Here at Food52, we love recipes -- but do we always use them? Of course not. Because once you realize you don't always need a recipe, you'll make your favorite dishes a lot more often.
Today: How to stuff, truss, and roast the breast of any bird you desire -- no recipe needed.
Master this technique and you will be in poultry breast heaven. You can use this method with practically any breast of fowl you can find -- chicken, duck, turkey, even capon.
Some tips before you begin: Use the whole breast, keeping the halves intact. Have your butcher bone it out for you or, if you are good with a boning knife, you can do it yourself. We've used chicken here, but I especially like duck for this because nothing tastes better than melted duck fat.
The filling is your caprice; just think about which flavors will complement your bird. For duck breast, I’ve used a mixture of pitted picholine or cerignola olives, fresh ginger, garlic, lemon zest, and oregano; for chicken, you might think about kalamata olives, roasted red peppers, and so on.
How to Stuff, Truss, and Roast Any Poultry Breast Without a Recipe
1. Lay the breast out flat on your cutting board, skin side down. Using a sharp knife, cut some diagonal slashes in the flesh, but don’t slice all the way to the skin. Season with salt and pepper.
2. Spread your filling over the inside of the breast. If you're prepping it from scratch, just pulse the mix -- get creative: think herbs, anchovies, olives or capers, garlic, citrus zests, cheeses, nuts -- in your food processor once or twice, until it's fairly coarse.
3. Fold one half of the breast back over the other ...
... until it looks a little something like this.
4. Take a single, long piece of kitchen string (more than you think you will need) and begin to tie up your roast. Begin at the end where the breast tapers down. Make a loop around the meat and knot it in place, leaving the "short" end of the string long enough that, when you finish the series of loops and seams, you can tie a tight knot with the two ends.
5. Work your way down the breast, making loops and threading the string through them as you go, so as to create a long, straight seam of string along the length of the breast. Depending on the type of bird you're cooking, you will probably have four or five loops total.
6. When you've reached the other end of the breast, turn it over and thread the long end of the string through the loops, making sure to keep your seams straight.
7. Knot the long end and the short end together and tie tightly. Trim the string ends. If you're using duck breast (or any other very fatty bird), use a sharp skewer to prick the skin of the breast all over, but don't pierce all the way through the flesh. Rub the entire breast with olive oil and coarse salt. This will help crisp up the skin.
8. Heat your oven to 450° F. Place on a rack in a roasting pan and cook for 15 minutes. Turn the heat down to 375° F and continue to cook for about 45 more minutes, basting frequently with the rendered fat. Use an accurate instant-read thermometer to check for doneness. Once it achieves an internal temperature of 165° F, remove from the oven and allow to rest, tented with foil, for 10 minutes. You can, if you wish, make a pan sauce while the bird is resting.
Cut and remove all the strings, then slice and serve.
Photos by James Ransom