Leah usually writes the food posts, but I actually do cook now and then. I don’t know about your house, but at ours, the Wine Imbiber gets the honor (read job) of cooking the Thanksgiving turkey. As Leah often says, “I don’t do big hunks of meat.” She’s the boss, so the turkey is mine. For many years, I’ve cooked a whole turkey. In some recent years, I just made a whole turkey breast (since most of us prefer the white meat) so I didn’t have to worry about getting the dark meat fully cooked without overcooking the white meat. But now I found a way to take this concept to a whole new level! After all, who said a traditional holiday meal has to be totally traditional?
I love turkey stuffing, but we never cook it inside the turkey because of all the articles telling us we’ll likely poison ourselves if we cook it that way. (Never mind that my mother cooked stuffing in the bird for decades and we never got sick from that.) So, we usually make a big pan of stuffing—too big in fact—outside the bird, but then the stuffed stuffing pan hides out in the refrigerator for several days after the holiday. If you’re like us, you don’t want a big pan of carbos taking up space in the fridge after you just gorged on a big Thanksgiving dinner. Well, in the past year I did some research and came across a recipe from Food & Wine (credited to Grace Parisi) that rolls the stuffing inside a boneless turkey breast. I adapted that recipe to come up with the perfect solution to our turkey–breast–white–meat–only–with–exactly–enough–stuffing problem. This recipe works every time. The end result looks great and the flavors (the bird, the stuffing and the gravy) are wonderful. Happy Thanksgiving!
Note: It is sometimes hard to find a boneless turkey breast at the store. When that happens, the easiest way to get one is to ask your butcher to debone a turkey breast for you, but be sure to specify that the turkey skin should not be punctured or removed from the breast and you want one continuous piece—not two separate half breasts. If you want to debone the breast yourself, there are lots of step-by-step instructions on the internet showing how to debone a whole turkey (for a good one, see steps 2–5 at this link), but I didn’t find any that showed the process for a breast alone. It isn’t difficult to do. The first step is to set the turkey breast with the breast side down and cut through the backbone (use scissors or knife to remove the backbone or use a cleaver to crack through it—but don’t cut through the breast meat side by accident). Then, using the tip of the boning knife, carve down the right side of the turkey ribcage, separating flesh from bone (again, make sure you don’t cut through the breast skin on the breast side). Do the same thing down the left side of the turkey ribcage and then carefully cut and remove the cartilage. If you do make a small cut through the skin, it won’t ruin the meal.
WI wine recommendation: Thanksgiving wine pairings can be controversial and everyone has an opinion. A sweet or dry Riesling to complement the bird (I prefer it dry)? An oaky Chardonnay to stand up to the spices and sauces? A complex, jammy Pinot Noir to match the myriad of flavors? A Beaujolais Nouveau—a light, fruity wine—the first wine of the harvest season? A Champagne to toast the occasion? Well, there is no consensus here, and I’m going to punt on this one and suggest that you try any wine you like. Of course, the recipe calls for a half cup of dry white wine, so you might want to try a dry Riesling or an Alsatian Gewürztraminer (which tend to be less sweet than other Gewürztraminers). Then again, if you drink the remainder of the bottle while you are cooking, you can always open something else for dinner!
Tuscan–Style Turkey Breast with Sage Gravy
(adapted from Food & Wine)
10 ounces pancetta, finely chopped
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1–1/2 teaspoons finely chopped thyme
1–1/2 teaspoons finely chopped sage
1–1/4 cups coarse toasted bread crumbs
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Turkey & Gravy:
One 6-pound boneless whole turkey breast with skin
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 pound pancetta, sliced 1/8 inch thick plus 2 ounces finely chopped
1 large onion, thickly sliced
2 carrots, cut into 1–inch pieces
16 fresh sage leaves plus 1 tablespoon finely chopped sage
10 thyme sprigs
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons all–purpose flour
1/2 cup dry white wine
5 cups turkey stock (or chicken stock)
In a large skillet, cover surface with olive oil and cook the pancetta over moderate heat, until softened (about 5 minutes should do it). Add the onions and cook, stirring, until the pancetta and onions are browned (about 5 minutes should do it). Add the garlic, thyme and sage and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the bread crumbs and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a bowl to cool down a bit while you flatten the turkey (below).
Turkey & Gravy:
Preheat the oven to 400° F. Set the turkey breast on a work surface, skin side down. Carefully remove the cartilage at the center; be careful not to cut through the skin. Fold the tenders outward, keeping them attached. Cover the turkey with plastic wrap and flatten it to an even 1–1/4 inch thickness with a meat pounder. Season the turkey with salt and pepper and evenly spread the stuffing over the meat. Beginning at one side, roll the turkey breast into a compact roast. Tie the roast in about 5 places with kitchen string.
Line a 9 x 13 inch roasting pan with the pancetta slices. Scatter the onion, carrots, whole sage leaves and thyme sprigs in the pan and set the turkey on top. Rub 1 tablespoon of the butter over the turkey (or drizzle olive oil all over the turkey) and season with salt and pepper.
Roast the turkey in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes. Add 1 cup of water to the pan and brush the turkey with the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter (or drizzle olive oil all over the turkey). Roast for 45 minutes longer, or until an instant–read thermometer inserted in the thickest part registers 140° F; be sure to check the pan every 15–20 minutes and add more water to the pan if necessary to keep some fluid in the pan. Transfer the turkey to a carving board.
Pour the juices from the roasting pan into a bowl. Spoon off the fat, reserving 2 tablespoons in a small bowl. Stir the flour into the fat to make a paste.
Set the roasting pan over moderately high heat. When it begins to sizzle, add the wine and cook until evaporated, scraping the pan. Transfer the contents of the pan to a large saucepan. Add the turkey stock and the pan juices and bring to a boil. Simmer until reduced to 3 cups, about 25 minutes. Strain the liquid, pressing hard on the solids, and return it to the saucepan. Bring to a simmer, whisk in the flour paste and cook for 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a small skillet, cover surface with olive oil and cook the chopped pancetta over medium–high heat until browned (about 4–5 minutes should do it). Add the chopped sage and cook until fragrant. Add the pancetta to the gravy and season with salt and pepper.
Discard the strings and carve the turkey into 1/3–inch slices. Arrange the slices on a platter and pour some gravy over the turkey (or pass the gravy separately, if desired).
The turkey and gravy can be prepared up to 4 hours ahead, kept at room temperature and rewarmed before serving. This recipe yields up to 10 servings.
November 18, 2008 at 9:23 am
Mmmmm.! That stuffing looks tasty! Was it difficult to roll into the meat? Does it squish out of the sides much while you’re rolling it?
No, Larissa, it is easy to roll the stuffing into the meat. You can spread the stuffing evenly and not worry if some squishes out the side OR you can pile it thicker in the middle and a bit less on the sides and then not have so much squish out. Either way, it will work fine. Give it a try!
this looks absolutely delicious