T for Two, or a Few More
This is a recipe and method for those who have neither the need nor the taste for a Big Gobbles (pace Timmeh) on the table.
I looked today (07/11) and did not find fresh turkey in parts. Grrrrr. Admittedly, it's 2 weeks out, but I will be alert in the next 7 days. What if I want to do a rub, a marinade, or a smoke? None of these apply to this recipe, but we know that there will be dozens of frozen toms and hens flooding the frozen shelves very soon, and they will be designed for roasting whole - with their little pop-up plastic indicators and other body-mods - and that's not what we are after.
Last year, for two people, I bought one half-breast (bone in) and two ample thighs, plus 3-4 rather small turkey drumsticks for stock. With careful cooking, the drumstick meat can be used for turkey salad or any other recipe in which you might use cooked poultry.
The other essentials are:
Pancetta or other cured bacon (if smoked, blanch it before using) - very thinly sliced
Sage or thyme or tarragon - fresh or dried
Kosher salt (or better - grey, sea, etc.)
Mushrooms - white, brown crimini.and/or other of choice and availability
Extra Virgin Olive Oil or Peanut Oil or a mild oil of choice
Heavy casserole or roasting pan, with cover
Celery - either the innermost white ribs, or a bit of leaf. The celery flavor can ovewhelm the herbs and parsley, IMO. However, endive or fennel might work here, too. Up to you.
Preheat oven to 350 deg F.
This is a covered roast - meat will be browned (or, as everyone says now, caramelized) first, then the roasting flavorings added, and then the final cooking. Anyone who has roasted a whole turkey knows that it is not a rich meat, and that the breast can dry out - even with vigorous basting - before the dark meat is done. :This problem can be resolved by boning out the breast and thighs, seasoning them internally, then barding them with the pancetta and tying and browning them before roasting. A rolled and tied breast will take about as much time as a boned and tied leg with this technqiue, and will retain its juices. The barding will be almost completely absorbed (an argument for paper-thin pancetta, which will both encourage browning, but which will melt into the roast afterward).
Have in reserve the diced onion, carrot and celery, and 3-4 smashed cloves of garlic. Slice or dice the mushrooms (depending on type), if you want them.
Bone out each breast, and each thigh you are using. I recommend cooking each half-breast independently. You'll need a very sharp and flexible - if not very long - knife to do this. Cut against the bone and you can't go wrong. Wash and dry thoroughly.
Once boned, you will have raw pieces of turkey that lie flat. Season them with salt and pepper (black or - I think very nice - ground dry green peppercorns), the herb of choice - I used fresh sage leaves last year (1 or 2), or a sprinkle of dried. Apply 1 or 2 very thin slices of the pancetta over this seasoning, according to the size of the meat, and roll up. Once the inner seasonings and barding is contained, wrap the outside of the breast or thigh with more pieces of pancetta, and then tie them on with kitchen twine - both to contain them and to maintain their shape during cooking.
Heat oil - or oil and butter combined - in the casserole or heavy roasting pan - couple of Tbs. ought to do it.. When very hot but not smoking, place the rolled and tied turkey pieces in and let them brown on all sides, turning as necessary (that is, NOT TOO MUCH) - the pancetta will help this process immensely, btw. Remember the ends. Remove the turkey to a plate when it has a nice color. The rendered fat from both the turkey and the barding will be more than sufficient to brown the veg.
Assuming the fat and browned bits haven't blackened, stir in the raw onion, carrot, parsley, etc., and season them. Their moisture will deglaze the pan of its browning juices, as you cover it for 5 minutes or so, over medium heat. Once the onions have turned transluscent, return the tied and browned meats to the casserole or roasting pan, scatter the whole garlic cloves in, spoon the sweated vegetables over all, and cover again.
Roast in the 350 deg F oven, covered, for about 15 minutes per pound of boned meat (and that's not funny - bones will conduct heat into the interior of a cut and shorten cooking time - grow up!).
I would start checking for done-ness 30 minutes before you expect it. You might want to turn the meat about half-way through, anyway, for even cooking. It's not going to dry out, I promise you. The relative bulk of the rolled breasts will offset the density of the thigh-meat and they will emerge thoroughly cooked and succulent.
If you are using mushrooms, add them in the last half hour. The meat will have rendered a lot of juice and they will soak it up.
I do done-ness by touch, myself, but if you have an instant thermometer, follow their directions. All roasted meats need a rest period before serving, so it's quite safe, and preferable, to let the casserole or roasting pan sit for 20 mins or so and settle before figuring out what else is necessary.
If there is much rendered fat, skim it off with a big spoon and strain the remaining veg. If it's not much, I'd just go commando and leave it. Again, turkey is a very lean meat, and if you have been careful about the browning and all, there are lots of tasteful goodies in there.
Though I haven't mentioned it to this point, removing all the cooked goodies, further defatting the remaining juices, and the addition of a deglazing agent (a nice dry white, e.g., ) and reducing the result wouldn't be a bad idea. This kind of thing doesn't need a gravy - it's lovely enough with pan juices, and leavings of the roasting process.
Well, there are lots of Steps Four, really. Many finishes to the presentation, all of which would require snipping off the string ties to the meat. They will be lovely, in any case, and, being boneless, will slice perfectly. I happen to like the rusticity of the onions and carrots that have cooked along with, and the slow-cooked garlic, too. Any of these with pilaf or a polenta, or roasted potatoes, would be great. I am also partial to a cornbread stuffing, but cooked separately, with mushroom duxelles and walnuts - but that's just me.
However - if it's a small party you have going, or even two of you for a romantic dinner, this is a wonderful method. If you try it, please enjoy and ask for tips and give feedback.
[Another one:] I think I got this from Alice Waters, but wherever it came from, it's great. Take a head of red radicchio, cut it in 4 wedges, put in a roasting pan, drizzle with oil oil, season with salt and pepper, roast in a medium oven until tender. I use a smallish pan (radicchio aren't very large), and cover it with foil, very much as one would roast a full head of garlic. The result has that great endive bitterness, but the roasting adds sweetness and savor, and I can't think of anything nicer with the covered roast of turkey.