CHRISTMAS Day is almost upon us and that means it's time to limber up for one of the biggest and best meals of the year.
If you're pondering how best to cook a turkey or make lump-free gravy for your Xmas meal, don't fear – science has your back.
How to make perfect gravy
Back in 2009, boffins worked out the recipe to make perfect gravy.
The Royal Society of Chemistry devised the ideal process – and it's nearly the same as Mrs Beeton's method 150 years ago.
Mrs B – whose Cookery and Household Management book dates from 1859 – and the scientists both reckon beef joint juices, boiled cabbage water, salt, pepper and flour are essential ingredients.
The main difference is the chemists reckon a teaspoon of dark soya sauce should be added.
Scientist John Emsley said: "Gravy is a way to recover proteins, essential vitamins and minerals that may be lost on roasting a joint and cooking veg."
The best way to float your boat:
- Cook joint on bed of halved onions, carrots and celery.
- Remove cooked meat and veg from roasting tin and sprinkle plain flour over meat juices.
- Stir to form a dough, add veg water slowly then seasoning and soya sauce.
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Best temperature to cook a turkey
When it comes to avoiding a dry and tough bird, it all comes down to the temperature.
University of Bristol physicist Dr Peter Barham says that applying science in the kitchen at Christmas can help you achieve the perfect festive fowl.
As the meat cooks, its protein molecules begin to break down, causing them to shrink and making the meat tougher.
Parts of the turkey are rich in collagen, which only becomes tender and digestible at around 60C (140F).
That means you've got to cook the bird at higher temperatures to ensure the collagen-rich wings and legs are edible and tasty.
But that's not all. Dr Barham cooked up what he says is the perfect series of temperature changes to get the best out of your bird.
He said: "By far the largest component of flavour is the aroma (detected in the nose), rather than the taste (detected in the mouth), so flavour is dominated by small volatile molecules.
"Cooking produces many of these, and the ones we recognise as having 'meaty' aromas are generated through a series of reactions between proteins and sugars known collectively as the Maillard reactions.
"The reactions that generate the cooked turkey flavour only really start at a respectable rate above about 140C (284F).
"If the temperature exceeds 200C (392F) then different reactions leading to bitter and even carcinogenic compounds can set in."
That means that the outside needs to be heated to between 140 and 200C (284 and 392F) to make sure the Maillard reactions provide plenty of the coveted "turkey" flavour.
This needs to be combined with not overcooking the breast meat while ensuring the legs cook enough to become tender.
The easiest way to achieve is to joint the turkey so you can cook different parts of the bird at different temperatures.
How to make a Yorkshire pud
Scientists have also tried their hand at devising the perfect recipe for Yorkshire puddings.
Royal Society of Chemistry scientist John Emsley – a Yorkshireman himself – had a crack in 2008 after an English expat in Colorado asked why his puddings were falling flat.
According to Emsley, the batter must rise to 4in and the beef dripping must be smoking-hot before the mix is added.
Here's his recipe:
Ingredients: Tablespoon and a half of plain flour, 1 egg, Half milk, half water for thin batter, Half a teaspoon of salt
- Put flour in a bowl, make a well in the middle, add the egg.
- Stir until combined then gradually add the milk and water until the batter is a smooth and thin consistency.
- Stir in half teaspoon of salt and leave to stand for 10 minutes at room temperature.
- Put beef dripping into Yorkshire pudding tins but don't use too much fat.
- Put into hot oven until the fat starts to smoke.
- Give the batter a final stir and pour into the tins.
- Place in hot oven until well risen ~ 10 to 15 minutes.
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