A Christmas Experiment

N.B. In lieu of the holidays we have enlisted our favourite food-scientist Dr Paterson (who is neither a doctor nor a scientist). 

Well done parents for doing Christmas the last twenty-odd years. From this week’s experiences the whole thing seems pretty darn hard. Generally I despair of Mr Pixie’s lackadaisical attitude to planning, and to discover the night before a dinner planned for 15 guests that he had not decided what to cook let alone purchased any meat in advance did not convince me to start ripping up my to do lists.

The following day at the butcher’s (around lunchtime) we were kindly offered the proprietor’s own turkey for a mere £75 and so unsurprisingly ended up with an 8kg frozen supermarket behemoth instead. Frozen. Really frozen. Eight hours before our friends arrived; no chance of fitting the foul frozen fowl in the zapper, and a plastic bag of giblets nestled in what turned out to be a nicer part of a bird’s anatomy than previously suspected.

Up until recently, I had been labouring under the assumption that meat – poultry in particular- needed to be thoroughly and carefully defrosted before the cook even considered switching on the oven. But my preconceptions have been blown apart, and I bring you the results of a pseudo-scientific experiment that has (thankfully) left none of the guests from my boyfriend’s Christmas dinner sobbing onto their besmirched bathroom mats.

A very hasty google for rapid-defrost techniques turned up this webpage. ‘Don’t defrost the turkey, whack it in the oven, cook it for longer, Bob’s your uncle’ is its potted and grace-giving message. So we chanced it, replacing the quite technical ‘ensure the centre of the turkey is cooked to 165°C with a meat thermometer’ with a ‘stab it with a long knife then see if the knife is hot.’ During the ensuing six-hour scramble for roasted veg oven space, the beast seemed to cook itself very sufficiently right to the core, and turned out to have no pink meat and no up-chuck making properties. And though it did cross my mind that with the phrase “it’s safer to cook the turkey when it’s still frozen” the website saviour may be a jolly Christmas hoaxer; it did help us cook a juicy, delicious, MASSIVE turkey from frozen in less than 9 hours.

Despite the fact we were technically gambling with our friends’ health right before Christmas, I see this as a bit of a boundary-pushing win for the busy family or overstressed worker. If it works for turkey, why not any Sunday’s chicken? Pre-packaged frozen food often comes with the instruction ‘for best results: cook from frozen’ whereas Christmas turkey guides like this one are packed to the rafters with timings and do’s and don’ts regarding your pre-feast de-frost. It does strike me that keeping a half-defrosted bird in a dish of salmonella-water in your kitchen may actually be less hygienic than cooking it from a state of solid germ-repelling iciness. And if you’re dealing with an influx of family, or work up until Chritmas day itself, this should maybe be information that more people know about.

Maybe it’s a testament to ready-meals, fan ovens and deep-freezers, or maybe we’re so blasé about expiry dates and the three-second rule that the never-challenged doctrine of Thou Shalt Defrost remains the last kitchen taboo. But in a society where we can stash pretty much anything in a freezer for as long as we like and enjoy it as though it were fresh, maybe this is the next stage towards real meals more easily organised, shared, and enjoyed.

In years gone by the gendered division of labour or domestic labour have been the standby of complicated or large meals. Perhaps in our equal and fast-paced twenty-first century schizoid lives, over-burdened mothers can get some quality time planned instead of 24 hours/5lbs of Mr Gobbles and chronically hopeless dinner hosts can avoid poisoning all their friends.

I’ll update you if my insides become my outsides.

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