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How to Cook the Classic Christmas Turkey
...In Aristocratic Style at Myres Castle
By Vivien Devlin

     

The old English nursery rhyme evokes the Victorian custom of serving goose for Christmas dinner. As colourfully described by Charles Dickens in “A Christmas Carol”, the poor Cratchit family saved all year with the Goose Club until the children would be waiting excitedly outside the shop:  “They had smelt the goose and known it for their own … basking in luxurious thoughts of sage and onion.”  When the mean-minded Scrooge finally adopts the festive spirit, goose is off the menu and he orders an expensive turkey instead.

     

Although first introduced to Britain from America in 1526 by William Strickland, a Yorkshire landowner, turkeys remained the privilege of the upper classes until the end of the 19th century when turkey began to feature as the traditional dish. Today, in most British households, Christmas would not be Christmas without a majestic, steaming, golden-brown turkey taking centre place on the dining room table.

If you are entertaining family or friends this Christmas Day, Luxury Scotland is proud to offer you an exclusive guide on how to cook the perfect Christmas turkey  - as well as suggestions for an appetiser, pudding and wines to create a classic festive feast. 

Festive Tradition at Myres Castle

   

Christmas is a nostalgic time when we relish a true sense of tradition, history and culture. So where could be more appropriate for our cookery lesson than in the Victorian kitchen at the luxuriously restored 16th century - Myres Castle. Ironically Myres Castle was built in 1530, just as that first American turkey was brought to Britain.


Myres Castle, a 5 star exclusive use property for fully catered house parties, weddings and corporate hospitality events, situated near Auchtermuchty right in the Kingdom of Fife. The Castle’s Executive Chef Richard Turner has recently arrived here following wide experience in some of the finest Scottish country house hotels - Inverlochy Castle, Kinnaird and the Peat Inn. The cosy country kitchen at Myres Castle was the setting for our tukey cook-in and features a gleaming oil-powered AGA stove (with two ovens, one for roasting and baking, one for slow cooking casseroles)  and a green painted Shaker-style dresser laden filled with antique plates, bone china tea cups and assorted kitchen antiques.

     

On the kitchen table in a roasting pan is an 8lb Organic Brewster Bronze turkey,  supplied locally by Dawn Dark from her organic farm in Newburgh, Fife.  This was reared from a chick, grazing in the open air since the summer. 

     

Richard is extremely keen to source local Scottish produce and know the provenance of food he serves at Myres.His appreciation of good food goes back to his childhood:

“My grandfather was a butcher and also owned a small farm. We always ate home produced meat and garden vegetables for family meals.” And continuing this approach today is, of course, environmentally friendly, reducing food air miles and the backbone of the Slow Food philosophy.

Acting Sous chef is Jeremy Hawkings (Chief Executive, Connoisseurs Scotland) who will assist Richard Turner in the cooking of the turkey. “I am a traditionalist when it comes to Christmas lunch” announces Richard at the start of the demonstration, “but I do have my own technique. To add significant flavour and keep the meat moist, I coat the bird with a special flavoured butter.”


“ The secret ingredients?” asks Jeremy   “Half a pound of butter, small crushed garlic clove, a pinch of thyme, sage and pepper.” Starting at the back of the bird, Richard carefully runs his fingers under the skin slowly separating the skin from the flesh creating a vacuum space all over. Using an icing bag with a nozzle, he squeezes the butter under the skin creating two small rounds, like small oranges on both sides of the turkey’s breast. “The butter melts during cooking into the meat as well as into the stuffing. Turkey can be rather bland and dry when cooked.  This technique works.” The melted butter is also used to baste the turkey during cooking– about every half hour – which browns the skin. 

     

The next task is the stuffing – traditional sausage meat, sage and onion – spooned into the neck cavity.  “A speciality Scottish alternative would be to use haggis as a stuffing”, suggests Jeremy, who highly recommends a haggis stuffing for chicken.Another suggestion is to place half an orange, lemon, or onion in the body cavity to infuse the meat according to personal taste.

     

Richard advises to place the turkey in the oven uncovered for the first twenty minutes. This helps the initial browning process. Then cover with foil, which is later removed during the last half hour of cooking to let the skin roast crisp and brown. The cooking time is dependent on the size of the bird: the bigger the turkey, the slower and longer the cooking time. The general rule is for birds under 4kg (9lbs) allow 20 minutes per kg (2.2lbs) + 70 minutes. Over 4kg allow 20 minutes per kg + 90 minutes. Poultry needs to be roasted at 170C (325 F) to ensure the internal temperature of the turkey reaches 75C (170ºF). 

