Honestly, I don't remember the last time I roasted a whole turkey. (Truth be told, for me, Thanksgiving is all about the sides.)
However, just a few years ago I attended a Thanksgiving dinner and instead of a whole bird, the host made a beautiful turkey roulade stuffed with chestnuts and sweet Italian pork sausage. It's now become my go-to holiday centerpiece.
I know what you're thinking: No wishbone? With all the flavor in a roulade, trust me, you won't miss it. Nor will you miss having to wake up at 7 a.m. to get a 20-pound gobbler in the oven.
While the rolling and the tying might take a bit of of effort at first, ultimately you'll be saving a lot of time as the roulade roasts in just under an hour (see the recipe). That's a lot better than hours of turkey-induced anxiety.
Here's everything you need to know to make a turkey roulade this Thanksgiving:
Turkey: As with any meat, buy from a trusted butcher. Your best bet is to get a fresh (unfrozen in turkey speak), free range and, if possible, organic turkey breast. It should clock in around 3½ to 4 pounds. That way, after it's been stuffed, you'll be able to feed your crowd and may even have some leftovers. Ask your butcher to bone-out the breast, leaving the skin on, and make sure they butterfly the meat so that you have an even work surface. Before you roll, make sure you pat the meat very, very dry on both sides and season it liberally with salt and pepper. It will ensure a fast, even sear in the pan rather than having your meat steam.
Aromatics: For the filling, you'll want a solid flavor base of aromatics. For our recipe, onions, fennel, celery, leeks and garlic get cooked down in butter until they become very soft and almost jam-like. What you're doing here is mellowing everything out, marrying the flavors and getting a more balanced aroma.
Sausage: Pork is like salt; almost everything you cook needs it. Sweet Italian is crumbled and quickly sautéed, giving it a touch of caramelization on the outside. You still want it raw in the center so that it finishes cooking in the oven. You're essentially injecting the turkey and the filling with that lovely, unctuous, porky flavor.
Herbs: They're nonnegotiable. During Thanksgiving, I stock up on herbs more than anything. (Yes, even more so than butter.) Opt for a traditional mix of holiday herbs like rosemary, thyme and sage. I added a sprinkling of parsley for a grassy finish.
The Extras: Taste and see what your filling is missing. If it needs some crunch, add pine nuts or chestnuts. If it tastes a bit flat, grate some lemon zest and a pinch of red pepper flakes. I added some dried cherries, and quickly sautéed chanterelle mushrooms, but play around and add whatever dried fruit or mushrooms you like. It's what will get you extra points in flavor.
Gravy: Yes, you can create a beautiful, velvety sauce for your turkey without cooking a whole bird. After searing the roulade on all sides, save what's left in that skillet! All those lovely brown bits are what you'll eventually deglaze. For even more flavor, add the rendered fat and drippings from the roasting pan after you pull the roulade from the oven. Put it all together in a skillet, sauté some aromatics, toss in an herb and add a little flour to create a golden-hued roux. Add your stock of choice (preferably homemade) and gently simmer until the sauce thickens. To finish your pan gravy, season with salt and pepper, then add a knob of butter or some heavy cream.
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