers but remember to heat them through to steaming before eating!
So preparing a roast turkey for your Christmas lunch takes a lot of preparation and commitment, so plan early, seek guidance (there is usually guidance on the label) and enjoy!