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Cold Turkey


to go cold turkey – to withdraw suddenly and completely from something bad for you; to stop taking an addictive substance (drugs or alcohol). Can also be used figuratively: “I’m going cold turkey on caffeine”. As to WHY we say this: some people liken the cold, damp and goosebumpy skin of a drug addict undergoing withdrawal to that of a plucked turkey. But I have two issues with this. Firstly, it seems unlikely that we would naturally choose turkey to exemplify this, as we are far more idiomatically inclined towards goose (goose flesh; goose bumps; goose pimples) and chicken (to chicken out; play chicken).  And secondly, the first written reference to cold turkey comes in the 1920s, long before it could be applied to drug withdrawal. It’s more likely to be a reference back to the 1800s expression talking turkey, meaning to speak in a direct, straighforward and honest manner.  It might be useful to know that in the UK, many of us go cold turkey in January; meaning that after a month of festive drinking and eating, we kick the booze for the entire month. Last year, I managed 8 days. #achievement #strong


Most Brits think it very odd to not have turkey for their Christmas lunch. In fact, we didn’t have it at our house  for a couple of years and when people heard this, their reactions of shock and horror would make you think that we had opted for deep-fried-fluffy-kittens for lunch instead*

We can, allegedly, thank-or-blame the Tudors for our turkey on the Christmas dinner table. It’s said that turkeys first arrived from the Americas in around 1527, and after this people followed Henry VIII’s example in chosing this new and strange bird as the more fashionable option to the roasted boar head that had been popular before.  And turkey stayed.  The Victorians did bring back goose as a Christmas rival, and the posher Victorians often chose peacock, or swan or a rib of roast beef but remember how Dickens has newly-nice Scrooge giving Bob Crachitt a large turkey** as a gift? Turkey was never pushed out.

For many years now, I have been demonstrating my own Victorian poshness by serving beef for Christmas dinner, but this year I have managed to persuade my family to have a turkey again. And this is because I finally tried brining. Yes, I know this makes me way behind all the foodies², who have been doing it for years, but in case you are also late to the party³ on this, here’s the science bit.

If you soak your raw turkey in salted water (with some aromatics, for good measure), over night, the salted water breaks down the muscle strands in the meat, and means that it doesn’t shrink in the oven and go all tough. The brine also permeates the meat, keeping it moist, and much easier to carve. I tried it the other day, and won over Turkey-Hating-Husband, so I’m a proper convert.



Feeds 8-12

  • approx. 6 litres water
  • 250 grams maldon salt (or 125g / ½ cup table salt)
  • 3 tablespoons black peppercorns
  • 1 bouquet garni
  • 2 onions, quartered (don’t bother peeling)
  • whole bunch of parsely
  • You can add all sorts of extras in, to make it more ‘Christmassy if you fancy, for example:
    • 1 cinnamon stick
    • 1 tablespoon caraway seeds
    • 4 cloves or star anise
    • mustard seeds
    • root ginger (again, slice, don’t peel)
    • sugar, maple syrup, honey
  • 5.5 kilo turkey (fresh. Don’t use a frozen turkey, as they have often been pumped full of salt beforehand)
  • butter
  • Lemon slices, dried herbs to taste


  1. Put the water into your largest cooking pot or a bucket or plastic bin. Add the salt, herbs and any other ingredients you fancied putting in.
  2. Remove any string  from the turkey, shake it free, remove the giblets, then add the bird to the liquid, topping up with more water if it is not completely submerged.
  3. Keep covered in a cold place, even outside, overnight. (If you are leaving it outside, wrap the bucket/pot in tinfoil and weight the lid down so that foxes don’t get a midnight feast)
  4. The next day, take it out of its liquid (and wipe it dry with kitchen paper) 1-2 hours before it has to go into the oven.
  5. Preheat the oven to 200°C/gas mark 6/400ºF.
  6. Melt the butter and any lemon slices or herbs together slowly over a low heat. Baste the turkey with the butter before roasting in the oven, and baste periodically throughout the cooking time.
  7. 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.
  8. Take the turkey out of the oven whilst you make the gravy and finish off the rest of the vegetables. The turkey should rest, preferably under tin foil, for at least 20 minutes, or up to an hour. 


*- not a real dinner. Don’t even think about it. Think of the humanity, for heaven’s sake

** in A Christmas Carol. But you knew that.

1 – posh – (adj) – upper class, wealthy, sometimes elegant or chic. The oft-repeated explanation for the word is that it is an acronym of ‘port out, starboard home’, being the ‘expensive’ way to travel on cruise liners during the Raj. The porters would scrawl ‘PO’ ‘SH’ on the suitcases and trunks when allocating cabins. The ‘posh’ people didn’t want the sun streaming in the windows of their cabin, you see. Noone has any proof of this assertion, but it doesn’t stop people telling the story

2 – foodie (n) – someone with a particular interest in food, but not necessarily with any formal training; a gourmand

3 – to be late to the party on something – to become aware of something (a trend, a deal on Amazon etc) much later than most. Implies that the ‘party’ is already in full swing, and you are missing out on the good stuff


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