I have made this twice in the last year. Once, it was one of the most complicated things I’d done in the kitchen. The other, it was quite simple.
The first time was part of a big turkey dinner I cooked in January, as I’ve gotten into the tradition of hosting the last several years. Starting with this recipe, the menu had an Italian focus – mashed potatoes with fontina, Brussels sprouts with pancetta, cranberries with grappa. And porchetta, a Italian dish of spiced pork belly (which I have never actually had).
The turkey porchetta recipe uses just the breast, so Kenji also developed recipes for turkey thighs (braised in red wine, although mine mostly roasted on top of red wine and kind of dried out) and turkey sausage (which I stuffed into mezzalune – ravioli-type dumplings made from gnocchi dough; my favorite item of the meal). This meant breaking down the whole turkey into its parts, removing the legs and wings, carefully removing the skin without ripping it, then cutting off the breasts in whole pieces. One thing you should know about me is that I am terrible at breaking down chickens – and this was the same process but a lot bigger.
After breaking down the turkey, butterflying the breasts, seasoning the meat, rolling it, tying it, letting it rest overnight, then browning it and roasting it, I got distracted by stuffing my face with turkey sausage mezzalune and accidentally overcooked the turchetta. A friend who grew up eating real porchetta in northern Michigan, however, loved it and said it tasted just like what he was used to.
Still, I wanted to get it right. Months later, I tried again – this time starting with a boneless turkey breast. You can imagine that without breaking a whole turkey down into its parts, this was remarkably easier. It wrapped up into a thicker roll, plus I monitored its cooking time more carefully, and this time, it was everything I could have asked for. (You’d think I could have taken some new and improved pictures when I didn’t have guests over and ten other dishes to finish, but you’d be wrong.) The skin is browned and crisp, the meat is juicy and salty and spiced. When you don’t overcook it, turchetta deserves to be the star of a holiday meal – and if you start with a turkey breast, it’s not any harder roasting a turkey.
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, plus ½ tablespoon whole black peppercorns
¼ cup fresh sage leaves
4 medium cloves garlic
½ tablespoon whole fennel seeds
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 whole bone-in, skin-on turkey breast (about 4 to 5 pounds), patted dry
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 quart low sodium homemade or store-bought chicken or turkey stock
1. Combine 2 teaspoons kosher salt, whole black peppercorns, sage leaves, garlic, fennel seed, and red pepper flakes in the bowl of a food processor. Process until a rough paste is formed, scraping down sides as necessary, about 30 seconds.
2. Carefully remove the skin from the turkey breast and lay it flat. Using your hands and a boning knife, carefully remove the breast meat from the carcass. Set aside the tenderloins for another use.
3. Lay one breast half on top of the turkey skin and butterfly the thicker end by cutting through it horizontally, leaving the last ½-inch intact, then folding out the flap. Repeat with the other breast half.
4. Make a series of parallel slashes at 1-inch intervals in the turkey meat, cutting about ½-inch into the meat. Repeat with a second series of slashes perpendicular to the first. Rub the spice/herb mixture into the meat, making sure to get it into all of the cracks.
5. Carefully roll the turkey meat into a tight cylinder, using the skin to completely enclose it. Tie the roast tightly with butcher’s twine at 1-inch intervals, as well as once lengthwise. Transfer the roast to a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 6 hours and up to 2 days.
6. When ready to cook, adjust an oven rack to center position and preheat the oven to 275°F. Season exterior of turkey lightly with salt and pepper. Heat remaining tablespoon canola oil in a large cast iron or stainless steel skillet over high heat until shimmering. Add the turkey and cook, turning occasionally, until well-browned on all sides, about 8 minutes total. Transfer the turkey to a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet and transfer to the oven. Roast until the thickest part of the turkey registers 145 to 150°F on an instant-read thermometer, about 2 hours. Remove from the oven, transfer to a cutting board, and let rest for 10 minutes. Snip off the twine using poultry shears. Carve and serve.