Thanksgiving was always going to look different this year, but man, I wasn’t feeling the creative surge like I usually do. Still, after so many ups and downs this year, this was exactly the holiday I needed to keep things in perspective. We searched around for some new ideas–especially since thanksgiving for two people really doesn’t warrant a whole bird! Don’t worry though– we still made a bunch of food!
I braved the outside world and went to a few different stores to find turkey legs…to no avail. Serious March flashbacks to the first wave of food and supply shortages! At least slightly more people were wearing masks though.
I finally found a whole bone-in turkey breast, and figured it would be easy enough to filet at home– still technically not a whole bird, and much less defrosting either way! Dani got the idea to cook the breasts confit, and c’mon…I could never say no to that! The result was delicious if not a little unintended, but just like the salt-crusted duck from way back, I’m going to give you some pointers to make yours better than mine.
In the US, it’s almost standard to brine the turkey overnight, but I didn’t want to deal with the nasty water afterward. I seasoned it with dry salt (a little more generously than usual), and a few other spices, to cure it overnight. Tip #1: go easy on the salt, especially since the breasts don’t have a lot of fat. I may have seasoned for a larger piece of meat, so just go with your instincts here and season normally. Fold in some extra spices like carraway, cloves, allspice, and nutmeg if you want to bring in more classic holiday flavors, then let it cure in the fridge for up to six hours (not overnight–this might also help with the saltiness issue).
Once you’re ready to cook confit, which is literally just slowly, poaching the meat in oil/fat, you won’t need much to get started. Tip #2: season your fats! Whether you’re just using olive oil and ghee (clarified butter) like I did, going for the carnitas vibe with lard, or splurging on duck fat, you should add things to give it more complex flavors. I tossed a large head of garlic, orange peel, and springs of rosemary and thyme into the pot, and just warmed it enough to melt the fat. I kept the heat in the oven around 300 degrees, and once the oil was barely starting to bubble, I added to meat. Now, all was fine, but I got a little impatient after 2 hours of cooking, and turned the heat up to about 335. I still can’t decide whether I would do that part again! See, it started to actually fry (I figured I was in the clear since it was under 350 degrees) and once I saw the browning I got worried, and lowered the heat to about 250. I was holding my breath for that first taste, but at these low temperatures it took about 3.5 hours to be fully cooked. The butter started to brown already though, so that part was irreversible.
The root of all these high temperatures was definitely a worry about the long cooking time. I’m going to suggest that you keep the temperature below 220 degrees for the real deal–but it’s probably going to add an extra hour or two to the cooking time. If done more carefully, you will avoid the browning.
Verdict? Besides the slight over-seasoning, it was delicious. The meat was tender–not dry at all–and it didn’t taste fried even though my impulses almost got me. I had planned to finish the turkey under the broiler (since confit usually usually doesn’t provide much browning/texture), but it didn’t need much longer to be fully cooked. Instead, I basted it with harissa, and reheated it slowly for an additional 10 minutes or so. Of course, you should still check to be sure yours is cooked before you take it out–mine was! Tip #3 keep your temperatures in the lower range! It pays to cook this slowly, and even once it’s done, you can sear or broil it for color and texture. Just don’t expect to eat it for about…four hours.
Ready to try this out?
2 Turkey Breast Filets, skin-on
4 Cups Ghee (Clarified Butter)
2 Cups Olive Oil
4 Sprigs Rosemary
4 Sprigs Thyme
2 Strips Orange Peel
1 Head of Garlic, root chopped off
1 Tbs Salt
1/2 Tbs Pepper
1 Tbs Caraway Seeds, crushed
1 Tsp Coriander powder
1 Clove, crushed
- Season the turkey breasts generously with the mixed spices, then refrigerate uncovered for 3-6 hours.
- Once the meat is ready, slowly warm the ghee and olive oil in a large pot at 220 degrees. Add the head of garlic, herbs, and orange peel and stir until fragrant.
- Carefully submerge both turkey breasts in the oil, cover, and transfer to the oven at the same temperature. Cook for at least 2 hours, checking occasionally to maintain the correct temperature.
- Cook for an additional 2 hours, then remove from the oil, and let it rest on paper towels until cook. Finish by broiling/searing the meat ahead of serving.