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The Butter-Basted Bastard

You can listen to this instead of reading it with the podcast thingies above. Sorry there’s two but the app I got cut me off after 15 minutes, then asked me to rate the app. OH I WILL. Oh. I. Will.

I’d never made my own turkey. When I was growing up we had someone to do this for us. Call me out for being a snob or living a privileged life, but we a had a man who cooked the turkey, slaved away on the carving and delivered it to our plate without us lifting a finger. His name was Bernard Matthews. I always wondered what people meant when they said they ate leftovers for days. Those little plastic packs were always fairly small.

Since living away from home I’d tended to avail myself of the benefits of being single and usually alone at Christmas (put the violins away, I fucking love it). When I found myself wondering “what happens if you just have pigs in blankets. JUST pigs in blankets. Nothing else. Just the whole plate. Massive pigs in blankets. And gravy.” I was able to turn these imaginings into reality, and no-one was there to judge me. Except everyone I told and everyone who saw the photos on Facebook.

Fast forward to Christmas 2017 and I found myself having a full-on turkey for the first time. My housemate and I decided to buy one big enough to feed the stars of a Channel 5 mega-family docu-series. The leftovers concept appealed to her, and we also had a pretty ravenous cat with high expectations. The problem with getting a massive turkey, and something we only considered as it arrived, was it didn’t look like it would fit in the fridge. Or the oven for that matter.

Was it really that big? It was certainly overkill for two people and a cat, but the problem was mainly that our fridge was so fucking tiny I am planning an entirely separate post about it.

The turkey arrived and in a feat of engineering we managed to fit it into the student bedsit fridge our landlord provided. It was broadly at the expense of almost all other perishable food, so we rewarded ourselves by trying to stuff our faces with as much of that as possible.

We had the kitchen roles sorted (and the kitchen roll). I would do all the veg and Andrea would handle the turkey. This was for two reasons.

Firstly, I have an extreme phobia of any animal food resembling its original form. Some of you may remember this, from the occasion I almost plastered the work canteen with vomit after deciding to go “edgy” and order the octopus stew. More commonly, it means I’m freaked by whole fish (although it’s one of my lesser phobias since it didn’t even make it into the McCannecdote entitled My Bizarre Phobias) but the turkey was definitely going to qualify too. Although vegetables are almost always sold identical to how they looked when they were alive, my overactive phobic glands have never had a problem with them.

Secondly, I didn’t have the remotest fucking clue how to cook a turkey. From what I’d seen and read it involved more than incremental minutes on the microwave timer, so I was out. All kinds of steps had to be taken to ensure the turkey didn’t end up too dry (although I always had a back-up for this having recently invested in an extra large, some would say impractical, gravyboat – safe to the say this turkey was going to be moist and meaty however it got cooked).

Roles defined, it was time to get to work. Bizarre as it might sound as a Scottish, I felt strangely at home preparing the vegetables. In fact I felt quite the chef. I had discovered on a previous occasion that myself and Andrea had a different idea as to what roast potatoes were. Her process involved sticking herbs and oil on them and putting them in the oven. They would come out tasty, but essentially just hot bits of potato. This was not what I thought I knew as roast potatoes. I thought they were meant to be fluffy with a harder skin; but I didn’t query this, lest she grill me about “well how do you make them?” – this was not a question I could answer. Just like Mr Matthews had prepared my Christmas turkey in life thus far, my roast potatoes had generally come on a Sunday courtesy of a Mr Wetherspoon, a Mr Yates, or a Mrs Red Lion.

This was my chance to show off my true prowess in the kitchen, and no-one would ever know that I learned how to make these on an internet page less than an hour previously. Proper roast potatoes involved cooking them, pouring flour on them and cooking them again. It was messy but straightforward.

In the end the whole thing was timed to perfection, topped off when I dabbled in meats to prepare the pigs in blankets. And I even had five minutes to spare to leave the room while Andrea did god-knows-what with the finished bird, avoiding the risk of me choking on my own sick at the sight of a toasted, headless turkey.

A tasty and almost traditional Christmas lunch awaited us, and nothing went wrong. I know, right, where’s the fun in that (next I’ll be writing McCannecdotes about successful dates and times I said the right thing in the right moment). Don’t worry, havoc is on the horizon.

