How do I cook a turkey roast?
January 2, 2009 8:06 AM   Subscribe

How in the heck do I cook a turkey roast for maximum deliciousness?

I am hosting a small dinner party tonight and plan to serve turkey. A trip to my local grocery store to pick up supplies last night made me discover that I don't have time to thaw a frozen bird, so I bought about 6 pounds of raw turkey roast. I have zero experience cooking turkey and am completely puzzled on how to cook this so that it is delicious. My initial googling for this brings some baffling and exotic sounding recipes or suggestions for cooking an entire bird. I don't want to include cranberries, curry, bacon or sausage in my recipe. How do I cook this thing so that it tastes good?
posted by pluckysparrow to Food & Drink (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
did you buy a breast? what is turkey roast? I need some more info to help you
posted by chickaboo at 8:10 AM on January 2, 2009

What's a turkey roast?

When dealing with the whole bird or with a breast, I usually brine it, following Alton Brown's recipe.
posted by cooker girl at 8:12 AM on January 2, 2009

A recent issue of Cooks Illustrated had a delicious, absolutely delicious recipe for herbed chicken. I have cooked it several times since then with great success. I've also tried it on Turkey and got rave compliments.

Here's the original recipe (requires online subscription)

But, this blog post seems to be the same recipe.
posted by brandnew at 8:17 AM on January 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Folks, I assume pluckysparrow means a turkey roast which looks like this. You can easily cook them in the oven, basting them to keep them from going dry.
posted by vacapinta at 8:21 AM on January 2, 2009

I cooked boneless turkey breast as follows - brined following Alton Brown's recommendation as linked above, then flattened breast and filled it with a layer of prosciutto, chopped parsley, garlic, pepper and fresh rosemary. Roll and tie with strips of pancetta or blanched bacon draped over top. Follow cooking directions for roast timing. If you brine it you won't want to use the pan drippings for gravy because they'll be too salty. If you don't want to use any pork in it I would use more garlic and herbs inside and use some other fat - butter or olive oil to baste it so it doesn't get dry.
posted by leslies at 8:31 AM on January 2, 2009

For maximum deliciousness, you cook it like this, roulade-style. There are plenty of recipes that call for an actual stuffing, but a simple compound butter tastes lovely, combats the tendency for turkey breast to be dry, and reveals just enough of a hint of spiraling herbs in the cross-section to look pretty on the plate.
posted by peachfuzz at 8:33 AM on January 2, 2009

We had turkey roast the other day. We put a bit of olive oil and chicken stock in a baking pan, spreaded garlic and herb butter on a muslin cloth and wrapped it around the the turkey roast. Depending on how big it is, you should bake it for a 1h:20, 1h:40. The stock and the butter make sure it doesn't dry out. And you can use the juices in the pan to make gravy which helps. But it's turkey, nonetheless. I find it hard to make it memorable. The guests complimented me on it being juicy and tasty but everyone agreed that expectations were low (ahem, because there's not much interesting stuff you can do with turkey, not because of my cooking). All the praise went to the pheasant stuffing... I guess what I'm trying to say is... invest on side dishes.
posted by lucia__is__dada at 8:34 AM on January 2, 2009

I can't vouch for it but here's a recipe that sounds good...
posted by chickaboo at 8:35 AM on January 2, 2009

Basting makes things dry, more often than not. Cover the whole thing tightly in heavy duty aluminum foil, and don't open the foil until it is done. The juices stay inside, so it's essentially basting itself without the need to uncover it and move liquid around every ten minutes or so. I've done my holiday turkeys this way for years and they always turn out moist.

Unless you have time to do some crazy prep work on the bird bits, just throw some seasoning on the outside (what I call the "Simon and Garfunkel mix" works well - parsley, sage rosemary and thyme) and bake it. Make some sort of side to go with: either some kind of stuffing, or some other starchy item like risotto, with flavors that sound like they'd go well with the bird.
posted by caution live frogs at 8:54 AM on January 2, 2009

I'll say it more simply/strongly/directly: the number one thing you can do is to brine it. Brining solves turkey breast's biggest problems (dryness and blandness) and widens the window of time when it's acceptably cooked. As per the links above, there is lots of info out there on the topic (Cook's Illustrated / America's Test Kitchen, Alton Brown).

One other point just in case -- a kosher turkey is already (the equivalent of) brined. I don't know if they do that sort of thing to turkey roasts or not, but if your roast says anything about being kosher or "enhanced" or "injected" or anything like that then don't brine it.
posted by madmethods at 9:20 AM on January 2, 2009

Brining is great, as is sticking butter under the skin (assuming your turkey roast has the skin on, I'm usually dealing w/ the whole bird). The first time I did turkey on my own, I literally put about a stick of butter in pats under the skin and rubbed it down with salt and pepper. Roasted it with heavy duty foil over it (or if you have a dutch oven or something large enough with a tight-fitting lid, that will do fine), and viola! tasty turkey. We've also brined to great effect.
posted by Medieval Maven at 9:56 AM on January 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

My favorite filling for wrapped boneless meats: saute some chopped onions in a pan with a diced apple. Whizz that in a food processor with chopped dried fruit (cranberries, apricots, dates, or cherries are all good), breadcrumbs, fresh herbs (thyme and parsley particularly for turkey), roasted nuts (pecans or walnuts), a little oil and chicken stock, and salt and pepper. It should come together into a thick paste, which you can then roll the roast around. Tie it, rub it with oil or butter, and put on a rack in a roasting pan in the oven at 375F until the internal temp reads 160F.
posted by Caviar at 10:17 AM on January 2, 2009

Cook it upside down from the usual way, breast side down.
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 10:41 AM on January 2, 2009

I have cooked one of those in a crock pot. 8 hours on low. It was deliciously tender and moist. I sprinkled it with some herbs. No water just a bit of oil in the bottom to keep it from sticking.
posted by meeshell at 11:48 AM on January 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Basting makes things dry, more often than not. Cover the whole thing tightly in heavy duty aluminum foil, and don't open the foil until it is done. The juices stay inside, so it's essentially basting itself without the need to uncover it and move liquid around every ten minutes or so.

