JeanMarie Brownson: A bone-in, skin-on turkey breast yields plenty of meat for an intimate Thanksgiving dinner

Jeanmarie Brownson: A Bone In, Skin On Turkey Breast Yields Plenty Of Meat For An Intimate Thanksgiving Dinner
JeanMarie Brownson/TNS

The smoky-sweet red chile rub creates a beautiful delicious exterior on roasted or grilled turkey.

After decades of roasting two turkeys for the big day, we look forward to an intimate Thanksgiving dinner. Four of us will enjoy roasted red chile turkey along with plenty of vegetable sides, fresh cranberry sauce and pumpkin tarts. We’ll treat ourselves to sparkling wine and a charcuterie board while the final preparations take place.

For the turkey, we could roast a small whole bird, especially since we enjoy leftovers. But really, everyone just craves moist breast meat. A bone-in, skin-on turkey breast yields plenty of flavorful, juicy meat.

Bone-in turkey breasts are sold as a full breast (two halves joined at the center breast bone), or split into two half breasts still on the bone. Boneless turkey breasts, or rolled and tied turkey breast roasts, usually feature just one half of the breast; these cook quicker than bone-in counterparts. Usually 1/2 pound of boneless turkey or 1 pound bone-in turkey per person proves adequate.

Purchase turkey that has been raised right, that is, without antibiotics or added growth hormones. Read labels. The Empire Kosher brand sells an all-natural turkey breast half with rib meat that has been soaked, salted and rinsed. Some turkey breasts and breast roasts, such as Butterball, have a solution of water and salt added.

Turkey from a local farm or butcher, without added solutions, benefits from a 24-hour liquid brine to help retain moisture in the cooked meat. Mix 2 quarts water, 1/4 cup each packed dark brown sugar and salt, 3 crushed garlic cloves, and 4 bay leaves in a container large enough to hold the brine and turkey in the refrigerator. Submerge the turkey breast in the solution (add more water as needed) and chill for 24 hours. Drain well before proceeding with the recipe.

Choose your cooking method. Roasting turkey in the oven yields pan juices that easily become gravy. Turkey cooked over a hardwood charcoal grill sports a subtle, smoky flavor. However, there are no pan juices from grilled turkey; try serving it with a mole sauce made from bottled mole starter and turkey broth or warm tomato-chipotle salsa.

The smoky-sweet red chile rub creates a beautiful delicious exterior on roasted or grilled turkey. Make a double batch of the rub; it tastes great on roasted vegetables such sliced delicata squash or cubed butternut or sweet potatoes.

Smoky-Sweet Red Chile Roasted Turkey Breast

Makes 4 servings

Note: Cooking turkey on the bone yields moister, more flavorful meat. If cooking a boneless turkey breast, tie it with string in several places to make a compact shape.

  • 1/2 of a whole bone-in turkey breast, with skin, about 3 pounds
  • Smoky-Sweet Red Chile Rub, recipe follows
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • Salt, freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • Fresh sage or parsley for garnish

1. Pat turkey dry and place in a shallow baking pan. Rub it on all sides with a generous coating of the brown sugar rub. Refrigerate, loosely covered, for several hours or overnight.

2. Heat oven to 350 degrees on convection or 375 degrees on conventional setting. Roast turkey, skin side up, until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest portion of the meat registers 160 degrees on a thermometer and the juices run clear, 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours.

3. Let turkey rest on the cutting board for 10 minutes. The temperature will rise about 10 degrees.

4. For a quick pan gravy, pour 1 cup of the broth into the roasting pan and set over a burner to boil the broth while scraping up all the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Mix remaining 1/2 cup broth and flour in a small bowl until smooth. Whisk flour mixture into pan juices until smooth. Cook and whisk until thickened, about 5 minutes. Season with Worcestershire, salt and pepper.

5. Serve the turkey thinly sliced with some of the pan gravy. Garnish with sage.

SMOKY-SWEET RED CHILE RUB: Mix 1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar, 2 tablespoons ancho powder (or chili powder), 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, 1 teaspoon each: ground cumin, oregano, sweet or hot smoked paprika and 1/2 teaspoon thyme in a small bowl. Makes about 1/3 cup, enough for 2 turkey breast halves.

VARIATION: TO GRILL THE TURKEY BREAST: Soak 1/2 cup of wood chips in water to cover for at least 30 minutes. Heat a gas grill to medium-high or light a charcoal fire and let it burn just until the coals are covered with gray ash and very hot. Turn off the heat in the center of the gas grill or set up the charcoal grill for indirect cooking by banking all the coals to the sides, leaving the center empty. Add a drip pan to the bottom of the grill if you wish. Drain the chips and sprinkle over the coals or place on a piece of foil over the gas burner.

Put the turkey breast in the center of the grill (not directly over the heat source). Cover the grill to maintain a steady 325-degree temperature (you can use an oven thermometer as a guide). Cook until an instant-read thermometer registers 160 degrees on a thermometer and the juices run clear, about 1 hour.

(JeanMarie Brownson is a James Beard Award-winning author and the recipient of the IACP Cookbook Award for her latest cookbook, “Dinner at Home.” JeanMarie, a chef and authority on home cooking, Mexican cooking and specialty food, is one of the founding partners of Frontera Foods. She co-authored three cookbooks with chef Rick Bayless, including “Mexico: One Plate at a Time.” JeanMarie has enjoyed developing recipes and writing about food, travel and dining for more than four decades.)