The following year, giddy with confidence about the success of Christmas 2017, and with my flatmate in Germany over the break, I decided to try… to do it all by myself.

I mentioned my cat, Whacky, who had enjoyed a tub of leftovers the previous year equal in size to mine and Andrea’s combined. She had been looking forward to a repeat of turkey season all year, so if you think I was getting away with buying a more modest turkey for one, think again.

Some challenges were easier than last time. For example, I already knew exactly how to dismantle the insides of the fridge to fit the turkey in.

Others were new. Due to my aversion to the sight of the tasty corpse, I had learned absolutely fuck all about the turkey cooking process the previous year. It was still a dark art to me as I’d spent the whole time either staring at vegetables being cut (to ensure I didn’t garnish the dish carelessly with a bloodied fingertip), or staring at vegetables cooking (to ensure my “one job” didn’t end up like that time I made porridge in the microwave with only guesswork to aid me in oats/milk/time ratios).

I didn’t fully appreciate how the sight of this full turkey would make me want to retch, until I was presented on Christmas Day with the immediate prospect of looking at it and touching it. I was to learn these two things would play a pivotal role in the transformation of this bird from a pasty slimy lump into a golden brown gravy-drenched festive delicacy.

I searched online for some guidance. It had served me well the previous year showing a German what real roasties were (although admittedly this illusion involved me taking all the individual potatoes I’d fucked up with too much or too little flour/oil, putting them on my plate, and pouring gravy from my new gravyboat before Andrea spotted).

My optimism took a dive when I realised making a turkey was not quite so simple as “make the potatoes twice, sprinkling on cake stuff in between”). I searched with pragmatism: “turkey for beginners”, “first christmas turkey”, “super simple turkey recipe”, “cook turkey quickly”, “turkey roasting for children and the infirm”. Nothing looked simple. I found a “foolproof recipe for perfect Christmas turkey”; this didn’t sound good. Perfect turkey? That’s ambitious and must be complicated. I don’t need perfect – it’s just me, this is just a bucket list thing, as long as some parts are edible, I don’t get turkey poisoning, and it can be photographed from at least one angle looking decent enough to send to my housemate with the message “SEE, I CAN MANAGE!”

I found one that had just a few steps. This could be it. If one of those steps was simply entitled “…and bosch!” I was in. It was not to be. One of the steps was in fact along the lines of “prepare the turkey for roasting, in your usual way”. Not “in the usual way”, but “in your usual way” – suggesting the target audience of this recipe not only knew what they were doing but knew it well enough to develop their own ‘house style’ on the matter. For the eighteenth time in five minutes, I pressed the back button and refined my search.

Another recipe seemed simple and rustic, casual turkey cooking for busy families. Great. But no, it was the beginning of a trend. “Grab some butcher’s string…” – oh, of course, let me just go to the butcher’s string drawer where I keep my butcher’s string for occasions like this. Darn where is it, oh yeah I forgot to have one, just like I don’t have a cleaver and an obese dog, because I’m not a fucking butcher. Butcher’s string…

My next search was more specific “simple turkey, no equipment, nothing cunty”, then “christmas turkey life hacks”, “chef’s hate this one bizarre turkey roasting trick”, “world record attempt, fastest turkey”. I began to wonder if it might be easier to ditch this overly ambitious show of culinary independence, and produce photographic evidence instead by steeping the raw turkey in a sink full of cold tea until it was visibly brown enough for social media.

I got a YouTube video – simple first timer turkey recipe. Was this it? He wanted me to subscribe to his channel first. Listen, “Clay”, I’m here to learn how to cook this turkey, this has to be done today, I have no use for subscribing unless this simple first timer recipe is a partwork. Clay made it look easy, but I feel part of the credit goes to the $150,000 kitchen he was sitting in. I had space for my turkey in the fridge, just about in the oven, but worktop-wise there was only space for this bird if I could reanimate it and get it to stand. I wish I’d had the forethought to get a new kitchen for my first Christmas dinner…

Despite the fact I had nothing in common with Clay, and literally no tool he used or kitchen location even remotely looked like mine, I managed to glean some details.

