I serve turkey all year, mostly ground, stewed breast in chunks, or as cutlets. Thanksgiving is the only time I roast turkey, making a whole breast because it is easier than wrestling with an entire bird.
The whole breast pleases everyone around the table just fine, providing the white meat they want, enough skin to satisfy that yearly craving and even a carcass to use for making soup. Since a complete breast can weigh as much as a small turkey, one is usually enough but if necessary, two medium-size ones will fit into many ovens, making it possible to roast them together.
This year, I hope to win praise by seasoning the breast like porchetta – the specially prepared Italian roasted pork. Italians adore this roast pig for the aromatic blend of herbs and spices, including fennel and coriander – plus garlic – that flavor it, as well as for its succulent meat and crackling skin.
A moist turkey is the Holy Grail in my Thanksgiving kitchen. The porchetta seasoning, a paste made by combining fresh rosemary, sage leaves, dried fennel and coriander seeds with garlic, coarse salt and olive oil, will help to insure this happens. Rubbed under the skin, the salt in this oily mixture acts like a brine to help the meat hold its moisture. The result is also pinker meat than you may be used to. To be sure the bird is properly done, I urge you to use an instant-read thermometer, waiting until it reads 165 degrees F. when inserted deep into the thickest part of the breast. Then, letting the turkey rest for the recommended 20 minutes should finish it to perfection.
Italians also prize porchetta for its browned, crisp skin. To help the turkey breast achieve equally good color, after smearing the seasoning mixture under the skin, I rub my oily hands over the outside, lightly coating it. In my test runs, the result was glossy, golden-brown skin, tenderly succulent turkey and a house that smelled divine.
P.S. If you do not have a mini food processor, you can make the paste using a broad, heavy knife. It requires patiently coarsely chopping the toasted spices, then adding the herbs and garlic, chopping them very fine, then adding the coarse salt and repeatedly alternating smearing them all together and chopping until you have a coarse paste. Scoop that up, place it in a small bowl, and mix in the oil.
Roasted Turkey Breast Porchetta-Style
1 tsp. coriander seed
1 tsp. fennel seed
1 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 Tbsp. coarsely chopped fresh sage
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/8 tsp. freshly ground pepper
3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 (5-7 lb.) whole turkey breast, bone-in
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth*
Combine coriander and fennel seeds in small, dry skillet and toast over medium-high heat until seeds are golden and fragrant, 3 to 4 minutes, shaking and moving pan in circular motion occasionally at first, then constantly. Transfer seeds to plate to cool.
Make seasoning mixture in food processor by pulsing toasted coriander and fennel seeds with herbs and garlic until finely chopped. Add salt and pepper and whirl until all ingredients are very finely chopped, 30 seconds. With motor running, drizzle in oil. Set seasoning mixture aside for 15 minutes.
While seasoning sits, use your fingers to gently separate skin from turkey breast meat, taking care not to tear skin. Using your hand, rub one third of seasoning mixture under skin on each side of breast and coat inside of breast with remaining mixture. Rub your oily hands over skin, coating it lightly. Seal breast in plastic wrap and set on a plate. Marinate breast in refrigerator for 4 hours.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place rack in large roasting pan. While oven heats, unwrap turkey and let sit on counter.
Pour chicken broth into roasting pan. Set turkey breast on rack. Roast turkey, turning pan in oven every 20 minutes to help it brown evenly. Breast is done when instant read thermometer inserted into thickest point reads 165 degrees F., about 2 hours for a 6 pound breast (allowing 20 minutes per pound). Skin can be dark without meat being dry, but tent foil over breast if skin is getting too dark. Because of brining effect of seasoning paste, skin near bone may look pale pink.
Let breast rest for 20 minutes before carving. Strain juices to serve on the side.
* May use 4 cup combination of low-sodium chicken broth and water.
Makes 8 servings (6 lbs.).
Per serving: 183 calories, 8 g total fat (1.5 g saturated fat), 2 g carbohydrate, 24 g protein,<1 g dietary fiber, 316 mg sodium.
Something Different is written by Dana Jacobi, author of 12 Best Foods Cookbook and contributor to AICR’s New American Plate Cookbook: Recipes for a Healthy Weight and a Healthy Life.
The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk, interprets the scientific literature and educates the public about the results. It has contributed more than $100 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. AICR has published two landmark reports that interpret the accumulated research in the field, and is committed to a process of continuous review. AICR also provides a wide range of educational programs to help millions of Americans learn to make dietary changes for lower cancer risk. Its award-winning New American Plate program is presented in brochures, seminars and on its website, www.aicr.org. AICR is a member of the World Cancer Research Fund International.
Photographs by Heather Victoria Photography