Sunday, 6 January 2013

Saffron turkey

I love reading about historical recipes. In the era "before children" I could indulge myself by throwing big costumed parties, and for my 30th birthday we had a Tudor-themed party (long before this historical period was sexed up and became trendy thanks to the highly inaccaurate The Tudors TV series). I remember searching the library books and browsing the online sources, looking for the authentic recipes of the period. I have found some fascinating recipes and was trying to impress my guests with a variety of dishes including a cake baked with dried marigold petals among many other things.

It is with great interest that I read a historical roast turkey recipe on one of my favourite foodie blogs, Lavender and Lovage, written by the brilliant Karen Burns-Booth. The recipe itself is called Gilded Saffron and Butter Basted Turkey (doesn't the title itself make you think of the colourful feasts and rowdy courtiers tucking into their meals with gusto?). I confess in the end I haven't followed the recipe precisely, but it definitely inspired me to cook our Christmas turkey with a difference.

I meant to do this blog post just after Christmas, but with the holidays on, kids taking turns at being poorly, this and that, I haven't had a chance until now. But it's not too late if you take a Russian Christmas into account, which happens to be tomorrow.
We had a guest for our Christmas lunch, an 85-year-old lady from Oxford, an old friend, whom I have known for more than 20 years. We met many years ago, when she visited my home town in Russia, she kept in touch, writing beautiful letters and sending books for me. When I came to the UK to study and later got married, we became even closer friends. She has become my English family. Sadly, her health has become rather frail recently. I was thrilled when she agreed to come for lunch on Christmas. We have arranged for a taxi to bring her and her carer over and then take back home after the meal. I was quite stressed that morning, trying to get everything ready for the exact time, with Eddie being poorly, me having a headache etc Then as I was going to bring the turkey in, my friend felt unwell, so excuse the poor quality of the photos, it was all so rushed, I had no time or chance to take any proper photos.

As there weren't many of us for lunch, I got a turkey crown rather than a whole turkey. But even the crown was almost 2kg in weight.

2kg turkey crown
vodka (just enough to mix with saffron)
2 tbsp of softened butter + more
1/2 orange
5 rashers of unsmoked streaky bacon

I didn't use the eggs for the glaze (or decorate with a garland) like Karen did in her stunning recipe, mine is a simplified, bastardised version. But it was delicious anyway, the turkey meat was moist and saffron-flavoured, plus it had a very pretty colour too.
First wash the turkey and dry it with the kitchen towel (ideally this should be done a day ahead to let the tukey dry well).
In a small bowl mix a few pinches of saffron and a splash of vodka, wait until the vodka acquires a bright yellow colour. Mix with 2 tbsp of softened butter. Carefully try to prize the skin off the turkey crown to get in between the skin and meat and push the butter inside, spreading it evenly. Smear the butter over the turkey too a bit and season with salt and pepper as well.
Place half of the orange in the cavity.
Put the turkey in a deep tray, place the bacon rashers on top. Put the tray in the oven preheated to 180C. After 20 minutes, take the tray out and create a kind of a domed roof out of the parchment paper or foil over the turkey, with the ends tucked under the tray. The dome has to be quite loose and not hugging the bird too tight. It needs the air to circulate inside the dome.
Cook the turkey for 20mins per 450g of weight plus 20 mins. Baste it twice (or more) with the butter/saffron juices.
For the last stage mix again a good pinch of saffron with a bit of vodka. Add 1 tbsp butter (melted), mix well. Apply the saffron glaze to the turkey with a pastry brush, or just spoon over to cover it well. Roast the turkey for the last 20 mins without any foil/parchment dome.
Let the turkey rest before carving it.

Serve the turkey with a selection of traditional side dishes: roast potatoes, steamed parsnips and carrots with the honey glaze, red cabbage with apples and brussels sprouts with chestnuts and cubed pancetta. We also had it with the cranberry sauce with port (not homemade, but courtesy of Tracklements). And there was a good amount of the saffron butter juice in the tray to make a fab gravy.


  1. WOW! Galina that looks amazing and I LOVED your post too, it was lovely to read more about you! I am SO overwhelmed that you made my recipe, with your own amendments, for your Christmas day dinner and your turkey looks stunning! Happy New Year darlink and thanks for linking to my recipe! Karen xxx

  2. Thank you, Karen! It was the first time I cooked the roast turkey, believe it or not, as typically we have a roast duck or goose for Christmas. But now I know how to do it. Happy new year to you too! And of course, merry Christmas (Russian style)!

  3. Looks a good way to brighten up dull old turkey!

  4. wow this looks really interesting and different! nice

  5. We did a bird in a bird in a bird etc. - a bit fiddly, but used breasts of all the birds, deboned turkey & 5 types of stuffing, tasted awesome (birds we used were pigeon, partridge, pheasant, duck & turkey!)

  6. That looks lovely. Nothing better than turkey wrapped with bacon. Mmmm.

  7. I love the look of this - & I have a turkey crown in the freezer, so am very tempted to try when family are round next

  8. looks like this made a interesting xmas lunch!

  9. This looks so tasty think i will give it a go :)