But I wish I hadn’t. He pulled out a bag of guts from the turkey’s arsehole or something. Ha, those Americans, they put weird stuff in poultry, mine definitely doesn’t have that. Definitely. Definitely not, I mean why? Of course it did. I held back the sick long enough to check and sure enough there was a little goody bag tucked away in a handy orifice. What’s that for then? Oh I might want to make gravy out of it? No thanks, I’ve got my own freshly granulated gravy (and I don’t know if I mentioned, a new gravyboat).

Next it was the neck. They put that up there too. Just as a little bonus. I was going to fucking puke by this point. When you cut heads off, you know what, just take necks too. I wouldn’t feel shortchanged if my turkey’s arse was empty. As I began to feel more and more faint, I grabbed the giblets and the neck and decided to use them after all, to make a nice filled and double-tied black bin bag to enjoy taking outside later.

Then I had to remove the wishbone, which – hilariously – no-one on the entire internet could adequately direct me towards finding, and finding it myself was a voyage of unwanted discovery into the insides of a raw animal. I was tempted to call the local vet to ask where the wishbone was, but they weren’t open due to… well, Christmas. In the end, after some brutal knifework, there was a bone removed, which may or may not have been the right one, I was past caring.

It was almost Boxing Day, I should have started this shitshow sooner. I distilled every recipe down to the basics, and what was going to happen, was I was putting some butter on this turkey, putting it in the oven and going to have a lie down – possibly until New Year.

How difficult can smearing butter and herbs be, right? I started with a knife, but it wasn’t going to well. I’d seen Clay with some kind of poultry paintbrush. I was lucky to have even had a potato peeler (it was my housemate’s). The knife wasn’t working, so I got stuck in and used my hands. This was, in simple terms, a massive fucking boo-boo. After several minutes of butter smearing, I had very heavily buttered hands and very lightly, almost non-existantly buttered posh chicken. I tried various techniques to transfer the butter from my hands, but the turkey was having none of it.

Hours of buttering

I wanted to try a different approach. I didn’t know what this would be yet, but first I had to clean my hands. I turned the tap on, and the difficulty I had getting butter to transfer off my hands onto the turkey was a different story with the tap – I now had a very buttery tap. The water wasn’t helping, I reached for the washing up liquid, the bottle literally slid out of my hands and dropped in the sink, having collected half the butter on the way. I was now in a situation where the washing up liquid bottle was the washing up and I was using itself to wash it. I was Fairy Liquid Inception. Once clean I tried again with the turkey, achieving nothing but taking the small amount of butter I had successfully smeared it with, back onto my hands.

“Oh FUCK THIS!” I shouted, no-one to hear me. Oh, except the entire population of London – I shouted loud.

This thing was going in the oven, butter or not, herbs or not, ready or not, just without the neck definitely.

OK, for how long can I go for a nap. I googled “how long to cook turkey”. Depends on the weight apparently. I checked the packaging. No details. Oh, that’s right, I’m meant to weigh this. It’s the size of my fridge and my oven, and of course I have a set of kitchen scales the size of my fridge – who doesn’t. Clay would have had an artisan system of pulleys and levers for this, tucked away in the north-east wing of his fucking kitchen.

Estimates were this would probably be around 5kgs but I had no way to check. OK, practical head on, I can do this. What do I have that’s 5kgs? Ah, my PS4! If it weighs the same as a turkey, it’s a 5kg turkey, and I’m done. Just need to remember to account for the 0.000002 grams of butter and herbs I managed to add.

I was sorted, but needless to say I ended up with, and still have to this day, a very slightly butter PlayStation.

I don’t really know what all the stress was about. I cooked it, it went brown, it tasted OK, good even. Whacky liked it. It tasted very strongly of gravy by the time I tucked in. I had even managed to simultaneously cook vegetables with almost Germanic punctuality. Even brussels sprouts, which I actually like. Admittedly I did not allow nearly enough time for the carving (~8 hours required, based on my experience) but it was all fine. Any time I cook something which has several moving parts I always end up with everything cold by the time I’ve served it. That’s where boatloads of piping hot gravy comes in.

I’ve added some pictures here so you can salivate at the finished result, and expect many requests to attend 2019’s Christmas banquet.

Before

After

About the author

Alan McCann

2 Comments

  • Excellent story! Love the addition of a podcast and me featuring in the story. 😀

    Very impressed with your newly aquired skills!

Don't just sit there, say something, the silence is freaking me out!