Unless you want turkey leftovers for weeks, you might be better off cooking just a part of a turkey.
In this recipe, we are cooking just the turkey breast, bone-in and skin-on, and making a rich, creamy gravy with drippings from a couple of turkey wings.
Want even juicier turkey? Try brining your turkey before cooking!
Why Roast Turkey Breast Is a Winner
The way my brother Eddie tells it, he and a college friend decided to cook a turkey for Thanksgiving one year.
The day before Thanksgiving, Eddie went out and bought a 25 pound turkey, frozen, and put it in the fridge to defrost. (Can you see where this is going?)
When it came time to cook the turkey, he took it out of its plastic wrapping, only to discover that the bird was still completely frozen.
Undaunted (due either to the unchecked optimism that accompanies that time in life, or to beer addled judgment, and probably a little of both), Eddie went about cooking the turkey anyway. Heck, what's a little frozen meat that a hot oven can't overcome?
Into the oven the turkey went.
When it came time to eat, my brother pulled out of the oven a beautifully roasted, browned all over turkey.
Success! thought my brother, hungry by now for the bird that had been roasting for several hours and filling the house with that wonderful aroma of Thanksgiving. A few friends had gathered as well, waiting for the feast to come.
Then it came time to carve.
Ed took out his longest, sharpest chef's knife and aiming for the breast, cut in. Or tried to. As he tells it, he got about one inch in before the knife bumped up against rock hard, stone cold, frozen turkey.
Or maybe it was a half-inch.
In any case, from what I understand they gave up and went out for Chinese.
Why Cook a Turkey Breast Instead of a Whole Turkey?
The obvious moral of this story is to allow your bird plenty of time to defrost. A 15-pound turkey will take about 3 days in the fridge to defrost, a 25-pound turkey, about 5 days.
The less obvious moral to this story, and the point of the following recipe, is why cook a 25-pound turkey when you are only feeding 4 to 5 people?
How to Reheat Turkey Breast
After sitting in the refrigerator for a day or so, leftover turkey breast can begin to dry out. Follow these tips to reheat it and add a little moisture back.
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Reheat slices, not large chunks. If you haven't sliced all the turkey breast up yet, do so before reheating.
- Add the slices to a baking dish. Drizzle some turkey or chicken stock over them.
- Cover the baking dish with foil.
- Heat for about 20 minutes, until the turkey reaches 165°F.
- Serve with leftover gravy that's been reheated by bringing it to a rolling boil.
- Add turkey breast slices to a microwave safe plate.
- Drizzle with turkey or chicken stock.
- Cover with a microwave safe cover.
- Reheat on medium power. Time will vary depending on how many slices you are reheating. Start checking for doneness at about a minute and a half. Turkey is fully reheated when it reaches 165°F.
What Else Can Be Used for the Gravy?
If you can't find turkey wings, try any of these. Note: Be sure you're purchasing fresh poultry parts and not smoked ones.
- Turkey legs
- Turkey drumsticks
- Chicken wings
- Chicken legs
- Chicken drumsticks
Will This Recipe Work With Boneless Turkey Breast?
This recipe will not work with a boneless breast. The bones and the skin add a ton of flavor that'll be missing with a boneless breast. If you're looking for a good boneless turkey breast recipe, try Chard and Prosciutto Stuffed Turkey Breast or Stuffed Turkey Breast with Bacon, Cranberry, Breadcrumb Stuffing.
5 Side Dishes for a Small Gathering
- Perfect Mashed Potatoes
- Waldorf Salad
- Crispy Hasselback Potatoes
- Butternut Squash Soup
- Honey Chipotle Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Roast Turkey Breast with Roasted Garlic Gravy
For a 6 to 7 pound bone-in turkey breast, it will take about 2 days, a full 48 hours, to defrost in the refrigerator.
Roasted Garlic Gravy:
2 fresh (unsmoked) turkey wings
2 whole heads garlic
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground pepper (preferably white pepper), to taste
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 bone-in, skin-on turkey breast (with 2 breast halves), about 6 to 7 pounds
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt, as needed
Freshly ground black pepper, as needed
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
Preheat the oven and prep the turkey wings:
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Chop the turkey wings into pieces with a cleaver or heavy kitchen knife (or have your butcher do this for you).
Coat the wings with some olive oil and salt well. Arrange in one layer in a roasting pan.
Roast the garlic and chopped turkey wings:
Slice off the top 1/4 of the garlic heads and discard. Nestle the heads into some aluminum foil and drizzle the remaining olive oil over the garlic. Close the foil and place in the roasting pan with the turkey wings.
Put the pan in the oven and roast at 350°F for 45 minutes. Remove the garlic (do not unwrap), turn the turkey pieces and roast another 15 minutes.
Remove the moisture from the turkey breast and let it sit:
While the turkey wings are roasting, take the turkey breast out of its package and pat the outside dry with paper towels. Sit it on a plate or board that will catch any juice that runs out until you need it in Step 5.
Make the turkey wing stock:
When the turkey wings are ready, remove them from the oven, and increase the oven temperature to 425°F. Place the cooked wings in a medium pot and cover with water.
Add a cup of water to the roasting pan and scrape up any browned bits with a wooden spoon. Add this to the pot with the turkey wings. Cover and simmer gently for 1 hour.
Roast the turkey breast:
While the wings are simmering, coat the turkey breast with more olive oil, then sprinkle it all over with salt. Sprinkle it as well with black pepper, thyme and sage.
Place the turkey breast skin side up in the 425°F oven on a rack in a roasting pan. Pour 1 cup of water into the bottom of the pan (this will help prevent the oven from smoking).
Put the turkey in the oven and cook for 10 minutes. Turn the heat down to 350°F and cook until the thickest part of the breast reads 155°F with a meat thermometer, about 80-90 minutes for a 6 to 7 pound breast. To be on the safe side to keep from overcooking the turkey, check the internal temperature of the breast after 1 hour.
Note: USDA guidelines recommend cooking chicken to 165°F or until no longer pink in the middle. However, we prefer to remove the turkey breast from the oven at 155°F. The turkey should reach 165°F as it rests; check with an instant-read thermometer.
Make the gravy while the turkey breast is roasting:
Pour the turkey stock through a fine-meshed strainer into a bowl.
Melt the 2 tablespoons of butter in a small pot and stir in the flour. Cook the butter flour mixture over medium-low heat, stirring often, until the mixture is the color of coffee-with-cream.
Add the hot turkey stock to the butter flour mixture about 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly. Stir in enough stock to make a thin gravy, about 2-3 cups. Squeeze all the garlic from the garlic heads into the gravy.
Simmer gently while the turkey breast cooks, adding more turkey broth or water if the gravy gets too thick.
Remove the turkey from oven, let rest:
When the turkey breast is ready, remove it from the oven, cover it with foil and let it rest for 15 minutes before carving.
Finish the gravy:
Pour the gravy into a blender and purée until smooth. Return the gravy to the pot and add salt and pepper to taste. Swirl in 1 tablespoon of butter to finish.
Carve the turkey breast:
Cut straight down from the keel bone (the keel bone separates each half of the breast) until your knife hits the breast bone. Slice the meat off and, using short strokes with the knife, free the meat from the bone.
If you want, pull off the tender underneath the breast and slice this piece separately; it tends to fall off the rest of the breast when you slice it anyway. Slice the deboned breast and serve.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 6 to 8|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 23g||29%|
|Saturated Fat 7g||35%|
|Total Carbohydrate 5g||2%|
|Dietary Fiber 0g||1%|
|Total Sugars 0g|
|Vitamin C 3mg||13%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|