YOU Magazine - November 2011 - Talkin' TurkeyNon-traditional Options for a Traditional HolidayBy Kirk Leins
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Talkin' Turkey
Non-traditional Options for a Traditional Holiday
By Kirk Leins

Talkin' TurkeyNon-traditional Options for a Traditional HolidayBy Kirk Leins

When it comes to holiday faire it doesn't get any more traditional than Thanksgiving dinner. But, there's a problem with this meal. It's built to feed an army. So, if you're looking to host a much smaller gathering this year you've come to the right place. In this issue of 360 Degrees, we're talking turkey...turkey options, that is.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I love Thanksgiving dinner, every single part of it. Since I normally celebrate Thanksgiving with my immediate and extended family, there is never an issue of having too much food on hand. We have the opposite problem and must resort to making an extra turkey or ham, as well as bountiful amounts of all the fixin's. It's the only way any of us can go home with leftovers.

I imagine there are some of you who celebrate Thanksgiving with fewer guests, but still make a traditional meal because you also love the leftovers, and don't mind taking several days to use them up. While I admire the notion, I must say that this article is not necessarily written with you in mind. I'm not ignoring you. It's just that you don't really need my help.

The readers to whom this article is directed are those who celebrate Thanksgiving with just a few close friends or family members and for whatever reason don't want to prepare a large bird. After all, isn't it about time someone devotes some Thanksgiving recipes to you?

For anybody who doesn't fall into the aforementioned category, and is feeling a bit alienated right now, take a deep breath because in the time it took me to write the last two paragraphs I have figured out a way to draw you back in. Check this out.

Thanksgiving dinner is a cavalcade of fall flavors, which for many of us are welcome tastes as soon as summer has passed. For most of us though, the roasted turkey component is something we don't call on enough, mostly due to the large size of the bird and the amount of time required to cook it. What you should know is the two non-traditional turkey options I am about to show you are perfect for enjoying the taste of Thanksgiving anytime you like.

Option #1: Turkey breasts roasted on the bone
Roasting turkey breasts on the bone is a great way to create an exact replica of Thanksgiving dinner without making an entire bird. It's also perfect for any of you who are not particularly fond of dark meat turkey. An added perk here is that turkey breasts cook fairly quickly, thus cutting down your kitchen time. And if that's not enough, the fact that we are roasting only the breast means that we can cook it to an exact temperature (without having to worry about dark meat), ensuring that it stays moist and juicy.

Before I get to the recipe, however, I would first like to say a few words about the various forms in which turkey breasts can be purchased.

The first is as individual breasts with the bones and skin removed. In terms of the upcoming recipe, you should avoid using these because we will need both the bones and skin in order to keep the meat succulent during roasting.

Another form is the whole breast. This is nothing more than both sides of the breast, still attached to the rib bones and joined together by the breastbone. Once again, a perfectly acceptable product, but it won't really work for what we're doing.

A third form is the whole boneless breast. While the bones have been removed, the two breasts remain joined, and the skin is intact. This product is good for rolling and stuffing, or cooking low and slow, but not so great for this recipe.

Instead, I'm suggesting you procure turkey breast halves with the rib bones and skin intact. They range from one to three pounds in weight, making them perfect for feeding smaller crowds. The fact that they've been halved will allow them to cook faster, and the inclusion of skin and bone is going to keep them juicy and tasty. Let's do this.


  • 1 turkey breast half, bone in and skin left on (approximately 2 lbs.)
  • 1.5 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 to 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the gravy:

  • 3 to 4 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 3 to 4 tbsp all-purpose flour or Wondra gravy flour
  • 1 14-oz. can chicken stock
  • 1/4 C white wine
  • 1 tbsp fresh thyme or sage, finely chopped
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Using your fingers, loosen the skin that's surrounding the breast meat. Massage softened butter on to the meat. Season both sides of the breast with salt and pepper.

In a large skillet, heat olive oil until it's quite hot. Sear turkey breast, skin side down for about five minutes or until the skin is a rich, golden brown in color.

Place seared turkey breast, bone side down, on a rack in a baking dish or sheet pan. Roast in the oven for 50 minutes to an hour or until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees.

Remove turkey breast from the oven and allow it to rest 5-10 minutes before slicing.

To make the gravy, melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a medium saucepan over a medium-low heat. Slowly add flour, whisking constantly. Once incorporated, the butter/flour combination (known as roux) will achieve a paste-like consistency. Allow mixture to cook for 2 minutes, continually stirring.

Pull pan off heat and add half the chicken stock, whisking the entire time. Return to heat and allow the mixture to come back to boil. Whisk in the white wine, remainder of chicken stock, and fresh herbs.

Season well with salt and pepper and allow gravy to simmer for five minutes or until it has properly thickened.

Cover and keep warm until you're ready to serve.

Option #2: Scallopini
As you can probably tell, option number one will yield turkey breast meat just like what you would slice off of a whole bird. For my second option, I thought it would be neat to put forth a turkey recipe that included fall flavors, but is unlike anything you've probably been served at Thanksgiving.

For this recipe, it is best to procure either boneless/skinless breast, or breast meat that has been sliced into cutlets. If purchasing the former, please know you will need to slice the cutlets yourself, but feel free to ask your butcher for help.


  • 1.5 lbs boneless/skinless turkey breast, sliced into cutlets 1/3-inch thick
  • All-purpose flour for dredging
  • 1 C freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1.5 tbsp fresh sage, finely chopped
  • 2-3 tbsp unsalted butter
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Pat turkey cutlets dry and liberally season on both sides with salt and pepper. Dredge in flour, shaking off any excess, and set aside on a plate.

In a large heavy bottomed skillet, heat 2 to 3 tablespoons of olive oil until hot and simmering. Working in batches, add cutlets and fry for four minutes (two minutes per side). Feel free to add more olive oil if necessary. Remove to a plate and loosely tent with aluminum foil to keep warm.

Drain the olive oil from the pan. Return it to the stove and reduce the flame to medium. Add orange juice and deglaze, scraping up any browned bits stuck to the bottom. Add 1 tablespoon of the sage and season lightly with salt and pepper.

Allow the orange juice to boil until it reduces to at least half its volume and thickens to a syrup-like consistency. Turn down heat to the lowest setting and swirl in the cold butter. Taste and re-season if necessary. Return the scallopini to the skillet with the sauce and allow them to heat through for a minute or so. Garnish with remaining sage and serve.

One last thing…
If you're at all nervous about cooking either of these dishes for Thanksgiving, my suggestion is to do a test run within the next week or so. Both of these recipes are quick and easy enough that you can prepare them for dinner any night of the week. Besides, enjoying a little turkey in the beginning of November will put you in the mood for the best food holiday of the year.

Have a wonderful and safe Thanksgiving.

Kirk Leins has been cooking his entire life. No stranger to professional kitchens, he currently devotes most of his time to cooking instruction, food writing, and producing television. Kirk also provides his services as a personal chef in and around the Los Angeles area. He has made several TV appearances on both the national and local level, and is the Executive Chef for YOU Magazine. Sign up for Kirk's free newsletter and cooking blog at

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