Nigella’s Christmas Feast: A superjuicy, spiced roast turkey with allspice sauce

I prefer the brined turkey for Christmas. It tenderizes and gives the turkey a subtle flavor. Is it difficult to put a turkey in a pot, large plastic container, or bucket? At this time of year, it’s fine just to leave it in a cold place. It’s best to have it by the window of my kitchen. It means everyone freezes, but who am I going to put first – my turkey or my family? Out in the garden if you’re lucky enough to have one would also be fine, though the pan must be securely covered: I cover it twice with foil then put my son’s skateboard on top to prevent foxy foraging. Though you might find it hard to believe, a raw turkey covered in brine – with its oranges, cinnamon sticks and scattering of spices – looks so beautiful that I can never help lifting the lid for quick, blissfully reassuring peeks.

SERVES 10-16 for the Christmas dinner, 8-10 if you don’t have a table.

About 6 litres water

One large orange, or two smaller ones, quartered

250g of Maldon salt packet or 125g Table salt

Three tablespoons black peppercorns

1 bouquet garni

1 cinnamon stick

1 Tbsp Caraway Seeds

Four cloves

2 tbsp allspice berries

4-star anise

2 Tbsp mustard seeds

200g caster Sugar

2 onions (unpeeled), quartered

6cm piece ginger (unpeeled),

cut into 6 slices

4 tablespoons maple syrup

4 tablespoons runny honey

Medium bunch parsley stalks (optional, but recommended, if you still have parsley)

Turkey weighing 5.5kg


75g of butter, goose fat, or other oil

Maple syrup, 3 Tbsp

  • Use a large pot or a plastic container to hold the water. Before you add the juice of the orange quarters to the water, squeeze the lemon into it. Then, add the rest of the ingredients and stir until the sugar, syrup, honey, salt, and other flavors are combined.
  • Take the string and trussing off the turkey. Shake it out, then remove the giblets. Make the gravy stock by placing the stock in the refrigerator. Next, add the bird into the liquid. If it’s not fully submerged, you can top it up with water. Cover the turkey with plastic wrap and place it in cold storage. Pre-heat oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6.
  • Combine the maple syrup and goose fat slowly on a low heat. The glaze can be applied to the turkey before it is placed in the oven. You should continue to brush the glaze on the turkey throughout its cooking process. Roast for 2½ hours.
  • When you think it’s ready, pierce the turkey with the point of a sharp knife where the body meets the leg, and if the juices run clear, it’s cooked; if still pink, cook it for longer until they run clear, or use a meat thermometer (see below). Take the turkey from the oven. Cover it with foil and leave it to rest for between 20-40 minutes.

HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO COOK A? TURKEY FOR The cooking times here always seem shockingly short to other people but we’ve all been overcooking turkeys for years then complaining about how dull and sawdusty they are. The cooking time will not change if the turkey is room-temperature, untrusted, without stuffing and your oven temperature is correct. If you want to be really scientific, insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part: when it reads 74C it’s cooked. Because free-range turkeys are more marbling-rich, they cook quicker than those that have been mass-produced.

Allspice gravy

The best gravies are made by deglazing a joint’s cooking juices in the roasting tin but, with a brined bird, the liquid it gives off is too salty; you can’t use more than 2-3 tablespoonfuls. You could simply drain off the excess but, given the stress of Christmas Day, making the gravy in a saucepan is a better route as you can make it ahead – the stovetop will be busy enough.

Giblets made from turkey, not including liver

1 Liter water

1 tbsp allspice berries

½ tsp black peppercorns

Three bay leaves

Stick cinnamon 4 cm

1 stick celery, chopped

2 carrots, peeled & halved

1 unpeeled onion, halved

1 tbsp Maldon salt or ½ tbsp table salt

Juice of one satsuma/clementine (approx. 60ml), and pulp from fruits

2 tablespoons plain flour

2 tbsp honey

  • Place all of the ingredients (except the honey and flour) in a saucepan. Let the mixture simmer on low heat for about 2 hours. Cover it with a lid.
  • You can strain the gravy stock using a sieve or just pour it into a large measuring cup. This should yield approximately 1 litre. You can do all this well in advance (see below).
  • Mix the flour and 2 Tbsp salt in a saucepan. Heat the pan on medium heat. Once the mixture is hot, add the honey and continue to whisk.
  • The gravy should bubble. Stir it with a spoon every once in a while, just until it thickens and disappears.
  • You can prepare the gravy stock in advance. Make sure the flour, juices, and heat are added before you reheat the mixture.

MAKE A PROMIS Simmer the gravy stock for 2 hours and stir in the honey. Cover the pan and let cool in the refrigerator for at least 2 days. As directed, finish the gravy using flour and turkey juices.