Torrisi's Turkey

November 12, 2014

Every week -- often with your help -- Food52's Executive Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.

Today: A just-crazy-enough-to-work technique for outsmarting dry turkey. 

There are lots of sensible reasons to cook a turkey breast instead of a whole bird. Maybe you want to be freed from the commitment of a larger roast -- because your table is smaller, or you find the leftovers oppressive. Maybe you just want to do something unexpected this year. Or maybe you want to start DIYing the best turkey sandwiches ever -- to have better desk lunches than your cube-mate's, and provide more for your kids than the sad cold cuts you grew up with.

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But with the crowd-pleasing crutch of dark meat gone, serving just a turkey breast feels risky, unimpressive, joyless. This is where we can turn to Mario Carbone and Rich Torrisi of Torrisi's Italian Specialties, who developed the impossible: a juicy, delicious, foolproof, sexy Thanksgiving turkey breast.

To get it, you have to do some pretty strange and unglamorous things to your turkey. First you submerge it in a basic wet brine (water with salt and sugar dissolved in it) overnight, which is unsightly in a Mütter Museum kind of way, but we're used to that. After this it gets really bizarre.



You dredge it up and mummify it in four layers of plastic wrap, then another of foil. Then you lodge a thermometer in it and roast it all, wrapped up like a big potato, at a temperature normally used to make fruit leather.

A few hours later, the internal temperature hits 135° F, well below the point you thought a cooked turkey should be, and you plunge it in an ice bath for 5 minutes. But the internal temperature will continue to climb, despite the shock. Then you'll peel off all the protective outerwear, paint it all over with a roasted garlic and honey paste, and crisp up the outside in a now-much-hotter oven.

More: A genius technique for the whole bird from Russ Parsons and Judy Rodgers.

Our photographer Mark Weinberg compared all of this to an elaborate spa treatment, and he's not far off. (Once, on my birthday, I was actually wrapped in plastic wrap too.)

What these great lengths mean is that you won't dry out the edges waiting for the middle to cook through, and that literally none of the turkey's juices are squandered. I tested this recipe a few times and there were never drippings from the turkey in the pan. That's a good thing! If you want gravy, there are other ways -- make a vegetarian mushroom version, or buy some extra bits to make your gravy with (you can even make it ahead).


The Torrisi technique might seem complicated, but you'll notice the recipe is actually quite short. The brine and the glaze are each just a couple ingredients. And when you don't have to wrangle a funny-shaped bird, with its uneven limbs, its 2 speeds of meat, you can control the whole process a lot better.

If you feel weird about cooking in plastic wrap, here's why you shouldn't, if you buy the good stuff. If you feel weird about pulling the turkey at 135° F, don't forget the second stage of high-temperature roasting, in which the thermometer will keep inching up. Even if it doesn't quite hit 165° F, here's why that's okay (150° F+ for 10 minutes is just as good). Of course, if you want to be extra safe, you can bring it up to 165° F -- thanks to the slow-building temperature and the effects of the brine, this roast is also really hard to overcook. 

Admittedly, there are a lot of oven temps to work around -- here's how to actually pull it off on your oven's busiest day of the year: Make the glaze the night (or a few nights) before. Start the roast a bit earlier than you think you need to, and just tent it with foil if it comes out early -- it will hold its internal temperature for a good while (and it can be served hot, warm, or even cold).

At Parm, Torrisi's sister restaurant, the turkey is served on sandwiches with spicy sauce. You'll carve it for dinner on Thanksgiving day, then use it to make turkey sandwiches and hash and soup. But, unlike years past, you won't have an insurmountable pile, and you won't need to bury it in cranberry sauce to get through it.

Torrisi's Turkey

Adapted from Torrisi Italian Specialties in New York, NY via The New York Times.

Serves 12

For brining the turkey:

1 cup kosher salt
1 cup sugar
2 boneless turkey breasts, 3 to 4 1/2 pounds each

For the glaze:

8 heads garlic, lightly smashed but intact
4 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup honey
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon pepper
1 tablespoon thyme leaves

See the full recipe (and save it and print it) here.

Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]. Thanks to Nozlee Samadzadeh and Kenzi Wilbur for this one!

Photos by Mark Weinberg


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  • Magdalena Najwer
    Magdalena Najwer
  • AllisonT
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  • BurgeoningBaker
I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


Magdalena N. July 5, 2019
Why people still don’t understand that they cannot cook, bake food in plastic wrap?!!!!!
All the chemicals from the wrap will penetrate your food! Bon appetit!😂😂😂😡😡😡
thirschfeld July 5, 2019
Apparently you don’t understand science, because if you did you would never have posted this comment.
AllisonT November 27, 2017
I made this recipe two times during Thanksgiving Week 2017, each time with smaller turkey breasts than called for (two 2.5-pounders, and two 2-pounders). My main takeaways are (1) allow WAY more time for roasting, and roast all the way to 165 degrees (poultry-safe) before shocking/unwrapping/glazing, and (2) although the recipe looks complicated and fussy, it’s no more labor-intensive than the basting, rotating, temp-checking and browning of a big turkey.

First time through, both 2.5-pound breasts were in for 4 hours and the internal temp was nowhere near 165. Given how slow the roasting was going, I knew it would be foolish to remove and shock the meat at 135, as NO WAY would it reach 165 with 20 minutes of high-temp roasting. While the breasts were still wrapped, I eased the oven temp up to 300 and then 350 to get the meat cooked. As soon as the thermometer hit 165, I shocked the meat for about 30 seconds - just so I could handle it - unwrapped, glazed, roasted at 425 for 20 minutes and carved immediately. Cardinal sin not to let the meat rest, I know, but I had hungry guests who thought the meal would hit the table at 4.30 at the latest, and here it was 5.45.

Second time through, I did two 2-pound breasts and those took exactly 4 hours 45 minutes to hit 165. I followed the rest of the recipe exactly.

Both times, the meat was tender and juicy. My husband said it was the moistest turkey breast he’d ever had. The first-attempt meat suffered from my not letting it rest, as the turkey carved right away was fine, but my leftovers were a little dry. Second try, meat was perfect both for serving and for leftovers.

I did not do the wet brine at all but salted the meat lightly the night before. And the honey-garlic glaze is tasty but a little sweet; next time I’ll search for a less-sweet glaze or reduce the amount of honey.

One note, I don’t know how the original recipe writer got the meat temperature to climb during the ice bath; this was not at all my experience. My first attempt, the temp fell 5-10 degrees; the second time, it stayed at 165. The stable or falling temperature is the main reason I did not seriously think about taking out the turkey when the internal temperature was still 30 degrees below safe/cooked.
millefolium November 20, 2017
I have two, 2-lb boneless breasts. And my oven tends to run hot (it's an old Wedgewood). Should I wrap the two together for cooking? Or keep them separate and expect shorter cooking time?
Kristen M. November 20, 2017
I would keep them separate and expect a shorter time—no harm and they'll likely cook more evenly than bundling together. Hope you like it!
Caroline November 17, 2016
Every time I make this (and it's stunningly good every time), I wrap the breast in unbleached parchment paper and then continue with the layers of plastic and foil as directed after that. I couldn't handle the thought of applying the plastic directly to the meat (even though I know this technique is used in restaurant cooking all the time - out of sight, out of mind...), so this way you still get all the moisture but only the parchment comes in contact with the turkey.
BurgeoningBaker February 29, 2016
What about if the turkey breast is with bones?
Salley K. November 5, 2015
Could you use sous vide bags, but this same process in the oven, do you think? So put the breast in the sous vide bag, but then wrap the sous vide bag in foil?
Paula L. January 14, 2015
Your pinterst button (up top) is not working correctly
Ellen S. January 14, 2015
I can tell it would be very juicy, but I'm afraid I would worry about chemicals from the plastic wrap seeping into the meat.
BurgeoningBaker December 4, 2014
If the bird is a kosher bird, how is the brining changed or is it left out completely?
Kristen M. December 4, 2014
In my experience, brining works just fine with kosher birds, though I haven't tried this recipe with a kosher breast. Just be sure to heed the note about various types of kosher salts!
HBRose November 30, 2014
"The best turkey you ever cooked." So said my husband and daughter. Really? After 40 years? It was outstanding. Directions I thought were quite specific about time and temperature. It took me the whole 3 hours to get to 135 for a 4.5# breast with bone in. I used two thermometers and they rose in unison. The only question I had was whether water from pan was to be removed between roastings. I did. I found the glaze to be sticky but the family loved it. I got 4 meals including the best turkey, rice, spinach soup ever out of this and will definitely do it again.
Audrey N. November 30, 2014
I made this for Thanksgiving and wanted to leave a few notes here. First, a confession: I didn't follow the recipe completely. I think it very unfair when people don't follow the recipe, then give poor feedback. That said, here's what I did and what I wish would have been included in the original recipe: I, too, was worried about the plastic wrap. I brined my boneless turkey breast as directed, doubled wrapped it in foil and set it on a rack in my crockpot with water almost to the rack. I cooked it until it reached 130 degrees. My first critique is that for a recipe with so many specifics, I wish a temperature was given for how long or at what temperature the meat should have been removed from the ice bath. I followed the recipe from there, glazing the meat and roasting for 20 minutes. My next critique is the lack of final target temperature. Even after resting, the meat was WAY underdone. I had to put it back in the oven (350 degrees for 30 minutes). Only then was it perfect. My last critique is that I wished there were instructions to line the roasting pan with foil or parchment. It took me over 24 hours of scrubbing and soaking to get the burned glaze off of my glass pan. In the end, it was good, but for me not worth doing again.
Nicole O. November 19, 2014
Ok- I made a boo boo yesterday and bought two Bone In turkey breasts. What might I need to change about this recipe to make it work? I'm desperately trying NOT to make a full turkey because no one eats the dark meat at my house.
Zeldaz November 17, 2014
Never cook anything with plastic touching it! Too many nasty things migrate out when it's heated.
eroica November 12, 2014
Using plastic in an oven is not Genius.
Turkey breast in a slow cooker/crock pot is fabulously moist and much easier.
You can always take it out at 130 and follow the recipe from there...
Claudia H. November 12, 2014
Now THAT''S genius! Thanks, I couldn't face the plastic.
CarlaCooks November 13, 2014
How would you cook it in the slow cooker? With liquid? Or do you just plop the brined and dried breast in the cooker?
eroica November 13, 2014
I've never felt the need to brine turkey breast if it's going in the slow cooker. Can it get moister? Really? I put the unbrined breast with bone (rubbed with kosher salt, sprinked with tarragon) in an oval slow cooker with a 1/4 cup of water. The last breast, 4.4 lb with bone, reached 150 degress in 3 hours ( 1 hour high, 2 hours low). But be careful, every slow cooker heats differently.
If I brined the breast, I wouldn't add any water.
mizerychik November 13, 2014
Oooh, thanks. This sounds delicious, and far safer.
KarenO November 12, 2014
Although I've never tried it, I think Craig Clairbourne used to cook with plastic wrap. If it was good enough for him,...
DragonFly November 12, 2014
Interesting for sure but I think I will cook my turkey breast the old fashioned way! I will try this one day tho!
Cindy November 12, 2014
I myself never even knew it was possible to cook something in plastic wrap, but I assume the foil has a lot to do with this recipe being a success. Since I don't use aluminum in any form, ever, I will use your wonderful ingredients and my own method of baking. Thanks for the recipe.
thirschfeld November 12, 2014
We used to cook stuff wrapped in plastic wrap all the time at the restaurants at which I worked. Funny though, people tend to flip a lid when they hear their food was cooked in plastic. Albeit they will drink from plastic water bottles that sat in the back of a truck at 130 degrees for 10 hours some where outside of El Paso, but hey who am I to judge. I still poach chickens wrapped up for a relaxing fat rendering spa treatment all the time.
Kristen M. November 13, 2014
JohnSkye November 12, 2014
well, in addition to the "cooking in plastic issue," even more basic is: while i'm sure this comes out "good," it is sooooooooooo, sooooooooooooo incredibly "busy" and, in my opinion, unnecessarily time-consuming and laborious you'll never want to make it again!!! ... sorry guys but I see nothing "genius" about this one, just a pain that will prevent you from ever making it again ... good grief! ... if you want really moist and flavorful turkey breast, all you need do is "dry-brine" the thing like the "russ parsons dry-brined turkey" recipe (on this site), for a few hours to overnight (reducing the amount of salt and herbs used by about 2/3), take it out of the fridge and unwrap it about an hour before you intend to cook it, rub room temp butter between the skin and meat and on the skin, and season however else you want to ... pop it in a 425 to 450 oven - uncovered - for 20 -30 minutes to brown it up, them cover, reduce heat to 350, and let it go until internal temp is 160 (about another 40-50 minute ... done ... easy, and really genius ... you've never had such moist, good turkey ... thanks russ.
davises88 November 12, 2014
If you're starting with a kosher turkey breast do you still brine it? It's already been salted and soaked.
Kristen M. November 13, 2014
Yes, I would -- the koshering process it short and doesn't affect the meat in the same way.