Miracle or total turkey We put M&S”s 45-minute bird to the test
Taste test: Tessa Cunningham carves the 45-minute M&S turkey
The clock is ticking down. It’s nearly time for the most awkward moment of the year. The one we approach with a mixture of dread and anticipation.
No, not the one when you have to feign delight when the in-laws arrive for Christmas.
The other one — when you carry the turkey to the table, hold your breath and beg the Christmas fairy: ‘Please let it be ready. Please let it taste OK.’
It feels as if you’ve been thinking of little else but this blasted bird for weeks.
You crawled out of bed at dawn to stick the wretched thing in the oven. You’ve been basting it for hours. And the meat thermometer’s been in and out of the turkey so often that the bird looks like a pincushion.
We all know what we’re looking for. Gleaming, bronzed bird. Succulent, moist meat.
But whatever recipe you follow or celebrity chef’s advice you choose to take, on Christmas Day it always seems a matter of pot luck whether you end up with a juicy delight or a taste- less letdown.
But those wise men at M&S have brought forth a wondrous gift: a turkey they claim will cook to perfection in just 45 minutes.
In other words, you could pop it in halfway through Downton and it would still be ready by the time Matthew Crawley has finally decided whether his heart belongs to Lady Mary or not.
It sounds incredible. Surely no turkey, however small, could cook in less than an hour. But then, of course, this is not just any turkey; this is an M&S turkey — which means it’s had a little help before it reaches the shelves.
It’s been basted with ‘umami stock’ (a savoury broth, to you and me) and pre-roasted for up to two hours before being chilled, ready for second-stage roasting in the home.
‘We’ve spent 47 weeks preparing to launch this turkey,’ says M&S poultry chief Torben Lining.
‘We’ve checked for flavour, succulence and texture. I’d like to think that it’s as near perfect as is possible.’
Gamble: Whatever recipe you follow, on Christmas Day it always seems a matter of pot luck whether you end up with a juicy delight or a taste-less letdown
But as I take delivery of my Perfectly Cooked Classic Turkey Crown, I’m in for a surprise. It’s a whopping 4lb 2oz (1.95kg), enough to feed at least six people. Can it really cook in less time than it takes to bake a potato
After all, a conventional crown this size would take a good 80 minutes to cook, so M&S has almost halved the cooking time.
The turkey — which comes in a foil tray with two bay leaves and a slice of candied lemon — looks so mouthwateringly attractive that I’m instantly won over.
And — joy of joys! — there is no messy work to deal with. No slippery giblets. No brining, basting or slathering with rashers. And it comes pre-stuffed with a sage and onion mix.
All I have to do is remove and discard the outer bag, leaving the turkey in an inner oven bag, and pop it in the oven at gas mark 5/190c/375f.
Then I pour myself a glass of wine while the kitchen starts filling with the delicious buttery aroma of roasting turkey.
As the minutes tick by and I sip my chilled chablis, I think of all the sweat and bother that would normally be involved and the frantic worrying whether it would be ready on time.
Too early and it risks getting cold and drying up. Too late and all the trimmings dry up or turn to mush.
But with my turkey in a trice, I’ll know to the second when it will be ready. After 30 minutes, I take it out of the oven to check its progress. It’s bronzing nicely.
As instructed, I cut open the oven bag to ensure a real golden finish for the last part of cooking. The instructions also suggest I might like to add 200ml of water to the roasting bag to ‘add extra succulence’.
I’m a little suspicious. I was hoping the turkey would be succulent enough without needing extra water.
Nevertheless, I’m determined to do all I can to help this bird. I tip in the water. It’s like making Pot Noodle or Cup-a-Soup. There’s so much that it sploshes over the sides.
Then I put the turkey back in the oven for the final 15 minutes and cross my fingers.
After a total cooking time of exactly 45 minutes, I take the turkey out of the oven. It looks and smells divine — lovely bronzed skin, a gorgeous rich aroma. The stuffing gives off a deep smell of sage.
It’s definitely cooked but — what’s this! — I’ve got to be patient a little longer.
Though it needs only 45 minutes in the oven, the instructions tell me to cover the bird in foil and allow it to rest for 30 minutes before serving.
Apparently, the residual heat will continue to cook the turkey all the way through and help improve the flavour, allowing the juices to get reabsorbed.
In other words, it takes 75 minutes for the M&S miracle bird to be ready, not the 45 I’d been led to believe.
Still, I try not to feel churlish. After all, even a normal turkey is best left to rest for at least 20 minutes. And there’s no doubt that cooking a turkey has never been this fast or as easy.
And so, just one hour and 15 minutes after putting my turkey in the oven, I carve my first slice.
The knife glides through the meat. I allow myself to breathe a sigh of relief. And then I take my first bite.
And in that instant, my sense of wonder evaporates as fast as snow in a heatwave.
It’s like chewing a mixture of dried bread and wood shavings. The meat is totally and utterly flavourless. In fact, the only thing I can taste is the sage in the stuffing.
I am bitterly disappointed. I have followed the instructions to the letter, so hand on heart I know I’m not guilty of overcooking the turkey. If anything, my oven is on the cool side.
And when I double-check with the M&S chef, he assures me that the cooking instructions allow for a little leeway.
‘Obviously every bird is different,’ he says. ‘But a few minutes’ extra cooking should make no difference at all.’
Yet despite following the instruction to the letter, the result was drastically dry.
A quick-cooking bird Yes. A delicious one Definitely not. Sorry, you’ll have to hunt elsewhere for a Christmas miracle.