A small Thanksgiving dinner party is perfectly suited for a roasted whole bone-in turkey breast. Brined in a rich apple cider solution and basted in butter, a golden, roasted turkey breast will be the centerpiece of your celebration. Even if it’s just turkey for two!
Happy Thanksgiving Week, Everyone! SoupAddict will be doing a couple of extra posts this week, thanks to the rare event of many of you having a roasted turkey on hand (and lots of it). And not just turkey, but bone-in turkey, which means all kinds of extra yumminess. My goal this week is to help you use that magnificent, ginormous bird to its fullest. Today, we’re talkin’ turkey. Monday, we’ll put those bones to work (slow cooker stock and bone broth!). Wednesday, I have a round-up of creative uses for all those extra Thanksgiving fixin’s. And next Saturday, a special turkey soup that’s both winter-comforting and exquisitely tasty. Let’s get started!
My family dynamics have changed a lot over the years — I’m sure yours have, too. My childhood home was filled to bursting with extended family on Thanksgiving Day. Cousins, second cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents. I don’t know how my mom did it.
I cook a lot (as in, frequency); she cooked a lot (as in, quantity and frequency). Mom had a natural knack for feeding an army and making it look effortless. I do believe a career in catering would’ve suited her well, had she ever wanted to cook for a living.
But, families morph over time. Sometimes for the good (marriages and children); sometimes for the bad (divorce or death). Holiday visits get tweaked and reconfigured; old traditions make room for new family realities.
And some years, instead of a big raucous gathering, you might find yourself with a small dinner party where a whole bird is complete overkill.
No worries. A whole, skin-on, bone-in turkey breast is just what you need. I titled this post, roasting a turkey for two, but really, a turkey breast — which weighs in at the 6 to 8 pound range — will easily feed four with leftovers, or six down to the bone.
The advantage of a whole turkey breast over, say, packaged cutlets, is that you still get the full-on roasted turkey experience and benefits: crisp, golden skin and super juicy meat that’s fully flavored from all the bones within, and a house filled with those nostalgic Thanksgiving aromas. And I have to say, juggling a 6 pound bone-in breast is faaaar more manageable than an entire 18 pound bird. From thawing to brining — fitting comfortably in the typical fridge all the while — to simply maneuvering the thing in and out of the pan, it’s a completely hassle-free process.
If you’ve never roasted a turkey before, this is the cut with the easiest learning curve.
There are many ways to cook and season a turkey — smoking, frying, dry rubs, stuffing herbs under the skin — but I prefer a simple treatment for poultry: a brine adds just the right amount of salty seasoning and helps keeps the meat juicy. And it just couldn’t be easier, which is really nice on a bustling holiday.
A whole cut means you still have the one advantage that themes two more of my posts this Thanksgiving week: bones! If you roast a turkey — full or breast — save your carcass! Oh, the soup stock it makes! (Tune in Monday for the best slow cooker turkey stock I’ve ever had in my life — it will cook all day Friday, completely hands-off, while you shop (or, in my case, nap!)).
For presentation, it’s best to remove the breasts from the bone first by slicing down along either side. Then cut the breast into slices against the grain to create neat, even pieces.
Whether using a whole turkey or breast, don’t forget to save the entire carcass (bag it up and stick it in the fridge), and hold back some of turkey meat leftovers before divvying them up for guests. Stock and soup are on the menu!
- 5 to 8 pound whole, thawed turkey breast, bone-in
- 4 cups apple cider, or 5-8 large apples, freshly pressed or juiced, to make 4 cups
- heaping 1/4 cup kosher salt
- 1/4 cup brown sugar or raw sugar
- 1 teaspoon peppercorns
- 1/2 teaspoon allspice berries
- 5 thin slices fresh ginger
- 2 or 3 whole cloves
- 2 bay leaves
- 4 or 5 thyme sprigs
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
- 4 fresh sage leaves, chopped
- freshly ground black pepper
- Identify a brining vessel large enough to fit the turkey breast. I used a 5 quart dutch oven; an extra large ziplock bag might work, too.
- Remove the netting and wrapping around the turkey. Remove any packaged extras from inside the turkey, such as the gravy bag. (Wash the outside of the gravy bag and refrigerate, if you plan on using it.)
- Place all of the ingredients in a medium sauce pan and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 3 minutes. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.
- Please the turkey in the vessel, then pour all of the brine ingredients over it. Add enough cold water to completely cover the turkey breast.
- Cover (or seal the bag), and refrigerate for at least 12 hours, up to 24.
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
- Remove the turkey from the brine and rinse (optional, if you can) and pat dry. Place on the V-rack of a roaster, breast side up.
- Melt the butter in a small sauce pan over medium heat. Add the thyme and sage leaves and stir.
- Brush the entire visible surface of the turkey with the butter-herb mixture.
- Place the turkey in the oven. Check the bird after an hour and a half - take an initial temperature read with a meat thermometer or instant read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast. You're looking for a temp of 165 degrees F. It likely won't be done at this point, but your focus should be the skin: the top should be a lovely burnished color. If it is, drape a rectangle of foil over the area (so it doesn't proceed to burn), leaving the rest of the bird uncovered.
- Check every 20 minutes or so, taking the temp and examining the skin for that beautiful burnished color. (My 6 lb bird took 2 hours and 20 minutes.) When the internal temp reaches 165 degrees F, remove from the oven and let rest, tented with foil, for 20 minutes.
- Slice and serve!
To speed cooling of the brine, pour it into a medium bowl, then nestle the bowl in a larger bowl of ice water.