Bonus holiday cooking adventures: Roast a turkey breast

Every year I make turkey for the holidays and every year, the dark meat gets left behind while the white meat disappears from the plate.

I can take a hint. There is no point in buying an entire turkey if only parts of it are going to be eaten. So, I started buying the turkey breast only and skipping the rest.

It’s a lot easier to roast because I’m aiming only for one temperature, 170 degrees. I don’t have to worry about the breast drying out while the rest of the turkey finishes cooking.  And, depending on the size breast you buy, it doesn’t take as long as a whole turkey. When the turkey is in competition with everything else you have to use the oven for on the holidays, that’s a good thing.

I order the turkey breast from the butcher. I ask them to bone it, but to leave the skin on the bird. I don’t have time to make broth or soup, so they throw the bones away, but if you want to cook with them, may the force be with you!


Once I get it home, I spread the two pieces of breast meat out on wax paper or a cutting board, skin side down. Then I create a paste of olive oil, chopped garlic, lots of fresh sage, and some fresh rosemary (careful, rosemary is strong!) and parsley. Sometimes I add lemon zest too. I rub it all over and in all the folds of the underside of the breast.


Then I turn the breast over, skin side up. Slowly pull the skin almost all the way off so you can rub the paste under the skin onto the meat. You’ll get better flavor that way. (Even if you accidentally pull the skin all the way off, you can just lay it back on top because we are going to tie it at the end. No biggie, even if we weren’t tying it.)


After you’ve coated both breasts, put them together so the skin sides face out. Then tie them together with several pieces of kitchen twine (nothing fancy — just wrap 3-5 pieces around tightly and knot them.) Then put the whole thing on a cooking rack coated with cooking spray and roast. I start out with a high heat (425-450 degrees) to brown, then lower it to 350 degrees until it reaches 170 degrees when tested with a meat thermometer. It takes about 15-20 minutes a pound. I roast about an 8-10 pound breast, so that takes a little less than 3 hours. Don’t overcook it — that’s what dries it out.


Notice I didn’t brine the turkey. That’s because we are on low sodium diets. If you cook it properly, you don’t really need to brine it, but if you want to, there are lots of great ways to brine, wet and dry, online. It’s not hard to do but you need a day or two head start, depending on what method you use.

Gravy is easy too. I was inspired by a recipe from chef Jimmy Schmidt that uses maple syrup and whiskey. If you don’t want to use alcohol, you can substitute chicken broth. The syrup helps brown the turkey.

Roast it, slice it, make the gravy and eat it. It’s a great presentation, and now I don’t worry about half the bird being left on the plate after dinner. If you’ve never made a turkey, this might be a little easier for you than making a whole bird. Let me know what you think. Happy eating!

Roasted turkey breast

One 8-10 pound turkey breast
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 cup chopped sage
zest of one lemon (optional)
2-4 garlic cloves (depending on your taste)
pepper to taste
2-3 tablespoons of olive oil
1/2 cup of good maple syrup (get the pure stuff, not the sugar-is-the-first-ingredient stuff)
1/4 cup of whiskey or chicken broth

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

1) Make a paste of all ingredients. Spread breast out on cutting board and spread past all over, including in folds. Turn breast over and pull back skin, but not all the way off. Rub past on skin that pull skin back over breast to cover herb paste. Coat skin with a little olive oil to help it brown.

2) Tie to breast halves together using kitchen twine. Place tied breast on cooking rack. Or, if you want, place in a roasting pan and use whole carrots as the rack. You just need some space so the air can travel underneath the bird and cook it more evenly.

3) Place turkey in oven. Cook for half an hour to 45 minutes until lightly browned. Reduce heat to 350 degrees. While turkey is browning on high heat, mix maple syrup and whiskey. When you turn turkey down, baste with mixture. Baste every 20 minutes afterward until turkey is 170 degrees. If you use all of basting liquid, use drippings in pan to baste.

4) When turkey has reached 170 degrees, remove from oven and cover with foil for at least 20 minutes.

Make the gravy

Pour drippings into a large measuring cup. Let set a few minutes and remove grease. Place 2 tablespoons of butter and two tablespoons of flour into a skillet, or use the pan you roasted the turkey in on top of the stove. Stir constantly until lightly browned. Pour drippings back into pan. Bring to a strong simmer (careful, don’t burn it). If too thick, add chicken broth, about half a cup at a time, until desired thickness. I find I end up adding about a cup to 1-1/2 cups more of broth to get the gravy to the right consistency. Simmer a few minutes to allow flavors to blend, season to taste.

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