Sometimes it seems the world is conspiring against you. That is exactly how I’ve been feeling lately — at least as pertains to leftover turkey. Thanksgiving went by and no leftovers got sent home with me. I got a second chance at Christmas, but proceeded to forget my take-home bag in my hosts’ fridge. Bah! So, I buy my own freaking turkey breast and stashed it in my dad’s freezer until I came back to town and could make it for us. He gets hungry and decides to cook it — without me. Apparently it was good. Sigh.
Do I give up? Never! I picked up a fresh turkey breast yesterday and scurried it into the house under cover of night. Mine. All mine. Ha ha ha ha!
I was going to just chuck it in the oven when I realized that I now have the knowledge to do better — or at least give it the old college try. I dug out my new cookbook “All About Roasting: A New Approach to a Classic Art” by Molly Stevens, and flipped to “Slow-Roasted Herbed Turkey Breast”. This recipe needs some pre-planning because the breast is rubbed with a herb paste and allowed to sit for 6 to 24 hours to allow it to be properly dry salted.
Dry salted? What the heck is that? Before I get into that, let’s talk for a minute about wet salting — a.k.a. brining. I never really understood what it was. It seemed to be a thing guys did before grilling. I hate to admit it, but I assumed it was just a trendy guy thing to do that didn’t really do a lot. My bad. It actually is a useful technique. Brining involves soaking meat in a salt solution, often flavored with herbs as well. By the principles of osmosis (do not fret, there won’t be a quiz at the end) the solution on the outside of the meat has a higher concentration of sodium than the inside of the meat and so the salted water migrates into the meat, both flavoring it and adding extra water resulting in a flavorful moist hunk o’ meat after cooking.
While brining has its uses, Ms. Stevens usually prefers dry salting meat. Her opinion is that brining draws water into the meat thus diluting the natural juices of the meat and reducing the intensity of the natural meat flavors. Dry salting involves rubbing the meat with salt (and often other herbs and spices). The salt will initially draw moisture out of the meat. On the surface this seems to be a bad thing (less moisture equals dry meat, right?), however, the salt on the surface begins to dissolve in the liquid drawn from the meat. The meat is then coated in a salt solution. Just like brining, the liquid is drawn back into the meat (there’s that darn osmosis thing again), taking the salt and other flavorings with it. Unlike brining, the moisture is all natural juice from the meat, resulting in a more flavorful undiluted meaty juice. In addition, during the process, the protein structure unravels a bit making the meat more tender. The salt also helps keep the juices in the meat making it juicier — If I remember my chemistry right there is an ion-dipole attraction there, forming a weak attraction between the Sodium ions and the water molecules. Are your eyes glazing over yet? That’s the last of the science, I promise. However, being a science geek, I am now totally a fan of brining (either wet or dry).
The turkey in this recipe gets rubbed with a paste composed of garlic, salt, sage, rosemary, thyme, pepper, and celery seed (which I didn’t use because I didn’t have any) and allowed to sit in the refrigerator for 6 to 24 hours to let the salt (and osmosis) do its magic. The result was a flavorful juicy roast. It may have been a smidge salty for my taste (I traditionally don’t salt much, so I’m fairly sensitive to the flavor), but not bad and the overall flavor was quite nice. My roast was also smaller, so I could have used a little less salt and still had good results. Definitely give it a try. The same rub would work well on chicken too. Here’s the recipe:
2 cloves garlic
1-1/4 tsp kosher salt
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp finely chopped fresh sage (I used 0.75 tsp dry)
2 tsp finely chopped fresh thyme (I used 0.75 tsp dry)
2 tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary (I used 0.75 tsp dry)
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp celery seed (I omitted because I don’t have any)
1 boneless turkey breast with skin (about 2.5 lb) (I used a bone-in half breast that weighed about 2.5 pounds).
1.) Herb Paste – Combine garlic and salt into a mortar and pound with a pestle until you have a smooth (more or less) paste. Transfer to a small bowl. Add 2 Tbsp oil, herbs, pepper, and celery seed. Stir to blend.
2.) Smear paste on turkey breast. Be sure to get some under the skin. If using a boneless breast, you may want to tie the roast in two or three places with kitchen string to hold it in a cylindrical roast shape. Place roast on a tray and refrigerate, preferably uncovered, for 6 to 24 hours.
3.) Allow roast to sit for an hour at room temperature before roasting. (I was cooking this during the week and didn’t have the time, so I omitted this step. Plus, in December, my kitchen is cool and my roast doesn’t warm that fast.)
4.) Heat oven to 300 degrees. While oven heats, add 1 Tbsp oil to skillet and heat on Med-high heat. When oil is hot, sear the turkey breast skin side down, maneuvering and turning it with tongs so that the skin side sears evenly, about 6 minutes. Turn turkey skin side up and brown lightly on the bottom, about 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer turkey skin side up to a shallow roasting pan or baking dish not much larger than it is. (I used a rack, but I apparently didn’t need to — I should read the recipe closer. Although, it turned out fine with the rack.)
5.) Roast turkey inside the oven until the internal temperature at the thickest part is 165 degrees, about 1-1/4 to 1-3/4 hours. (My new leave-in thermometer came in handy!) Let turkey rest for 20 minutes before carving.
I served this with a simple medley of roasted root veggies (sweet potato, turnips, and beets). Cut up veggies, toss with olive oil, sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste. Roast uncovered at 400 degrees till lightly browned and centers are tender (about 30 minutes). Turn once with tongs midway through cooking for even browning. (Beets cook slower than turnips and sweet potatoes. They are cut smaller so everything gets done at the same time).