Not Just For Christmas

Image of free-range turkey

What do you cook for a big family birthday or – very apposite at the moment with all the university degree results coming through – a graduation party? Of course you could just take all your teens and twenties out for fish and chips or burgers or go upscale and take a select few to a posh restaurant.

But if you’re catering for the masses then a big buffet do is our family’s preferred option. Cold sliced meats, cheeses, plenty of good breads and salads and two or three of our nieces’ spectacular cakes for dessert.

This is also the time for the turkey to come out of the closet (or freezer). We tend to associate them with Christmas and in the US, Thanksgiving, but they are incredibly good value all year round. I’m not talking about those solid blocks of ice from the supermarket freezer cabinet here, but about a good-quality, free-range bird that’s been frozen at its peak by a farmer who cares about his livestock.

Image of turkey chicks

I say frozen because turkey farmers are only now breeding or taking delivery of new chicks destined for the Christmas dinner table. But most will have some in the freezer. If you don’t live within easy reach of a turkey farm, ask a good butcher.

My birds came, like my Christmas turkeys, from P.A. Mobbs & Sons, here in Suffolk. I got two six kilo birds for £60. Yes, it’s a chunky amount of money but there is a vast amount of meat on them, they are moist, firm and flavoursome and a far cry from the bland and woolly taste of intensively-reared birds.

Image of turkey farmer Chris Mobbs

Food hero: Chris Mobbs

I roasted them, slicing the white meat to eat cold with salads and using the brown meat and pickings for a huge dish of Coronation Turkey, which is a big favourite with our nephews and nieces and their friends.

The carcasses and giblets went into my biggest pan to make turkey soup (good for hangovers). I think that’s value for money and to give you some idea of scale, this platter is nearly two feet across.

Image of a platter of sliced turkey

I’m not going to tell you how to roast a turkey but a brief aside on Coronation Chicken (or Turkey) may be useful. If you’ve only had it in a, let’s be honest, disgustingly soggy, saggy supermarket sandwich then you could be in for a pleasant surprise. The dish was created by Rosemary Hume and/or (depending on what you read) Constance Spry, principals of the Cordon Bleu Cookery School, for the Queen’s coronation in the 1950s.

It has since gone through many incarnations, from posh to oh my gosh, and if I was making it in small quantities I’d use home-made mayonnaise. But I make no apologies for using Hellman’s when I’m catering for a crowd. As a rough guide, I usually use 50-50 bought mayonnaise and Greek yoghurt, which lightens the mix. Then I add a judicious amount of mild curry paste: curry powder is too grainy. A good dollop of mango chutney and a squeeze of lemon juice and you’re good to go. Optional extras include some raisins or sultanas or dried apricots, a scattering of toasted almonds and a big handful of chopped fresh coriander.

Mix together according to your personal taste – this isn’t one of those exact recipes – adding small amounts of curry paste and mango chutney at first until you have something you like. Try it either dolloped into crisp Baby Gem lettuce leaves, in tartlet cases (fill at the last minute or they’ll go soggy), or just plonked in a big bowl for people to scoop out spoonsful as they like. I made it for a family party (joint 18th and 21st since you ask, many happy returns Alex and Vee, cake queens of this county).

Image of Coronation Turkey

14 thoughts on “Not Just For Christmas

  1. It’s sad that Coronation Chicken (turkey) has such a bad rep, it can be super delish. I have to say I was served a very bad example in the UK. We take it to a whole new level here, and add fresh mango and toasted cashews. never thought to use turkey, inspired thnking…

  2. I have to admit that when I saw you were writing about turkey, my heart sank as I’m really not a fan. But Coronation Turkey, ooh yes please! I love Coronation Chicken but hardly ever have it because it always comes in ropy sandwiches where I know the chicken probably led a miserable existence…and for some reason I never think to make it myself. Yum, enjoy your celebration.

  3. I love turkey – I think it’s wildly underrated (especially a nicely reared bird like the ones you had). It’s only bad when it’s cooked (invariably) poorly – done well, it can be gorgeous. I love to use it in curries instead of chicken – so the link here is obvious for me. I don’t think I’ve ever made coronation chicken/turkey… I just don’t think of it. You’ve made me rethink an old classic – it may just go on the list for a picnic 🙂 Sounds like you had a nice family gathering!

  4. I do the same thing for a crowd. Even though it’s plates of meat, I do fun things with the buns/breads, cheeses, and condiments. And a few fun salads do make a difference. I also used to smoke turkey for something a little different. Now I’m hungry.

  5. Every November, after everyone has been fed and the bird sliced, bagged, and stored. I wonder why I only do it once a year. Turkey sandwiches are the best and I love turkey stock with a resulting risotto. You’ve got me thinking, Linda. Could this be the year I roast 2 birds? Hmmm ….

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