I’ve decided to braise the other half of my turkey breast. This is a moist, stew-y dish, like a pot roast. Like many braised dishes, this dish is best eaten after it’s been allowed to rest in the fridge overnight. There is some wine and some sherry in the recipe and those flavors meld and soften the next day. The wonderful thing about a braise is that there is always a nice liquid medium in which to reheat it (or even freeze and re-heat).
Because this is a turkey breast and not a fatty roast, it’s important to cook it gently (this includes re-heating it gently). When lean protein is allowed to boil too hard, it toughens quickly. Therefore, after the breast has been browned on the outside, it is simmered in a low oven, partially submerged in its braising liquid.
The braising liquid is a fragrant blend of aromatics, rosemary, tomato paste, white wine and sherry. I have to credit my neighbor Beppi for the wine/sherry combination. He makes a spezzatino di pollo (chicken stew) that uses this combination and it’s a very luxurious and partly sweet flavor. It pairs equally well with turkey as it does with chicken.
I have chosen to roll and tie my breast into a nice compact little roast, but don’t let this dissuade you from preparing the dish if you only have a bone-in turkey breast. A bone-in breast works very nicely for this dish. In fact, the bone makes the meat a little more forgiving if you cook too hard or too long–the bone keeps it moist.
I chose to take mine off the bone simply because I was interested in making broth out of the carcass. Otherwise, I’ve made it on the bone before and it’s delectable. I’ve also made many different braising liquids, and I’ll share them with you as I make them in later posts.
The use of tomato paste instead of whole peeled tomatoes is also Beppi’s influence on my cooking. Being northern Italian, he has a partiality for non-tomato-based sauces. Butter, white wine and stock figure prominently in the region of Venice and Verona. The tomato paste is added for a bit of color and sweetness, but not necessarily for a tomato flavor per se. My mother, instead, will braise meats in tomato sauce almost exclusively.
Because of the luxurious braising liquid in this recipe, you’ll want to have it with something bland and starchy on the plate to soak up all of the wonderful juices. I’ve chosen rice, simply boiled in broth, but polenta would be equally wonderful.
Brasato di Tacchino
2 lb turkey breast (without bone) will serve 4 persons
1 half of a turkey breast about 2 lbs (if boneless, tie into the shape of a roast so it cooks evenly)
flour for dredging
2 carrots, sliced thinly
1 rib celery, sliced thinly
3 onions or 6 shallots, sliced thinly
2 whole sprigs rosemary
2 tbl butter
3 tbls olive oil
1/8 tsp nutmeg
salt and pepper
1 heaping tbl tomato paste
1 cup white wine
1/2 cup sherry (dry or medium)
2 cups chicken or turkey broth
salt and black pepper
Preheat oven to 300 degrees
Season turkey well on all sides with salt and pepper.
Heat half the butter and oil in dutch oven.
Dredge turkey breast lightly in flour. Shake off excess. Brown turkey breast on all sides (about one minute per side on high heat). Discard oil and butter then replace with the rest of the oil and butter to the pot. Add the carrots, celery, onion, nutmeg, and rosemary sprigs. Saute on medium heat for about 10 minutes until it starts to color.
Add wine and sherry and wine. Cook on high heat for about 5 minutes until alcohol is reduced by one third. Add tomato paste and broth and return to simmer.
Cover and place in oven for 45 minutes. Uncover and cook for another 15 minutes or until a meat thermometer reads at least 165 when inserted in center of the roast. Note: if you’re cooking a bone-in breast, it may take fifteen minutes or so longer to cook it through.
A couple of tips: the size of turkey breasts can vary widely; if you’re cooking a larger one (say 4 to 5 lbs), add more liquids and cook longer. Always taste for salt and adjust toward the end. If the sauce looks too watery (it should be liquid-y but not quite soupy) and the meat is cooked, remove the meat and reduce the sauce a bit on the stovetop.
Let rest overnight if at all possible and slice when cold the next day.