Quick fixes for dry turkey, rubbery crackling, soggy spuds and other Christmas cooking fails

Don't panic - there are ways to speed up the time it takes to cook a turkey.
Don't panic - there are ways to speed up the time it takes to cook a turkey.  Photo: William Meppem

Turkey is dry

Be prepared: Brining the bird will give you deliciously moist, succulent meat. Prepare the brine - a mixture of salt and sugar dissolved in water, flavoured with aromatics - then submerge the turkey for 24 hours or so. The hard part about this is a) finding a big enough container to fit the bird and b) fitting it in your fridge. It's definitely worth the effort. Your vegetable crisping compartment could do the trick, or use your largest stockpot and remove a shelf from the fridge. No time to brine the bird? Cook the turkey in an oven bag. Available from the supermarket, these nifty plastic bags seal in all the moisture. Another quick tip for added flavour is to use a herb and butter stuffing under the skin over the breast meat area.

Christmas Day SOS: Most important, remember to rest the meat for 30-60 minutes (yes, really!), well wrapped in foil. If you are still worried that the breast meat will be dry, flip the bird over and rest upside down, so the meat juices disperse throughout the bird.  
Finally, while the bird is resting, deglaze the pan with some verjuice, white wine or stock. Stir over the heat until combined, check flavour and strain through a sieve. Carve the meat and serve on a platter, drizzled with plenty of the pan juices. This will help moisten the meat.

Turkey is taking too long to cook

Be prepared: Make sure the turkey is properly thawed and allow it to come to room temperature before you start (30-60 minutes loosely covered on the kitchen bench). I suggest not stuffing the turkey, as this will increase cooking time. Instead, make the stuffing in a separate dish. It's easier to serve at the table, too. Don't truss (tie up) the legs, as this will help the heat access all areas. Notwithstanding the visual glory of an enormous roast turkey, cooking a smaller bird, plus a turkey breast roll, takes less time, is easy to carve and gives more prized breast meat.

Christmas Day SOS: If the clock is ticking and the turkey won't cook, fear not. Joint the bird using poultry shears or a sharp knife, then return the smaller pieces to the oven to continue cooking.

Pork crackling is rubbery

Be prepared: Dry out the pork skin in the fridge for at least 24 hours. Remove any packaging and rinse the pork with cold water, then pat dry. Place the scored pork, uncovered, on a wire rack to elevate it. Rub generously with sea salt, as this will help dry it out too. Give it a whole shelf in the fridge and let the cold air circulate around it.
When you're ready to cook, remove the pork from the fridge and allow it to reach room temperature, for 30 minutes or so. Now you can use either a hairdryer or a heat gun (paint stripper) to apply more heat to the skin. Trust me. Dry skin = crisp crackling. Once the pork has had its blow dry, pop it into the hot oven to get the crackling started, before reducing the temperature to allow the pork to cook completely.

Rubbery pork crackling can be rescued.
Rubbery pork crackling can be rescued. Photo: William Meppem

Christmas Day SOS: If the pork crackling is rubbery once cooked, you can still use the hairdryer/heat gun trick. So, remove the roast from the oven and apply the heat to the skin until it blisters and crackles. If you don't have either of these tools, put the oven grill on and place the skin underneath. You can remove the crackling in one piece from the meat, allowing the meat to rest, lightly covered on the kitchen bench, while you finish the crackling under the grill. But my personal preference is the heat gun. Hopefully it was on your Christmas list.

Roast potatoes won't crisp up

Be prepared: For crispy, crunchy roast potatoes with soft fluffy interior, peel the potatoes and cut into even sizes. Rinse well then place in a pot of cold water (do not add salt). Simmer carefully until almost falling apart. Drain in a colander and shake them around a little to rough up the edges. Place the colander back in the pot (off the heat), pop the lid on and allow the spuds to steam and dry out some more. Preheat oil or duck fat in a roasting tray, then add potatoes and cook, gently turning after 20 minutes, until crispy and golden all over. Allow plenty of room to spread out in a single layer.

Christmas Day SOS:  My emergency trick is to deep fry my potatoes for a guaranteed crispy coating. Or pour some rice bran oil or vegetable oil into a frypan and fry them in batches, turning to brown on all sides. Serve with lots of sea salt.

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The gravy is bland or lumpy

Be prepared: To avoid the stress of last-minute cooking, I suggest making gravy the day beforehand and reheating it when required. To avoid lumpy or bland gravy, dissolve the cornflour in 2-3 tablespoons of cold water first, before adding to pan juices. Heat gently and stir constantly to keep the gravy smooth and lump free.

Christmas Day SOS: Lumpy gravy can be blitzed with a stick blender or food processor. If your gravy tastes bland, you can add concentrated stock, stock cubes or some Worcestershire sauce.