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An apple-syrup Christmas turkey with brown bread sauce

A spatchcock bird is the secret to fulsome flavour, says Kai restaurant’s Jess Murphy, who is all about making things simple and delicious

New Zealander Jess Murphy of Galway's Kai restaurant may have traded in 25th December on the beach, complete with simple, seafood barbecues, for a traditional Irish festive meal with all the trimmings, but she's still a firm believer in a Christmas day shortcut.

Her starter, Bertie and Niamh's Inis Mór crab with brown bread, is a case in point, as is her main course. "The whole thing with these recipes is that they can be prepared the day before, and there's not much fussing with the turkey," she explains.

Usually, Murphy’s own festive feast isn’t exactly front of mind. “I have to get everyone else’s Christmas dinner out of the way before I even start on mine. But I know for a fact I’ll be doing turkey and ham. It’s one of my husband Dave’s favourite Christmas meals, and he never really requests anything to be cooked, ever. It’s his day so he gets turkey and ham.”

Instead of making a homemade cranberry sauce, she simply brushes the turkey with Highbank Apple Syrup, but says you can just pour it on too.


“Turkey is a game bird technically, so it does need a bit of sweetness. I just think the apple syrup is so easy. It’s there. It’s in a bottle. You can use it again. In porridge, it is stunning.”

It would be rude not to treat yourself too. As Murphy advises, “While you’re online getting your syrup, pick up their apple brandy as well, which is phenomenal for a beautiful Calvados trifle. It wouldn’t be Christmas if you didn’t go online and buy something for yourself. Then hide it until Christmas day and pretend you always had it.”

Soda bread sauce

Turkey is naturally inclined to be dry, so it’s worth preparing backup. “If you have a Neff oven, you’re not going to overcook your turkey ever, because it comes with a meat probe,” Murphy reveals.

“But if it does dry out, you can always dicky it up with a bit of bread sauce. You can hide the dryness, and pretend it never happened.”

A three-year stint living in Wales is where Murphy picked up her penchant for bread sauce. Here, she uses soda bread to bring another, very Irish element and says, “It’s basically a creamy sauce that tastes like stuffing”.

She also appreciates the Irish tradition of three types of potatoes. “I like to have mashed spuds, roast spuds and dauphinoise potatoes. And I don’t have a deep fryer at home but if I did, I’d be making croquettes. Then there’s duchess potatoes too – really, the more 1970s a potato dish is, the better,” she laughs

On the side

Sides are a big part of Christmas dinner and though it is not traditional, Murphy also serves cauliflower cheese with Christmas dinner. “Everyone has ten kilos of half-grated cheese that is ancient and floating around the fridge at Christmastime, so it’s the perfect way to use it up. Or you could make a Welsh rarebit or a toastie.

Murphy shares a tip from her grandmother: after New Year’s Eve, grate all the leftover bits of cheese and freeze them. “Then, when she wanted to make cheese scones, a quiche or a sauce, she would just pull out a handful because it doesn’t really lump together. It’s all about keeping food waste down.”

Also on the side on Murphy’s Christmas dinner table are Brussel sprouts with bacon lardons, and roasted sweet potatoes, which are a New Zealand tradition with winter roasts.

If turkey isn’t an option for you, she has a list of alternatives. “I love rib roast beef, which is stunning, and you could still make the bread sauce,” she says, adding, “A rolled pork would be lovely.

“One of the chefs in Kai, her whole family hates turkey so they do a beautiful roast chicken – the Carlow Free Range chickens are absolutely stunning. They’re slightly bigger so will look amazing on the table.”

Bottoms up

If there’s ever a time of year to indulge in a little something delicious to drink, it is at Christmas. Murphy has tapped into her own in-house resource, sommelier Ruairí Riddell for advice.

The Irish-made Killahora Perry is his pick to start the day. “It’s a really nice alternative to Prosecco, you’re supporting Irish growers and it dates back to the 17th century,” explains Riddell.

“It is wild fermented, with no harsh nasties added, making it clean, pure and fresh. Wonderful if you’re starting early and don’t want to be too ‘heady’ while cooking, as it is only 5.5% alcohol.”

He is also recommending Róisín Curley’s Nuits-St-Georges Les Longuecourts 2018. Curley’s organic wines need no introduction to the wine lovers of Ireland.

“She marries a love of science with wine to produce small quantities of elegant and precise wines,” Riddell says. “Pinot Noir for me is a classic Christmas wine and it goes great with roasted fowl dishes. Only tiny quantities of this special wine are released so if you see one, snap it up.”

For those who don’t drink alcohol, Jess Murphy has some recommendations.

“Poacher’s tonics are great, especially the one with wild thyme, and they have a lovely spicy ginger beer. Ginger would go super well with the turkey,” she says. “Then there’s Highbank Driver’s Cider, which I’m a massive fan of. We have amazing drink companies here, and there are great non-alcoholic choices.”

Roast spatchcock turkey

A spatchcock turkey is a great choice for those wanting to minimise their waste this Christmas, as unlike a crown, you get to use the whole turkey while still benefiting from a shorter cooking time. Using a spatchcock turkey also means you can use the bones to make a broth the day after, and you’ll have more turkey left over for the all-important Stephen’s Day sandwiches.


  • 4 kg turkey
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1 tbsp coarse ground black pepper
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme, chopped
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 6 leaves sage, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • Highbank Apple Syrup for glaze


  • With your turkey patted dry, turn over so the breasts are against the cutting board. With a cleaver or sharp cooking shears, cut along the backbone along both sides, then remove. Turn the bird over and firmly press down on the breasts to split it open. Or, ask your butcher to do this part for you
  • With your oven preheated to 180 degrees Celsius, place your turkey on a grate over a roasting pan, folding the wings behind the breast
  • Season both sides with salt and pepper and then rub olive oil, thyme, rosemary, sage and garlic all over the bird
  • Place in the oven. Cook for about an hour and 50 minutes or until internal temperature is 75 degrees Celsius
  • While still warm, brush on Highbank Apple Syrup to glaze.

Bread sauce with brown soda bread


  • 1 large onion
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 5 black peppercorns
  • 500 ml full fat milk
  • 150g fresh brown soda breadcrumbs
  • 75 ml cream
  • 25g butter
  • Sea salt to season


  • Peel onion, cut in half and stud with the bay leaf and cloves. In a medium pan heat milk, onions, bay leaf and peppercorns until mixture just begins to simmer
  • Simmer for 30 minutes
  • Remove the onion, bay leaf, cloves and peppercorns from the milk. Return pan to medium heat, add breadcrumbs and cook until thickened
  • Stir through butter and cream. Season well with salt and transfer to a serving bowl.