Disclaimer: After recently loosing literally thousands of my most recent food and holiday photos off of my new SD card due to a “card error,” I was discouraged to say the least. But we must march on nonetheless, so we will all just have to use our foodie imaginations as I describe these foods to you, since all visual record of them has been lost in time (at least for now).
This year we had a small thanksgiving gathering at home. Ten guests, delicious food, and Mother Nature even provided a little bit of snow, just for charm. Our menu was as it typically always is: various seasonal appetizers served with Pilgrim’s Punch (a cocktail that we invented several years ago which is comprised of sweetened, mulled cranberry juice, a splash of freshly squeezed orange juice, vodka, and triple sec), and a litany of holiday favorites including herb roasted turkey breasts, dressing (I adore a mixture of sourdough and cornbread, with celery, onions, mushrooms, dried cranberries, slivered almonds, fresh herbs, and homemade turkey stock), mashed potatoes and gravy (I use Ina Garten’s trick of making the gravy two days in advance using drippings that I have frozen from a previously roasted turkey), candied sweet potatoes (which I always flavor with amaretto and orange zest), parmesan roasted asparagus, a big green salad (so we can justifiably pretend that we are eating healthfully), fruit salad (which is a classic in our family that has been at every holiday gathering in my entire life… which is funny because no one really eats it at the meal itself, save for a tiny requisite spoonful. But it is classic morning-after-thanksgiving leftover fair, and tradition dictates that it must be there) and last but not least, no family meal would ever be complete without my great great grandmother Browning’s dinner rolls.
For the table I decided to go with matching chocolate brown table clothes and napkins, copper chargers, my everyday white dishes and flatware, and my absolute favorite “old lady” napkin rings (of the twenty or so sets that we own). To add a little sparkle and whimsy I scattered some colorful autumn leaves and decorative acorns, and lined the center of the table with small arrangements of flowers and glass votive holders filled with fresh cranberries and unscented candles: easy, festive, and elegant.
The one dish that is always a stand out at my holiday feasts is the turkey itself. My guests often comment that it is the moistest turkey they have ever had (no, seriously!). For Thanksgiving, I don’t mind taking a little extra time and care to make sure that the turkey comes out deliciously moist and flavorful. This process is multi-stepped, but each step is really easy. And, for the record, I make no apologies for the preposterous amount of butter used. I mean hey, give me a break, it’s Thanksgiving! I always make two large whole turkey breasts rather than one large turkey, since the demand for white meat in our house far surpasses that of the dark, but this process would work equally well with a whole bird (though I would still, personally, stick to turkeys weighing twelve pounds or less.)
I start by brining my two breasts (approximately seven pounds each) in vegetable stock (you will want to be sure to buy breasts that do not say that they have been “enhanced with a solution of…” which means they have essentially already been brined. Brining one such bird will result in mealy/rubbery meat, which is not what we are after on Thanksgiving, or anytime of year for that matter.).To a gallon of stock, I add a couple of sprigs of fresh rosemary, thyme, and sage, a tablespoon or so each of whole black peppercorns and allspice berries, eight or nine bay leaves, one cup of kosher salt (or one half cup of table salt), one half cup of dark brown sugar (salt toughens the meat, while sugar softens it, so it is important to have a balance of both in a good brine, not only for flavor but also for texture), one head of garlic cut in half, one large yellow onion quartered, two stalks of celery, and one large carrot. Bring that mixture to a boil, then turn off the heat and allow it to come to room temperature. Divide the mixture between your two largest pots, add one turkey breast to each, and fill with ice water to cover the birds. Brine in the refrigerator for 24-48 hours.
Remove from the brine and thoroughly rinse the breasts under cold water, and pat them dry with paper towels. Using a kitchen syringe, inject each breast with a healthy dose of garlic and herb infused melted butter (which bastes the breast meat from the inside out). Next, make a garlic and herb butter paste by combining three sticks of softened butter in a food processor along with a small handful of garlic cloves, a sprig or two each of fresh rosemary, sage, and thyme, about a tablespoon of ground mustard, a dash of chipotle powder, salt and freshly ground black pepper). Divide this mixture between the two breasts, spreading it under and over the skin. Stuff the cavities with fresh rosemary, thyme, and quartered onions, and place in the refrigerator uncovered for at least 24 hours (but up to 48). Before baking I add an entire bottle of dry white wine to the roasting pan (along with a few bay leaves and any extra celery, carrots, onions, and garlic cloves that I might have on hand) and bake the breasts at 325 degrees for one and a half to two and a half hours, basting periodically, until the internal temperature registers 160-165 degrees at the thickest part. Tent the breasts with aluminum foil and allow them to rest for twenty minutes.
When I remove the entire breast from the bone for carving, if I happen to see that the meat is still slightly pink near the bone, I return the cut breast meat to the pan juices and poach in the oven for an addition ten minutes (especially on Thanksgiving, I would personally always much rather risk under-cooking the turkey and then correcting it, rather than overcooking it and being forced to serve a dry bird!).
And there you have it, my perfectly moist, flavorful, fool proof, herb roasted turkey breasts, guaranteed to be a hit at your next holiday gathering (or any day of the year!). Enjoy!