Thanksgiving here in Canada has come and gone, and with it came time with family and lots and lots of food. After the success of last year’s de-boned, rolled, and stuffed turkey, I knew wanted to try something equally – if not more – amazing. Enter the turchetta: a rolled turkey breast prepared in the style of porchetta, which is a roasted pork loin of infinite deliciousness. I’ve got to say, the turkey version is also pretty infinitely delicious, and less work than removing all the bones from a turkey!
One of the challenges with roasting a whole turkey is that the breast meat almost always gets over-cooked and dry because it is more exposed to the heat of the oven and requires less cooking time than dark meat in the first place. However, you can even out the cooking time for all the parts and also shorten it to about two hours by breaking down the turkey before cooking and treating the white meat (turchetta) and dark meat (etc) to different preparations. To make a turchetta, you remove the skin from the turkey breast on one large piece, rub the breast meat with a seasoning paste, then roll it up tightly with the skin on the outside. The salt in the seasoning essentially cures the breast meat, helping it to retain moisture and protect it from drying out during cooking, resulting in the juiciest, most succulent turkey breast you’ve ever had. The legs and wings, once separated from the turkey, are perfect for roasting as they are. The only thing missing is stuffing, but I got around that by baking it in a dish with the wings on top, which provided turkey drippings and flavour galore.
Because the turchetta must rest overnight in the fridge, you are forced to get most of the prep work done the day before, meaning that on the day of the feast you can instead focus your energies on creating the perfect autumnal tablescape complete with maple leaves folded into roses. (Or, if you’re me, watching multiple episodes of Heartland on Netflix and then setting the table fifteen minutes before the guests arrive, praying that you have clean matching napkins and enough chairs to go around.)
You might thinking that this turchetta, etc, is an awful lot of work, but I figure that a) a holiday meal is already a lot of work (albeit enjoyable work), and b) you’re going to have to cut up the turkey anyway at some point, so you might as well do most of it before you have a house full of hungry guests and a kitchen full of the last-minute flurry of activity required to get a large meal on the table! At least, that’s how it always works out in my kitchen. But the extra effort here is totally worth it, because it wasn’t just me who agreed that this really was the best turkey ever.
Adapted from Serious Eats. This is a minimum 2-day project (one for prep and one for cooking) that requires an overnight (or longer!) rest in the fridge. I used an 8 kg (just over 16 lbs) turkey for 7 people, although this method will work with any size turkey – you just might need to scale the seasoning up or down, as having the correct proportion of salt in the turchetta is important.
In the bowl of a food processor, combine:
1/4 cup fresh sage leaves
1 tsp (or more) fresh thyme leaves
3-4 garlic cloves, peeled
2 tsp coarse kosher salt
1 tsp coarse ground black pepper
1/4 – 1/2 tsp grated orange zest
Process until you have a paste, scraping down the sides of the processor bowl as needed. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.
While you are working, keep in mind that you want to keep the skin of the breast completely intact.
Lay your turkey breast side up on your work station. Pull the leg away from the body, cut through the skin, and use the tip of your knife to find where the hip joint attaches the thigh to the back.
Pop it out or cut through it, and cut through the meat along the turkey’s back remove the entire leg from the turkey. Repeat on the other side and set the legs aside.
Use the tip of your knife to dig into where the wing meets the breast to find the shoulder joint, then again pop or cut it out to remove the wing completely from the turkey. Repeat on the other side and set the wings aside.
Very carefully remove the skin from the turkey breast in one large piece. This is easiest to do by using you fingers to gently separate the skim from the meat. Use a knife if you come to any stubborn spot, but remember that the goal is to end up with as large a piece of intact skin as possible, so don’t cut through it.
Once the skin is free, set it aside.
Use the tip of your knife to cut the breast meat away from the V-shaped wishbone, and remove it if you can. I couldn’t, but cutting the meat away from it made the next step much easier.
Remove each breast half from the turkey carcass, again using your fingers to separate the meat from the bone. Set the carcass aside for making stock.
To make the turchetta, spread the skin from the breast out flat, skin-side down, and use a knife to remove any excess fatty bits (just remember not to cut a hole in the skin). Place the two breast halves on the skin, folding out the tenderloins and butterflying any thicker parts to cover the skin in an even layer.
With your knife, score the meat deeply in a cross-hatch pattern at about 1 inch intervals. Rub the seasoning into the meat with your hands, working it into the cuts.
Roll up the meat as tightly as you can, keeping the skin on the outside, as if you were rolling sushi and the skin was the sushi mat. Rest the roll seam side down while you grab some kitchen twine.
Tie off the roll in 1 inch intervals and loop a longer piece (or two) from end to end to make an evenly-shaped cylinder. Don’t worry if it looks terrible – the goal is just to secure the meat inside the skin in a relatively even shape.
Turn it seam-side down, wrap loosely in plastic, and refrigerate overnight or up to two days.
When you are ready to cook it, preheat the oven to 300˚F (275˚F convection). Heat the biggest skillet you can find over medium-high heat and add 1-2 tbsp vegetable oil. Season the outside of the turchetta with salt and pepper and add it to the skillet, turning it to brown on all sides. Repeat with the turkey legs and wings.
Place everything in a roasting pan(s), preferably on a rack. If you are cooking stuffing, the wings can go on top of it and it can go in the oven with the rest of the turkey. For good measure, drape everything in bacon. Not only does this make for amazing bacon, but it also adds extra insurance against dried-out meat AND great flavour.
Roast all the turkey parts in the preheated 300˚F (275˚F convection) oven for about 2 hours, until the turchetta reads between 145˚-150˚F and the legs are at about 180˚F (the wings will be done by this point, too). Remove from the oven and tent with foil while you make gravy with the pan drippings and finish any other last-minute meal prep.
Carve the dark meat from the legs, then remove the twine from the turchetta with kitchen shears and cut into slices.
Serve with the bacon alongside, and prepare to enjoy the best turkey you’ve ever had.