Turkey at Christmas – LauriPatterson
Would you serve up a turkey on December 25 that had been killed almost two months earlier? This year you might have to. No, it’s not a new way of “ageing” your bird, more that if you want a turkey this Christmas, you’re likely to have to buy one that has been frozen and then defrosted.
Last week the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs altered legislation to allow farmers to start slaughtering birds early and freeze them (before defrosting them in time for Christmas sales, and selling the meat as fresh) in order to avoid them having to cull birds. This won’t affect the way you cook your bird, but will have an impact on how you plan and what you choose to buy.
Those who like to get ahead by purchasing a little earlier and freezing the bird at home may need to rethink plans this year – not least because the advice on whether or not you can refreeze thawed raw meat is more than a little confusing.
The Food Standards Agency offers no definitive answer; it seems only to warn against refreezing food which has not been thawed properly in the fridge, stating: “We advise foods can’t be refrozen if they are accidentally defrosted, unless they are cooked first. If the food has been defrosted it must be cooked before being eaten to be safe.”
The general consensus seems to be that if raw poultry has been properly thawed at a controlled temperature, it may be refrozen. This means there’s no reason why you can’t buy a previously frozen bird and refreeze it, provided you get it into the freezer as soon as possible. My advice, however, is if you want to keep your bird in the freezer, why not just buy it frozen?
With the current outbreak causing concerns over availability, there’s reassurance in knowing you’ve got your centrepiece bird safely tucked away. Secondly, and just as importantly, it’s cheaper to buy frozen. A 6kg Waitrose essential medium whole turkey with giblets to serve a family of eight and available to pre-order will cost you £39 (their free-range frozen turkey is cheaper but currently sold out online). A 6kg frozen turkey from Sainsbury’s will cost £23.58 and £24.96 in Tesco.
A typical large turkey weighing 6-7kg could take as much as four days to fully defrost in the fridge – Carlina Teteris
How to safely thaw it
With an estimated 2.4 million cases of food poisoning in the UK each year one of the most useful preventive steps we can all take is to check the temperature of the fridge using a thermometer. It should be set at 3-5C. When choosing a frozen bird, make sure there are no tears in the packaging, as even small rips make it far easier for cross contamination to occur. Sit the turkey in its packaging in a large roasting tin or dish and put it in the fridge to defrost (top tip – food thaws more quickly when in contact with metal).
According to the FSA, a typical large turkey weighing 6-7kg could take as much as four days to fully defrost in the fridge. If there are no instructions for defrosting yours, you can work out how long it will take to thaw completely. In a fridge, allow around 10-12 hours per kg.
Once it is thawed (the legs should wiggle and the breast should feel soft, not stiff) pat it dry with kitchen paper. Don’t wash it, as this just splashes bacteria around the kitchen. Remember to take the plastic bag of giblets out of the cavity. One last note – cook your stuffing in a separate roasting tin, rather than inside the turkey neck (and never in the cavity). A stuffed bird will take longer to cook and may not cook thoroughly if it has not reached the correct temperature throughout.
Can’t buy one at the right size or price?
Take this as an opportunity to cook something different, perhaps a forerib of beef or a ham (which makes great cold leftovers)? Or maybe this is the year to have a meat-free Christmas? The opportunities are endles. Here are a few ideas: