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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.
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.
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:
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks to Nozlee Samadzadeh and Kenzi Wilbur for this one!
Photos by Mark Weinberg