With the turkey roasting away, it’s time to prepare the vegetables and trimmings. Home made gravy is an essential accompaniment believes Richard.  “The secret to a tasty gravy is a good stock - turkey giblets create a unique once a year, Christmas gravy.”  Ideally, collect your turkey a couple of days beforehand so that you can cook the giblets with carrots and leeks to make the stock which can be kept in the fridge. Then on the day, take the turkey juices from the roasting pan, pour off the fat add a dash of red wine and your prepared stock to make the perfect light roasting juice for poultry.


Traditional vegetables are brussel sprouts with roasted chestnuts, parsnips, carrots and roast potatoes cooked in goose fat - recommended varieties are Red Rooster or Maris Piper.  At Myres Castle the kitchen garden provides seasonal vegetables and fresh herbs – there’s even a Chestnut tree!. Richard has hand picked the chestnuts, criss crossed the shells with a knife, drizzled with oil and roasted them in the oven. The final touch: bread sauce and cranberry sauce - with a soupcon of orange zest, suggests Richard.

     

Tom Wellwood (front-of-house manager at Myres) was pleased to offer his personal recommendations for wines to accompany roast turkey. A rich full bodied white burgundy is the number one choice, namely Adamas Puligny Montrachat 1er cru (2000). Alteratively Gyles Webb’s Thelema Chardonnay (2004), Stellenbosch, with an elegant and buttery taste, or for a crisp, citrusy taste, try Casa Silva Lolol Viognier (2003) from Chile. If you prefer a red wine, it should be soft, silky and smooth such as Huia Pinot Noir (2003) from New Zealand.  An aged Claret would also be perfect: Chateaux Palmer Margaux 1983 – and select the vintage 1966 or 1961 for a special celebration. Of course there are many, especially the drivers amongst us, who may prefer something non alchoholic such as a refreshing glass of Highland Spring – still or sparkling.

As an appetiser before the main event, begin the meal perhaps with Scottish smoked salmon, served simply with fresh salad leaves. Seafood – especially oysters – is traditionally served in France at Christmas. And to follow the turkey, what else but a traditional fruity Christmas Pudding set alight with brandy as it’s brought to the table.  Alternatively Treacle sponge pudding, Marmalade pudding with spiced oranges or Trifle.

     

Back in the kitchen, the golden roasted turkey is cooked.  Decorated with garden herbs, rosemary and bay leaves, it’s presented on a platter surrounded by roast potatoes, carrots, parsnips, sprouts and chestnuts, gravy and sauces on the dining room table - a colourful, appetising and traditional banquet. 

“Food at Christmas” comments Richard,  “is rich, calorific and indulgent eating – but that’s what it’s all about!”

Stay at Myres Castle

Imagine spending your family Christmas or New Year at Myres Castle!  Today renting a Scottish castle or country mansion is increasingly popular for social gatherings over the festive season, for birthday celebrations, weekends, weddings as well as all corporate and business incentive events.  

       

At Myres Castle, an exclusive house party offers total privacy while guests indulge in the delicious taste of luxury aristocratic living. Sharing the castle with family or friends makes wise economical sense and will certainly be a unique and memorable experience. Amid this historical yet homely setting, up to eighteen guests can enjoy the freedom of the house with its sumptuous drawing room with blazing log fire, elegant dining room, billiard room, library and TV sitting room. The castle is filled with antique furniture, paintings, portraits and family memorabilia dating back centuries.

The nine individual, classic bedrooms, some in turrets and towers with four poster beds and Victorian roll top baths, all have direct telephone and CD players. The 44 acre estate has magnificent landscaped gardens (modelled after the Vatican garden), tennis court and parkland roaming with Highland cattle.  Activities and sports can be arranged from archery to mountain biking, or play golf at St. Andrews just 20 minutes away.

The General Manager, Lavinia Dowling oversees the running of the Castle (ten full time staff) with personal care and immense pride. “The beauty of Myres is the exclusivity, independence and freedom where guests may enjoy total flexibility to relax and do what they want. No rules or set meal times. We offer five star hospitality and service in your home from home.”

The appeal of grand country houses grows even more irresistible and precious as contemporary society becomes more casual and fragmented. To the 16th century the country house symbolised power, to the 18th, taste and to the 21st, nostalgia. “We possess nothing certainly, except the past”, comments Charles Ryder as he wanders around the deserted Brideshead in the course of a novel which has become the epitome of Edwardian country-house lifestyle.

“ I believed myself very near heaven during those languid days at Brideshead.  It is thus I like to remember Sebastian, as he was that summer, when we wandered together through that enchanted palace.”    Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh 

And at Myres Castle, you too can experience your own exclusive enchanted palace. 

     

Merry Christmas and Bon Appetit! 

   

Contact information

Myres Castle is not a hotel but an exclusive use property where your party take over the entire castle. Rates from £295 pp. Two night stay minimum. Fully catered, with breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner.

 

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