Finally, there’s the turkey itself. For years my mom tried to convince me to make just a turkey breast for the Thanksgivings I’d make at home. And for years I refused because I’d never made a whole turkey before and wanted to document that experience for the blog.
But because I was cooking a pre-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving for just Craig and his aunt and uncle on Saturday, I knew a whole turkey didn’t make sense. And so it was that I bought a 2 1/4 pound turkey breast at Gelson’s already tied up and everything.
Of course, I turned to Molly Stevens and her Roasting book to figure out what to do with that pale-looking piece of meat. The solution had three parts: 1. you rub it with a flavorful herb paste and marinate it for several hours; 2. you sear it in a hot pan to develop a crust; 3. you cook it low and slow to keep it moist.
The herb paste, which I made in my mortar and pestle, has garlic and sage and thyme and rosemary, salt and pepper, and the surprising addition of celery seeds:
Olive oil is what makes it pasty and then you rub it all over the turkey, under the skin if you can get there (I couldn’t with all that twine):
Into the fridge it goes, uncovered, for 6 to 24 hours. I only had 6.
When it comes out, you preheat the oven to 300 degrees and then heat a skillet on medium-high heat. You add a splash of olive oil then sear that breast:
When it’s brown all over, you transfer it to “a shallow roasting pan or baking dish not much larger than it is” (I choice a square glass baking pan).
Into the oven it goes for 1 1/2 hours or so until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part reads 165. That’s the most important thing you can have, by the way, when roasting something to perfection–a thermometer. That temperature tells you everything you need to know. Without knowing the temperature, it’s just guesswork and guesswork often leads to dry turkey.
Here’s the turkey breast out of the oven:
You let it rest for 20 minutes then slice it thinly and spoon over some of the juices. It’s a terrific solution for those of you who are cooking intimate Thanksgiving dinners for small groups of people. Plus, if there are leftovers–try to make it so there are–you’ll have great sandwiches the next day.
Sorry, mom, for doubting you. Turkey breast, just by itself, has a lot to recommend it.
Recipe: Slow-Roasted Herbed Turkey Breast
Summary: From Molly Stevens’s “All About Roasting.”
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh sage
- 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme
- 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon celery seeds
- 1 boneless turkey breast half (about 2 1/2 pounds), with skin
- Combine the garlic and salt in a mortar and pount until you have a smooth paste. Stir in 2 tablespoons olive oil, herbs, pepper, and celery seeds.
- Smear the turkey breast all over with the herb paste, using your fingers to slide some of the paste under the skin, being careful not to loosen the skin completely. Using your hands, arrange the turkey breast ina neat shape, tucking the edges under so the breast sits plumply on the cutting board. Now tie the breast (mine was already tied!), using 2 to 3 loops of kitchen string to secure it in a cylindrical shape and looping a longer string from end to end to keep the roast compact. Place the roast on a wire rack on a baking sheet or tray and refrigerate, preferably uncovered, for 6 to 24 hours. Let the roast sit at room temperature for about an hour before roasting.
- Position a rack near the center of the oven and heat to 300 degrees.
- Heat a large skillet (11 to 12 inches) over medium-high heat. Add the remaining tablespoon oil and heat until the oil shimmers. Sear the turkey skin side down, maneuvering it and turning it from side to side with tongs so the skin side sears evenly, about 6 minutes. Turn the turkey skin side up and brown lightly on the bottom, another 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the turkey, skin side up, to a shallow roasting pan or baking dish not much larger than it is (about 8 by 12 inches).
- Slide the turkey into the oven and roast until the juices run mostly clear with a trace of pink and an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part register about 165 degrees, 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours. Let the turkey rest for 20 minutes.
- Remove the strings and carve the turkey across the grain into 1/4- to 1/2-inch-thick slices. There will be few, if any, pan drippings (because of the pre-seasoning and slow cooking), but if there are a few, drizzle these over the meat.
Preparation time: 30 minute(s)
Cooking time: 1 hour(s) 30 minute(s)
Number of servings (yield): 6