While last year you may have been strategizing where you’ll put the “kiddie” table, borrowing chairs from the neighbors and how the heck you’re going to fit that 25-pound turkey into the oven, this year, the CDC recommends a Thanksgiving “downsize” and offers ideas based on risk level including avoiding travel, dining with your household only, making food for others and dropping it off for them to enjoy, and throwing a virtual dinner party. Sigh.
With fewer people traveling, smaller gatherings and just not wanting to go out into the big wide world that 20- to 25-pound turkey may not be on the table this year. Sure, leftovers are great, when that Thanksgiving meal is enjoyed by just four guests, with a 20-pound bird you’d be slurping turkey soup or diving into a casserole of turkey ala king for weeks. Grocery stores have taken the hint. A survey by Numerator says that almost 70% of Americans are altering their plans this year and grocery store chains are adapting by ordering smaller turkeys.
If you’ve decided that a turkey breast is the way to go, there are tips for cooking that specific part of the bird, one that tends to dry out more than others. One tactic I’ve used is to roast it with a vegetable stuffing that goes under the skin. Letting the breast marinate in either a wet or dry rub with salt (aka brining) for 24 hours or so is another way to keep the meat moist. Try cooking it low and slow, yes, even in your Instant Pot or other slow cooker or covering the meat with foil with plenty of liquid in the roasting pan, then removing the foil at the end to allow the skin to brown. You’ll have plenty of gravy at the end. I’ve also had great success with a fancy turkey roulade which can be roasted or prepared using a sous vide method if you have the equipment.
As for sides, mashed potatoes of course, but also one or more of Kalamata Kitchen’s five Fall Squash Risotto recipes including chef Edouardo Jordan’s sweet squash risotto with clams and pickled peppers or chef Ron Hsu’s five-spice risotto. When you buy one of their Humpty Dumpty Had a Great Fall Squash Risotto tees, you’ll get one of their recipes and $8 of each sale goes to No Kid Hungry. While you can download the recipes for free, you can also buy all five double-sided, illustrated recipe cards for just $10 with all sales going to No Kid Hungry. Makes a great hostess gift or stocking stuffer!
Here is my recipe for a stuffed turkey breast roulade. It’s an adaptation of my “usual” whole turkey preparation with a sausage, apple and walnut stuffing, but you can also simply create an herb paste from any herbs you like (sage, rosemary, thyme, tarragon) or substitute your favorite stuffing. I also like using dates, apricots, figs and cranberries.
Stuffed Turkey Breast Roulade
2 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, chopped
2 large stalks celery, chopped
1 large apple, peeled, cored and chopped
6 ounces Italian sausage, casings removed
1/2 cup white wine
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme
1 tablespoon finely chopped sage
1 large egg, beaten
9 cups croutons, about 1/2 inch
1 3/4 cup chicken broth
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 whole skin-on turkey breast, about 6 pounds, boned and butterflied (ask your butcher to do this if you like). You may also use a 4 pound boneless breast.
Kosher salt and pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Set rack in the middle of oven.
Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions, celery and apple and cook, stirring frequently, until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the sausage and cook, breaking up the meat with a spoon until lightly browned. Add the wine, rosemary, thyme and sage and cook for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat.
Mix the stuffing croutons, egg, broth, parsley, In a large mixing bowl, combine the egg, stuffing cubes, chicken broth, parsley, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper and sausage mixture in a large bowl. Stir until bread is moistened.
Place the butterflied turkey breast skin-side down on the prep surface and cover with plastic wrap. Pound the turkey breast with a meat mallet or rolling pin until it’s 1/2-inch thick. Rub with 1 tablespoon of the oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Spoon half of the stuffing in a 1/2-inch layer over the breast, leaving a 1-inch border. Bake the rest of the stuffing in a buttered baking dish during the final 30 minutes of turkey cooking time for extra.
Beginning at the long end, roll the turkey into a long cylinder. Tie the roll with kitchen string at 2-inch intervals. Trim the string ends.
Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and place an oven-proof rack over top. Rub the rack with oil and place turkey seam-side down on the rack. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 1 hour and 15 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the roll reads 155°F. Remove the turkey from the oven and let rest, under foil for 15 minutes. Remove the kitchen twine. Transfer the roll to a cutting board and slice into 1/2-inch thick slices and arrange on a platter. Serve with gravy.
Rachel Forrest is a former restaurant owner who lives in Austin, Texas. She can be reached by email at [email protected]