Dear Eric: Could you give me tips on cooking a turkey breast for Boxing Day. I would also like to try chestnut dressing.
Dear Mary: Boneless turkey breast roasts are convenient, cook fairly quickly and are easy to slice. You needn’t worry about the meat becoming overcooked and dry — as you might when cooking a whole bird. Once the breast roast reaches its suggested cooking temperature, you can take it from the oven. There’s no need to keep cooking it while you wait until the dark, dense leg meat is cooked.
You’ll see that some turkey processors tightly squeeze breast roasts (and thigh roasts, for that matter) into netted bags that form the breast into a perfect, oval roast. Unfortunately, after cooking, removing that netting is not easy. And when you do get it off, you’ll find it has taken along any seasoning you sprinkled on the roast plus a fair bit of skin; not good things.
I always take that netting off before roasting the turkey. I then tie the roast, the way most stand-alone butcher’s shops would, with a few pieces of kitchen string. This gives the turkey some support and helps it cook more evenly, but does not cover up the flesh, allowing the seasonings to stay in place after roasting.
To ensure the breast stays extra moist during cooking, before it goes in the oven I like to brush it with olive oil or, in the case of today’s recipe, melted and flavoured butter. During roasting, the butter drips over the breast and flavours it wonderfully. To create another layer of yummy flavour, as the breast roasts, I’ll baste it a few times with the butter that has dripped onto the bottom of the pan and blended with the pan juices.
Because turkey breast roasts can vary in thickness, the best way to gauge doneness is to use an instant-read meat thermometer. Once the turkey is cooked, it’s important to let it rest as directed in the recipe to set the juices. You’ll know you started slicing it too soon if a cloud of steam rises from the breast when you cut it and juices drip everywhere. Both are signs that moisture is escaping, not remaining inside the breast.
The canned chestnuts used in the turkey dressing recipe below is sold at some supermarkets and specialty food shops. The dressing can be made oven-ready in advance; see recipe for details.
You can put the dressing into the oven when the turkey is about half way done and it will be ready to eat after the turkey has rested and been sliced. Be sure to choose a roasting pan for the turkey and a baking dish for the dressing that will fit in the oven together.
Turkey breast roasts can sometimes be in short supply. So, to save yourself from running around looking for one, it’s best to call the supermarket or butcher shop in advance to see if they have one.
Turkey Breast Roast with Pan Gravy
This easy-to-carve, relatively quickly cooking turkey breast is accompanied with tasty pan gravy. Serve with the dressing below, mashed potatoes and your favourite vegetable side dishes.
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 75 to 85 minutes
Makes: 6 to 8 servings
2 3/4 lb boneless turkey breast roast
2 Tbsp melted butter
1 tsp dried sage leaves (see Note)
1/4 tsp paprika
n salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 cups turkey or chicken stock or broth mixed with 3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Place the turkey in a shallow-sided roasting pan. Combine butter, sage and paprika in a small bowl. Brush butter mixture on the top and sides of the turkey breast; season with salt and pepper. Roast 70 to 80 minutes, basting occasionally, or until the internal temperature of the breast reaches 170 F on an instant-read meat thermometer.
Transfer turkey to a platter, tent with foil and rest 10 to 15 minutes. Set the roasting pan on the stovetop over medium-high heat. Add the stock/flour mixture and bring to a simmer. Simmer until thickened gravy forms, about 5 minutes. Season the gravy with salt and pepper. Thinly slice the turkey and serve with the gravy.
Note: The dried herb called “sage leaves” is dried whole sage leaves crumbled into small, but discernible pieces. It’s not the same as the powdery ground sage. Both are sold in the bottled herb aisle of most supermarkets.
Chestnut, Apple and Pancetta Dressing
Pancetta is an Italian-style bacon sold at Italian delis and some supermarkets. If you can’t find it, substitute with 3 to 4 strips of regular bacon, diced.
Preparation time: 25 minutes
Cooking time: About 60 minutes
Makes: 8 servings
10 slices white or whole wheat bread, cut into 1Ú2-inch cubes
1 (15.5 oz) can whole chestnuts
1 medium red apple
1 tsp lemon juice
125 grams pancetta, cut into small cubes
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 large celery rib, finely chopped
1 1/2 tsp dried sage leaves (see Note above)
1 1/2 cups chicken or turkey stock
- salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 Tbsp butter, softened
1 Tbsp chopped fresh parley (optional)
Place the bread in a large bowl. Drain chestnuts well and then break each one into 3 to 4 pieces and set in a small bowl. Core the apple, cut into small cubes, set in a second small bowl and toss with the lemon juice.
Fry the pancetta until crispy in a large skillet set over medium to medium-high heat. Add the onion, celery and apple and cook 3 to 4 minutes more, or until tender. Mix in the chestnuts and sage and cook 1 minute more. Spoon the mixture over the bread cubes; season with salt and pepper and toss to combine.
Brush the inside of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with the butter. Spoon the dressing into the baking dish. (If making dressing ahead, cool to room temperature, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed. Dressing can be made to this point several hours in advance. When ready to bake, remove plastic wrap and proceed as directed below.)
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Drizzle the stock over the dressing. Cover dressing with foil.
Bake the dressing 20 minutes. Uncover and bake 25 to 30 minutes more, or until the dressing is hot and crisp and golden on top. Sprinkle dressing with parsley, if using, and serve.
Eric Akis is the author of the just-published, hardcover book Everyone Can Cook Everything. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.
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