Let’s say that this year’s Thanksgiving feast is going to be a more intimate affair than the usual cast of thousands, yet you still want turkey. It can be done.
Instead of cooking up a whole bird, why not go with a turkey breast? “Because,” you reasonably reply, “white meat turkey tends to turn out dry as cardboard.” And indeed, that’s certainly a possibility, especially if you overcook it, which is easy to do. Happily, I’ve figured out just how to have your turkey breast and eat it, too.
Working on a cookbook several years ago, I came across an old Italian recipe for roast chicken. It required you to stuff a mixture of cheese and vegetables under the chicken’s skin before roasting. Intrigued, I gave it a whirl and was absolutely flabbergasted by the results. Not only was the flavor a knockout, but the meat — including the white meat — was the moistest I’d ever eaten.
It occurred to me that this scheme might work just as well with turkey. Having finally put this theory to the test, I can say that it translated beautifully.
The secret, I think, is that the stuffing underneath the skin insulates the meat. My stuffing combines sauteed onion, garlic and shredded zucchini with Parmesan and ricotta cheeses, all bound together with fresh breadcrumbs. But feel free to experiment, as I’m sure that any moist stuffing would do the trick.
It’s still important to avoid overcooking the bird. But you also need to make sure you cook the meat to a safe temperature. This is a balancing act. Cooking the bird to 165 degrees is the best bet for safety, but that doesn’t mean you need to leave the bird in the oven until it reaches that temperature. Meat continues cooking even after you pull it from the oven.
My solution is to pull it out of the oven at 160 degrees. As the meat rests (20 minutes is ideal), it reaches 165 degrees. Resting also allows the juices in the turkey to redistribute so that when you slice the bird, the juices don’t all come streaming out, leaving you with dry meat. And by the way, to get an accurate reading when you take the bird’s temperature, be sure to insert the thermometer deep into the meat, not just into the stuffing, and not next to the bone.
When you finally carve the breast, make sure that every slice has a little bit of stuffing and skin at the top.
Italian-Style Roast Turkey Breast
- 5- to 7-pound bone-in turkey breast
- Olive oil, to brush skin
- Kosher salt and pepper, to taste
- >> Stuffing:
- 2 medium zucchini (about 1 pound), coarsely grated
- 1/2 teaspoon of salt
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra
- 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
- 3 ounces finely grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 cups fresh breadcrumbs (pulse 4 slices firm white bread in a food processor or blender)
- 1/2 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
- Kosher salt and pepper, to taste
Heat oven to 325 degrees. Set a rack in the lower third of the oven.
To make stuffing: Combine zucchini with salt; let drain for 20 minutes. Squeeze zucchini to remove excess liquid. Set aside.
In a large skillet over medium, heat oil. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Add garlic and thyme and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add zucchini and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in Parmesan, breadcrumbs and ricotta. Season with salt and pepper.
Pat turkey dry, then rub with a bit of oil and season with salt and pepper. Using fingers, a chopstick or grapefruit knife, gently separate skin from the meat, being careful not to tear it and leaving it attached at the edges. Stuff zucchini mixture evenly under the skin, then place the turkey on a rack set in a roasting pan. Cover the breast loosely with foil.
Roast 1 hour. Remove foil and roast 60 to 90 minutes more, or until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees. If the turkey starts to brown too much, cover it again with foil. Transfer to a platter and let rest at least 20 minutes before carving. Serves 8.
Approximate nutritional information, per serving: 630 calories, 30 g total fat, 9 g saturated fat, 215 mg cholesterol, 690 mg sodium, 11 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber, 3 g sugar, 74 g protein