Each Thanksgiving I offer my readers the same time saving advice: Roast a turkey breast rather than a full bird. Roasting a smaller breast yields the same amount of meat as a larger bird, and is far easier to handle.
To serve eight guests, plan for an 8-pound breast, which will provide as much meat as a 10-12 pound turkey. Two breasts will produce more than enough meat for a larger crowd; if you set them sideways, each breast facing in the opposite direction, they may even fit into one large roasting pan. If cooking for two to four people – as many of us do these days – a 6-pound breast will provide generous leftovers.
Although brining the bird is very much in vogue (a process that involves soaking the meat in a salt solution prior to cooking), it is a practice I do not favor. The extra work is a bother and the end result tastes overly salty to me. My secret to producing succulent meat? Spring for a fresh breast rather than a frozen one, preferably buying a premium brand. I also skip the basting, instead inserting orange slices, fresh herbs mixed with some oil, or thin apple slices under the skin to keep it moist.
Italian friends of mine go a step farther in flavoring and protecting the breast meat of their turkey by spreading a paste of roasted walnuts and herbs liberally between the meat and skin. The result tastes like stuffing and resembles it somewhat in texture. To roast nuts at home, place them on an ungreased baking sheet and toast until fragrant, about 8 minutes, stirring halfway through.
Making the perfect gravy to accompany this feast starts by packing the breast cavity with an apple and shallots, then de glazing the roasting pan with apple cider and the reserved pan juices. Spooned over the sliced turkey and served with walnut “stuffing,” the combination offers an unexpected and unforgettable meal.
Walnut-Stuffed Turkey Breast with Cider Gravy
– Makes 10 servings.
- 1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and quartered
- 3/4 lb. large shallots, quartered
- 3 cups fat-free, reduced sodium chicken broth
- 1/2 cup apple cider
- 1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
- 2 Tbsp. flour
- Salt and ground black pepper
- 1 cup roasted walnuts
- 1 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
- 1/4 tsp. ground sage
- 2 tsp. canola oil, divided
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 6-7 lb. whole turkey breast
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
In food processor, pulse roasted nuts with thyme and sage until coarsely ground. Add 1 teaspoon oil, 1 tablespoon water, 1/2 teaspoon salt and generous pinch of pepper. Whirl to a grainy paste.
Using hands, separate skin from turkey breast, taking care not to tear. Lift skin and push half of walnut paste under skin on each side of breast. Pull skin back into place and spread nut mixture in an even layer by smoothing the skin, using gentle pressure. Coat skin with remaining 1 teaspoon of oil.
Place breast upside-down on rack in roasting pan. Place apple and as many shallots as fit into cavity. Push three short bamboo skewers across opening to hold the filling in cavity, and turn breast right side up. Add broth and remaining shallots to pan.
Roast breast for 30 minutes. If breast is browned, tent loosely with foil. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and continue roasting until instant-read thermometer inserted almost to the bone registers 160 degrees, about 60 minutes. To re-crisp skin, remove foil for last 20 minutes. Transfer turkey to platter. Strain pan juices into measuring cup, discarding solids. Skim off as much fat as possible.
Set roasting pan on stove over medium-high heat. Pour in cider and vinegar, and boil, scraping up brown bits sticking to pan with wooden spoon. When liquid is reduced to 1/4 cup, off heat, whisk in flour. Return pan to heat, and stir until boiling gravy thickens, about 5 minutes. Pour into a sauceboat.
Remove turkey skin. Lift off walnut mixture, and set aside. Slice breast, arranging meat on a warmed platter. Set walnut “stuffing” beside it. Add apples and shallots from cavity, if desired. Serve, passing gravy separately.
Per serving: 300 calories, 9 g total fat (1 g saturated fat), 11 g carbohydrate, 44 g protein, 1 g dietary fiber, 200 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.