Talking turkey

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
It is the big day! So for ex-pat Kiwi chef Margot Henderson it’s buttermilk-brined roast turkey with wild rice and chestnut stuffing.

Christmas is a great time of year, isn’t it? As a child in New Zealand, I found it so exciting to sit at a big table that was beautifully laid with candles, tangerines and walnuts. My mother used to send us out to chop down the Christmas tree, so we’d go off, find a sappy pine, saw it down and carry it home.

The tree is still very important to me. Fergus and I have been collecting decorations forever. There’s always a mouse in a pink dress sitting at the top with a light under her skirt, and tinsel, though we don’t put candles on the tree like we used to when I was a kid.

Christmas is about being together and treating yourself and having a jolly time — and having a few drinks, maybe. We usually have friends over, as well as family. On Christmas Day, we get up, have breakfast and then sit down to do the presents, which takes quite a while. It’s one present at a time — we’re very strict in the Henderson household. We have our big meal at around 3pm — if you leave it much later, you’ll all be asleep, or too drunk. Afterwards, there’s dancing.

Some people may find the traditional Christmas turkey a little bit bland, so this one has more of a swing to it. To keep stress levels down, give yourself plenty of time. It’s about being ahead of the game. Start your stuffing around 8am or 9am, and go about things in a gentle way, with everyone helping out. If you’re having turkey, make sure to brine it. It intensifies the flavour, as well as keeping the meat moist.

A turkey is one of those things that needs a lot of loving — you need to be basting it and keeping an eye on it. If you bung it in at a high temperature and just leave it, well, it’s going to be a dry old thing when you serve it. 

Brining the turkey

Brine the turkey 24 hours in advance. Remove the giblets and liver and keep to one side.

Serves 6

1 turkey, about 4-5kg, based on what the butcher has.

For the harissa and buttermilk brine

100g salt

50g sugar

2 strips lemon peel

250g harissa

1.5 litres buttermilk

2 litres water


Mix together all the brine ingredients. Put the turkey in a large plastic bag and add the brine. Mix it all around the bird, inside and out. Place in a sealable container large enough for the bird and leave for 24 hours in the fridge. Turn a few times.

Roast stuffed turkey

Some people get up early on Christmas Day, take the bird out of the brine and leave it to come up to room temperature, then go back to bed. I don’t, as I love the feeling of being ahead of the game. Cooking takes time and the more time you give it, the better the results.


1 turkey, brined (see above)

Wild rice stuffing (see below)

3 white onions, peeled

150ml chicken stock

150g streaky bacon


Firstly, take the bird out of the brine, wiping off the excess. Leave it for at least an hour to come up to room temperature and, part way through, bring out your stuffing (if you’ve made it ahead) so it is at a similar temperature. Otherwise, you can make the stuffing as the bird comes to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 180°C fan. Generously fill the cavities of the turkey with stuffing at both ends so it bulges out. (Any leftover stuffing can be baked in a well greased roasting tin at 180°C fan for 40-50 minutes.)

Slice the onions in half and place in a large baking tray, then place your stuffed turkey on top of them. Pour a ladle of chicken stock into the tray. It’s helpful to have a baking tray with reasonable sides so you’re not throwing liquid all over the floor.

Cover the bird with the strips of bacon as if you are wallpapering. They will generally fall off but they have helped by being a breast protector. Then cover the bird and tray with foil.

Roast the turkey in the oven at 180degC fan for an hour, then turn down to 150°C fan and cook for 2 hours. Keep adding a little stock to the base and get that turkey baster out and baste every now again.

One rule for cooking turkey is for every kg of meat, roast at 180°C fan for 30 minutes. If you are using a thermometer, the temperature at the thickest part should be 65°C to 70°C. If not using a thermometer, use a slim, sharp knife or metal prong and insert into the fattest part of the leg. The juices should run clear and be piping hot, rather than warm.

If the bird and bacon is not bronzed on top, take the foil off and give it a little heat to brown the outside.

Leave to rest for an hour, loosely covered with foil and hopefully away from drafts. This is when the magic happens, the bird relaxes and the juices flow. This is also your moment to finish all the other dishes.

Wild rice, chestnut and apple stuffing

Sobrasada is a spicy, spreadable pork sausage, a wonderful product from Spain, a joy to cook with and can be used instead of olive oil and butter. This stuffing can be done the day before, left in the fridge overnight, then warmed up a little before stuffing the bird. It is my favourite part of a Christmas feast.

Serves 6

180g wild red rice

250-500ml chicken stock (this is to cook the rice for the stuffing mixture, and any leftover can be put at the bottom of the roasting tray with the turkey)

150g sobrasada

150g shallots, peeled, sliced thinly

150g leeks, peeled, washed, trimmed and sliced thinly

150g celery, washed, sliced thinly

15g sage, finely chopped

15g thyme, finely chopped

15g curly parsley, finely choppped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

100ml apple brandy (or marsala or port)

200g sausage meat

100g turkey livers, finely chopped (from the turkey giblets)

180g vacuum packed chestnuts, roughly chopped

180g apples, sliced into chunks, you can leave the skin on, up to you

1 egg, beaten

150g breadcrumbs (Japanese panko breadcrumbs are great or, even better, sourdough a few days old, whizzed into crumbs)

salt and pepper


Firstly, prep all the ingredients. Cook the red wild rice in chicken stock or water. The best way to do this is by ratio: for every 1 cup of rice, you’ll need 2 cups of liquid, and a pinch of salt.

Bring the rice to a boil with a firm lid on, and once boiling turn down to the lowest heat, cook for 50 minutes until all the liquid is absorbed, and the rice is tender. If the rice is drying out you can always add a splash more liquid.

In a good-sized pan, gently heat the sobrasada, add the shallots, sweating these down for several minutes. Once they soften, add the leeks, celery, herbs and garlic.

Once these soften and start to get involved together, add a ladleful of the leftover chicken stock and the brandy, then reduce for a few moments. After that, turn the heat to minimum. If you are making this the day before, cool your rice and onion mixture before the next step.

On a very low heat, mix through the sausage meat, chopped livers, chestnuts and apple, then immediately remove the mix from the heat. Stir through the egg, then add the breadcrumbs to bring it all together. It should be moist but coming together. Fry a little in a pan and have a taste to check the seasoning, and adjust as needed. — The Observer