Fine Cooking (October/November 2014)
One of this year's Thanksgiving Trends is Take-apart Turkeys, birds that are cooked in pieces rather than roasting the whole bird at once.
We knew we wanted to give this trend a whirl, but we were on the fence about the idea of Turkey Roulades with Fontina and Sage. This recipe, to us, read like a Thanksgiving disaster waiting to happen, and we don't mind telling you that we went into cooking this dish entirely pessimistic.
We also don't mind telling you this: We were wrong.
Why did we doubt this recipe?
There's the cheese factor. We've never had a Thanksgiving experience that involved a cheesy turkey (many cheesy turkey jokes, but none on the actual bird). We were flat out wrong about this one. The fontina cheese is absolutely delightful with the turkey in a very unexpected way. Yes, it's non-traditional for the Thanksgiving table, but it was a welcome change when it comes to often bland turkey.
And then there's the complication factor: buying and flattening turkey breasts, rolling the roulades, and then cooking them first by searing, then by roasting. This one, we weren't so wrong about. This isn't an easy task. We ended up making two full roulades due to the number of guests we were having. This meant buying two turkey breasts, pounding them flat with a mallet, rolling them up and securing them with toothpicks. It's not terribly hard, especially with four hands. But it ain't a walk in the park, either.
What's really difficult is cooking these babies without them falling apart. Because the roulades are wrapped in bacon, and you want to preserve that bacon exterior, you have to very carefully work the roulades on the stovetop, turning them ever-so-carefully so that everything stays together. It's not impossible, but it does require a lot of focus and attention, and depending on the set-up for your Thanksgiving (number of guests, number of dishes), it just may not be possible for you to do successfully.
But we can't argue with the results. The turkey is juicy, with big flavor from the fontina, sage and (duh) bacon. There's also a secret ingredient here -- fennel pollen -- that we absolutely love, with its intense fennel flavor (we had to order fennel pollen online, by the way).
In the immortal words of Taylor Swift: "Haters gonna hate hate hate hate hate, but not on this turkey."
>> Read the full Thanksgiving 2014 recipe index
>> Read about this year's biggest Thanksgiving trends
Serves 8 to 10
For the brine and turkey
2 Tbs. granulated sugar
7/8 oz. kosher salt (2 Tbs. Diamond Crystal or 1-1/2 Tbs. Morton)
1 Tbs. black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
2 medium cloves garlic, halved
2 1-1/2-lb. boneless, skinless turkey breast halves
For the roulades
1/3 cup fine fresh breadcrumbs
4 medium cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 Tbs. finely chopped fresh sage leaves
1 tsp. fennel pollen or ground fennel
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 oz. fontina, grated (2 cups)
1 lb. bacon
2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
For the jus
2 oz. (4 Tbs.) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 medium shallots, thinly sliced
6 fresh sage leaves
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cups lower-salt chicken broth
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice; more to taste
Brine the turkey
Combine the sugar, salt, peppercorns, bay leaves, garlic, and 4 cups water in a 3-quart saucepan; bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the salt and sugar. Transfer to a large nonreactive container or bowl and let cool to room temperature. Put the turkey in the brine, adding up to 4 cups water, if necessary, to just cover the turkey. Cover and refrigerate for at least 12 and up to 24 hours.
Assemble the roulades
In a medium bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, garlic, sage, and fennel pollen.
Remove the turkey from the brine, brush off any spices, and pat dry. Put each breast skin side down between two large pieces of plastic wrap. Using a meat mallet (or a heavy skillet), pound each into a 9x10-inch rectangle that’s an even 1/2 inch thick 2 . Remove the top piece of plastic. Evenly sprinkle each with 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper.
Sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture evenly over the two cutlets, then sprinkle with the fontina. Fold in the longer sides of each cutlet by 1/2 inch. Then, starting at a short end, tightly roll up each cutlet into a compact roulade.
Arrange half of the bacon slices (about 10) on a clean large sheet of plastic wrap, overlapping each slice lengthwise so it covers about one third of the slice below it; you want the width of the bacon slices to be the same length as the roulade. Set one of the roulades in the center of the bacon slices, perpendicular to the slices and seam side up. Using the plastic, wrap the bacon up and around one side of the roulade. Repeat with the other side. The bacon should meet or overlap at the ends; if it doesn’t, stretch the bacon slices until they meet. Secure the ends of the bacon with 2 or 3 toothpicks. Repeat with the remaining bacon and roulade.
Roast the roulades
Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 425°F.
Heat the oil in a medium flameproof roasting pan over medium-high heat until shimmering hot.
Put the roulades in the pan seam side up, turn the heat down to medium, and cook, undisturbed, until the edges of the bacon strips are beginning to brown, about 4 minutes; the bacon will not be crisp at this point. Using tongs, turn the roulades and cook for 1 minute more per side to lightly color the bacon, finishing with the roulades seam side down.
Transfer the pan to the oven and roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of each roulade registers 165°F, about 35 minutes. Transfer the roulades to a cutting board and let rest for at least 10 minutes and up to 1 hour before slicing.
Make the jus
Pour the drippings from the roasting pan into a fat separator and let the fat rise to the top. Return 1 Tbs. of the fat to the roasting pan; discard the remaining fat and reserve the defatted drippings.
Set the roasting pan over medium heat and add 1 Tbs. of the butter, the shallots, and sage. Cook, stirring often, until the shallots are soft, about 3 minutes. Lightly season with pepper, then add the broth, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the reserved drippings, 1 Tbs. at a time, until the jus has a full, rich flavor. Bring to a simmer. Turn the heat down to low and add the remaining 3 Tbs. butter, one piece at a time, whisking until the butter is incorporated into the sauce. Remove from the heat and whisk in the lemon juice. Season to taste with more lemon juice, pepper, or salt.
Serve: Remove the toothpicks from the roulades, slice, and serve with the jus.
Make Ahead Tips: The roulades can be assembled, wrapped in bacon, then covered in plastic and refrigerated for up to 12 hours before cooking.