In the last couple of years, the number of vegetarians around our Thanksgiving table has grown. Even a small turkey means lots of leftovers that might end up uneaten. Cooking just a turkey breast (or pair of turkey breasts) is a great option for a smaller gathering, and it's a little less intimidating, too. (Plus, you don't have to wonder, "What the heck am I going to do with this turkey carcass?" once Thanksgiving is over, then think, "Hey, I'll make my own turkey stock!" then never get around to it, and have a large turkey carcass in your fridge taking up space and freaking out your guests when they make the mistake of wondering what you have to eat.) This method, by Torrisi Italian Specialties, turns out super tender, flavorful, and moist meat. The wrapping and the temperature changes may seem like a hassle, but the process is well worth it. By the way, this turkey is obviously perfect for Thanksgiving, but try it year-round for a traditional supper, or for a more casual sandwich spread.
Torrisi Turkey Breast, adapted slightly from the New York Times
1 boneless turkey breast 3-4 1/2 pounds (mine was actually 5 pounds)
for the brine
1 cup sugar
1 cup kosher salt
4 quarts water, divided
for the glaze
3 heads garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup honey
1/3 apple juice or cider
1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 tablespoon black pepper
To make the brine, add the salt, sugar, and 2 quarts of water to a pot. Bring to a boil. Set aside and allow to cool. Once cool, add the mixture and 2 more quarts of cold water to a large stockpot. Submerge the turkey breast and refrigerate the pot. Allow the turkey breast to brine for 18-24 hours, or at least overnight.
To prepare the glaze, first slice the tops off the heads of garlic. Toss together with olive oil in a covered baking dish. Bake, covered, at 375º for about an hour, or until the garlic is soft. Allow to cool. Squeeze the garlic cloves into a small saucepan with the honey, apple juice, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil over medium-heat; allow to boil for 4-5 minutes, then remove from heat. Allow mixture to cool, then run through a food processor or blender (I used an immersion blender) until smooth. You can prepare the glaze the day before if desired; just store in the fridge until you're ready to use.
Preheat the oven to 250º. Remove the turkey breast from the brine and wrap in plastic wrap four times, then wrap in aluminum foil once. For some reason, this part is always really difficult for me: slippery turkey + clingy plastic wrap + trying to avoid contaminating the entire counter and box of wrap = 5 or 6 near disasters. My suggestion is to have a helper tear lengths of plastic wrap and foil as you go. Disposable plastic gloves made for food preparation may be a good idea if you're a little (or a lot) squeamish about handling raw meat. Once your turkey bundle is ready, insert an oven-safe digital meat thermometer (right through the foil and plastic). Place on rack in a roasting pan. Set pan on oven rack, then pour water into the pan until just below the roasting rack. Cook the turkey breast until the thermometer reads 135º. This took about 3 hours, but my turkey breast was pretty big.
When the turkey reaches 135º, remove from the oven and dunk the whole packet, foil, thermometer and all, into an ice bath. Turn the oven up to 425º and get the glaze out. After about 5 minutes, remove the turkey breast from the ice bath. Remove the wrapping, pull off the turkey skin, and pat dry. Place back on roasting rack and brush the glaze over the turkey. Return the pan to the oven and roast until the internal temperature reaches 165º and the glaze is golden. This took nearly 40 minutes for my 5-pound turkey breast.
When the turkey is done, place directly on a large cutting board and allow to rest for 15-20 minutes before slicing.
-Cook two turkey breasts at a time if you want. Just double the glaze recipe and wrap each breast separately.
-If the glaze starts to get too brown before the meat is done cooking, tent with foil.
-There won't be much in the way of drippings in the roasting pan, so make a different plan for gravy.