Just so you know, that's called braising, and is different than roasting, which is done with dry heat. Braising is used most often for tough cuts of meat, while tender cuts are actually perfectly suited to careful roasting. It's really overcooking that dries out meat, basting doesn't change that one way or another; basting won't save overcooked meat, and it doesn't dry out meat by itself.
When the meat is initially cooked, connective tissue is softened, and then proteins begin to coagulate. If allowed to go on for too long, the coagulated proteins begin pushing out moisture. Careful roasting using a thermometer and then allowing the roast to sit will deliver a perfectly roasted turkey breast (much easier than a whole turkey, BTW).

With a turkey roast, you want the fat (skin) side up, because it self-bastes that way. (I roast whole turkeys upside down for awhile, but that's a different scenario.) Test with a thermometer frequently, and take it out 5 degrees below the temp you want. Allow it to sit for 10-15 minutes before carving. I'm indiffernt to brining, because I like gravy, and it's nasty when it's too salty. If you're not making gravy, you can brine the roast if you like.

Here's a basic turkey roll recipe. Searching for "turkey roll" might turn up better results than "turkey roast".
posted by oneirodynia at 12:50 PM on January 2, 2009

Last time I did a turkey, I used a trick I saw somewhere, which was to start the cooking process at an ungodly temp, like 500, for the first 30 minutes or so. This gave the skin a head start on getting all crispy and delicious, and also allowed for a slightly lower/longer cook time to get an even temp throughout the meat.

Also, cook to temperature, not time. Decide what your internal temp should be, and insert a thermometer into the "center of gravity" of the meat. And cook to about 10 degrees below this temp and then let the meat rest out of the oven and unsliced, and the internal temp will rise to your target. (The USDA guidlines are, in my opinion, a bit high.)
posted by gjc at 6:48 PM on January 2, 2009

I am reporting back to say that my roast turkey experiment was a huge success and brought rave reviews from my dinner guests. I brined it for about 4 hours, inserted little pieces of butter under the skin, basted it with chicken broth, covered it with foil and baked for around an hour and a half on 375 until the meat thermometer read 165. Then I took the foil off and cooked it just a little bit longer. This turned out so well, I can't wait to try to make it again with a filling!
posted by pluckysparrow at 7:30 PM on January 2, 2009

Just so you know, that's called braising, and is different than roasting, which is done with dry heat. Braising is used most often for tough cuts of meat, while tender cuts are actually perfectly suited to careful roasting.

Technically, it's not braising unless you also add liquid to it. Roasting covered is still roasting.
posted by Caviar at 3:11 PM on January 3, 2009

It's not the addition of liquid, it's if the heat is dry or wet. If the pot is closely covered, or tightly wrapped in foil, or the meat is in plastic cooking bag, it's wet heat whether liquid is added or not (this is especially true of brined meat, or anything with vegetables in the pot) simply because moisture is not allowed to escape. When moisture can't escape, you don't have water evaporation, so they way the meat cooks and the finished product is entirely different. For instance, it's the evaporation of water from the surface of meat that allows the Maillard reaction to take place. Cooking in a moist environment is also different than basting meat while roasting, simply because basting meat slows the cooking process because it allows for evaporative surface cooling. It's a way of controlling moisture release as the meat cooks to allow for browning and/or collagen release, depending on what you are working with. In a moist environment, this evaporative cooling doesn't take place, so "self-basting" is really a different kettle of fish.
The reason for cooking with wet heat is that collagen, which is water soluble, breaks down into water and gelatin. There's not much collagen in poultry or in finer cuts of beef, which is why braising is recommended for tough cuts as they contain more collagen. That doesn't mean that one can't or shouldn't cook poultry with wet heat, but the texture of the meat is going to be more akin to other types of wet cooking methods like steaming or boiling, rather than dry methods.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:39 PM on January 5, 2009

I don't accept your definition of braising as "enclosed cooking without added liquid". A classical braise is cooked partially submerged in a liquid which is converted to a sauce. If you're going to be a real stickler about it, a braise should start with browning the meat with dry heat first (though sometimes that's called a brown braise), and the liquid should be something other than water. Braised dishes need not be cooked covered, and in that case, you do get maillard reactions on the surface that's exposed (which greatly enhances the flavor), and you have to flip the meat periodically to moisten it. Regardless, the thing that makes the braise is that it's cooked partially submerged, not that the pot is covered.

By your strict definition, steamed green beans should be called braised. I think it's obvious that they're not. Similarly, covering a turkey with foil to allow it to cook evenly without browning too much (and often in that case, you'll remove the foil near the end to allow it to brown) does not in the least mean you're braising it.
posted by Caviar at 9:13 AM on January 6, 2009

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