To brine or not to brine?
I would always recommend brining a large bird. We always use a plain salt solution of 5% salinity, so for 6 litres of water, that would be 300g salt for example. It permeates the meat in a way that seasoning on the outside simply cannot achieve. People always worry when you start talking about such high amounts of salt, forgetting that I am not asking you to drink the brine! Trust me…..I have done this before; I actually do so on a daily basis! A regular chicken needs 2 hrs in brine, a large turkey 4 hrs. I would do this on the evening of Xmas eve; leave it outside in the cold (given Xmas fridge space limitations), filmed over. After this time, place under cold running water for a couple of minutes to wash off the brine, then drain and pat dry. Leave overnight at room temperature to air-dry. I wouldn’t advocate brining a large cut off beef as it will dry out the meat and you will lose some tenderness and softness of flesh, which is the best thing about it. For a large joint, season heavily about 40 mins before it will go into the oven. This will permeate it without drying it out.
The turkey will be ready when the breast reaches 64C. For beef, medium rare is 55C. Fridge temperature is approximately 3-5C. The simple act of taking the meat out of the fridge the night before brings it to 20C, which accounts for about a quarter or even a third of the required change in temperature. Your meat will take less time to cook and cook more evenly as a result.
Whether cooking red meat or white, you want a nice colour on the outside and tender meat within. Think of this as 2 separate processes. Given the beef rib or turkey will be too big and cumbersome to fit in a pan, it’s best to colour it in the oven. Pre-heat it to its hottest setting (220-240C) and oil the meat with vegetable oil to conduct the heat of the oven. Olive oil will be bitter and burn. Place the meat in the oven and leave until well coloured then remove and lower the heat to 140C; finish cooking at this lower temperature. It is important to cook the meat more gently at this lower temperature. The meat will be more tender and juicy within. It will also give a longer window in which the meat will be good to serve. Meat cooked aggressively at a high temperature will continue to cook after it comes out the oven and as such can overcook much more easily.
For beef, it’s 50C for rare, then cooking degrees go up in 5C increments, so it’s 55C for med-rare, 60C for medium, 65C for med-well and 70C for well done. Though I like my meat medium rare, for a large rib of roast beef, I would be tempted to take it to 58-60C. You always want slices of roast beef to have a bit more texture than that of a steak. It can look very flesh-like otherwise, which is unappealing even for the hardiest of carnivores. For chicken or turkey, it’s pretty much spot on at 64C after resting.
Be it fowl or beast, assuming it has been cooked at 140C, I would personally pull out the meat when it is 5C under the desired temperature as it will continue to rise as it rests. Assuming you have been good, do ask Santa for a temperature probe if you don’t have one. I would personally recommend a “thermapen” from Amazon, should Santa be literally or metaphorically snowed under.
Allow a full hour to rest. Cover loosely with foil so it doesn’t steam in its own heat and do so at room temperature rather than somewhere warm. 1 hour is enough time to cook your potatoes, stuffing, greens etc, and your oven will now be free of the main event.
Legs or breast?
Smuttiness aside, I always remove the legs and either use these to make a delicious gravy or slow-cook them separately. To be blunt, despite all the various hair-brain techniques there seem to be out there, it is categorically impossible to have both legs and breast perfectly cooked simultaneously. I personally think there is always enough breast meat to go around, so the legs are better utilised to make a lot of gravy. A good roast needs plentiful gravy to bring the many elements together. Make this on the 23rd ideally, so you can enjoy Xmas Eve and the Xmas day itself. The chef mind-set is don’t leave until tomorrow what can be done today. A light sprinkle of this attitude will help massively at this time of year.
Season well with a neutral oil, some salt and sugar and bake until completely soft and tender. Root vegetables can take a good amount of oil and salt. Once soft and coloured, just cover with some foil so they stay moist rather than drying out. Toss with a bit of melted butter at the end. Also delicious with some thyme and freshly grated horseradish added at the end.