~Oven-Braising a Turkey Breast without a Dutch Oven~
Let's talk turkey. Whole frozen birds and whole thawed breasts, were, for the most part, always available year round, but, at present, folks seem to be noticing them more -- especially the whole breasts. Considering the increasing scarcity, not-to-mention skyrocketing prices of beef and pork products, people are in search of relatively inexpensive alternatives that can feed an entire family. A whole turkey breast is one wise-choice item, but, based on the questions coming to me via KE recently, many first-time stay-at-home-full-time cooks find themselves overwhelmed, intimidated and confused by a product they've passed by more times than they'd like to admit.
While almost everyone knows how to, or has some experience with, roasting a whole turkey, when in the possession of a whole turkey breast, one of two questions frequently come my way. #1) I purchased a whole turkey breast. What's the best way to cook it? #2) I roasted a whole turkey breast and it was dry. What did I do wrong? The answers: The best way to cook a turkey breast is to oven-braise it. While you roast a whole turkey, you can't roast a turkey breast. There's more. While braising is usually done in an expensive pot called a "Dutch oven", when it comes to braising a turkey breast, there's no need to throw down your trust fund to purchase one.
A relatively expensive, not-to-mention heavy Dutch oven is not required to perfectly oven-braise a turkey breast.
Newsflash. You do not need a heavy, expensive Dutch oven to successfully oven-braise a turkey breast. Full stop. Do not let anyone tell you you do. Period. Le Creuset, Staub, Lodge, Cuisinart, AmazonBasics, to name a few, they're all excellent products that all do the same thing and they do it well. I've got a few different brands, and, as a seasoned chef, trust me, past the price differential, there is no discernible difference between any of these brands. If you've got one, flaunt it, but, if you don't, and don't have a budget to support the purchase, worry not.
A wire rack inserted in a $1.69 disposable aluminum pan tightly-covered with aluminum foil does the same thing.
In my kitchen, turkey has never been a once-a-year celebratory meal complete with pomp and circumstance. Oven-roasted turkey, oven-braised turkey breast, and, poached turkey tenderloins get served a few times a year. Sometimes it arrives at the dinner table in the form of a simplified turkey dinner with gravy, other times it arrives at the table in the form of turkey à la king, turkey tetrazzini, turkey divan, classic hot brown sandwiches, turkey chef salads, or cold turkey sandwiches. That said, aside from our Turkey day celebration, for the rest of the year it's a whole turkey breast that I choose to use, and, I never, EVER, bring out one of my fancy Dutch ovens to do the job. Why? There's simply no reason to make an already heavy pot heavier by adding a turkey breast, especially when I won't be impressing anyone by serving my turkey out of it. Save the pot for something elegant.
What's the difference between roasting & oven-braising?
Roasting is a cooking method that uses dry heat. The food is placed in a roasting pan, atop a rack or a melange of vegetables (to keep it from "stewing in it's own juices"). The food is placed in the oven, uncovered, at a high, low, or combination of high and low heat, to roast in the dry heat of the oven until the desired internal temperature is reached. The food is usually, but not always, basted regularly during the cooking process to retain moisture and enhance flavor.
Oven-Braising is a cooking method that typically combines moist and dry heat. The process starts on the stovetop (in a Dutch oven), where it is seared in fat or oil, to seal in the juices (in the case of an oven-braised turkey breast, there is no need for this cumbersome task). The vessel of food is then placed, tightly covered, at a high, low, or combination of high and low heat, to braise in the moist heat created inside the vessel, until the desired internal temperature is reached.
My recipe for turkey breast + drippings to make plenty of gravy:
1 whole thawed turkey breast, at or close to room temperature
2 cups chicken stock (16 ounces)
1/2 cup diced onion
1/2 cup diced celery
3-4 small fresh rosemary sprigs
2 tablespoons butter, melted
freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend
~Step 1. Insert a wire rack in a 13" x 9" x 4" disposable aluminum pan to which 2 cups chicken stock, 1/2 cup diced onion, 1/2 cup diced celery and 3-4 small fresh rosemary sprigs have been added. Stand the turkey breast upright on the rack. If turkey breast does not want to stand upright, use a pair of poultry shears to quickly trim a few rib bones off bottom of breast.
~Step 2. In small bowl or ramekin, melt the butter in the microwave. Using a pastry brush, paint the entire surface area of the turkey breast. Generously season the breast with freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend. Using a large sheet of heavy duty aluminum foil, cover and tightly seal the turkey, air-tight, in the pan. In the event you accidentally perforate, tear or rip the foil, start over with a new sheet of foil.
Meet the oven-braising chart I've compiled over 40 years:
~ Step 3. On lowest rack of 450º oven, time and cook tightly-covered turkey breast as follows:
1 hour, 30 minutes (for a 3-3 1/2-pound split, turkey breast half)
1 hour, 45 minutes (for a 4-4 1/2-pound split, turkey breast half)
2 hours (for a 5-6-pound whole turkey breast)
2 hours, 15 minutes (for a 6-7-pound whole turkey breast)
2 hours, 30 minutes (for a 7-8-pound whole turkey breast)
2 hours, 45 minutes (for an 8-9-pound whole turkey breast)
3 hours (for a 9-10-pound whole turkey breast)
~ Step 4. Plan A. When breast has braised according to the specified amount of time, remove it from the oven. Allow to rest, covered, for 30-45 minutes prior to uncovering, removing the turkey meat from the breast bones, slicing and serving.
Plan B: When breast has braised according to the specified amount of time, remove it from the oven. Uncover pan (reserve the foil). Transfer breast to a plate or platter, cover it with reserved foil and set aside to rest, covered, for 30-45 minutes, while preparing the gravy as follows:
~Step 5. Lift up the pan and pour the flavorful drippings into a 1-quart-sized fat/lean separator. After discarding the fat portion, there will be 3-3 1/2 cups of very nicely-seasoned drippings (which may be refrigerated or frozen for a later date).
~Step 6. To make gravy, in a 2-quart saucepan, over medium heat, melt 3 tablespoons salted butter over low heat.
~ Step 6. As pictured above, whisk in 1/4 cup all-purpose flour and 1 teaspoon poultry seasoning. Increase heat to medium and whisk until mixture is thick, pasty and foamy. Whisk in all of the fat-free drippings. Increase heat to medium-high. Adjust heat to a steady simmer, while continuing to whisk constantly, and cook until gravy has has thickened to your liking and coats the back of a spoon, about 2-3 minutes. Yield: 3-3/12 cups gravy. Store leftovers in refrigerator.
Mouthwateringly moist, fork-tender all-white meat turkey breast:
Oven-Braising a Turkey Breast without a Dutch Oven: Recipe yields instructions to oven-braise one whole turkey breast and make 3-3 1/2 cups gravy/6-8 servings.
Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; 2-cup measuring container; 13" x 9" x 4" disposable aluminum roasting pan; wire rack; poultry shears (optional); small bowl or ramekin; pastry brush; heavy duty aluminum foil; 1-quart fat/lean separator; 2-quart saucepan; wire risk
Cook's Note: Got chicken on your mind? Rotisserie chicken is not my "gig". It takes all the sport out of cooking. I roast chickens. I have roasted many chickens in my life, and, I've been roasting chickens since before some of you were born. I've never served roasted chicken to a guest that didn't mention how moist and perfectly cooked it was and ask how in the world I got it that way. Everyone and anyone who cooks has an opinion on roasting chicken, and, mine is quite basic: two chickens, two hours. Try ~ This Woman's Way to Roast the Perfect Chicken + My Stressfree Carving-for-Dummies Methodology ~. Gobble, gobble.
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2020)
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