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A Smaller Thanksgiving…

I am a kitchen dweller. Of all the rooms of the house, the kitchen feels most like home to me and I’m quite content to spend copious amounts of time there. There are, however, exceptions…by this I mean those “special” jobs worthy of bribing your mother-in-law to do them. And though I’m a sucker for a real Thanksgiving dinner – essentially a comfy eat-fest with all the yummy trimmings – I’d be lying if I claimed that cleaning the bird did not rank high on that list of things I’d rather not have to do (root canal, anyone?). Surely, there must be a way out…a way to have my turkey and eat it too?

For those of you out there overwhelmed at the prospect of cleaning and handling such a large bird (“you want me to put my hand where?!”), it may be worthwhile to review the pros and cons of roasting a whole bird and what your other options may be. Besides the obvious tradition and nostalgia associated with presenting a lovely decorated bird to your guests (assuming you will be carving tableside while wearing a flannel shirt), the main benefit of roasting a large turkey is that it really feeds a crowd…with leftovers! But what if you are having a smaller crowd? Roasting a whole turkey not only takes a lot of prep time to properly clean and prepare (and lots of lead time if you are defrosting a frozen bird), but also hogs up your oven space for several hours before entertaining. If you are bent on roasting the whole bird, see last year’s Thanksgiving guide on the blog for tips. If you are looking for alternative ideas, read on!

One of the biggest obstacles in roasting a whole turkey is the challenge of maintaining the moistness of both the dark and white meat. All too often, by the time the turkey is done, the dark meat may be juicy while the white meat is dried out. Choosing to cook one cut of turkey eliminates this issue completely. Preparing just the breast meat or just the dark meat is an easy way of ensuring the appropriate cooking time to yield juicy results without the fuss. And if your family happens to like drumsticks or wings, the same rule applies…and you can then offer more than just two for Uncle Joey and Grandma Estelle to fight over! Think of it as turkey-a-la-carte…a perfect solution for a smaller crowd (and without the time spent cleaning!)

I’m a big stuffing fan, so I decided to incorporate a stuffing into the following recipe which features a butterflied boneless turkey roast (breast meat). Butterflying the meat opens up the breast via a center incision, cutting almost but not completely through. The two halves are then opened flat to resemble a butterfly shape (Park East Kosher is happy to do this upon request). This allows for ample room to stuff and roll, and a thinner, more palatable thickness. Turkey. Stuffing. Gravy. Done. And I didn’t have to clean a thing!

Pastrami-Wrapped Turkey Roulade with Apple-Chestnut Stuffing

A turkey roast usually retains its moisture from its skin during cooking. Here, pastrami takes the place of skin and adds a crispy, smoky element.

Serves 8.

1 (4-4¼ lbs.) turkey roast, butterflied and skin removed
¼ cup olive oil
2 cups chopped onion (1 large onion)
1 garlic clove, minced
2 cups peeled, chopped Fuji apples (1 very large or 2 small)
1 tsp. kosher salt, plus more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
1 (5.2 oz.) pkg. whole peeled and roasted chestnuts, chopped
3 tbsp. apple liquor
4 slices day-old bread (crusts removed), cubed (2½ cups)
1 tbsp. chopped fresh sage leaves
8 oz. thinly sliced pastrami
1 cup apple cider
½ cup low-sodium chicken or turkey stock

Cider-Sage Gravy (recipe below):
Special equipment:    6 pieces kitchen twine, roasting rack and pan

Lay turkey out on a flat surface or cutting board. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic; sauté for about 2-3 minutes. Add apples and season with 1 tsp. salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper. Sauté until apples begin to soften, about 3-4 minutes. Add chestnuts and sauté another 2 minutes. Add apple liquor and stir to blend until liquid is mostly absorbed, about 1 minute. Turn heat off. Add bread and sage, tossing until bread is moistened.

Spread bread mixture over turkey and carefully roll breast up, tucking ends in if necessary. Place a single layer of overlapping slices of pastrami crosswise over the roast. Using pre-cut pieces of kitchen twine, carefully slide each piece under the wrapped roast, tying each string to secure the roast at 2-inch intervals. Carefully place tied roast on a rack in a medium roasting pan. Cover with foil and place in the oven. Cook for about 1½ hours or until inserted meat thermometer reaches 165 degrees internally, uncovering during the last 15 minutes to crisp the pastrami. Remove from oven; transfer turkey to a cutting board (reserving pan juices) and allow turkey to rest for 15-20 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the Cider-Sage Gravy (recipe below). Using a sharp carving knife, remove twine and carefully slice roulade crosswise. Arrange slices on a platter and serve with gravy.

Cider-Sage Gravy

1½ tbsp. olive oil
1 large shallot, minced
1½ tbsp. flour
1 cup low-sodium chicken or turkey stock
¼ cup apple cider
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1-2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper
1½ tsp. chopped fresh sage leaves

Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add shallot and sauté for about 2-3 minutes, until translucent. Sprinkle flour over shallots and quickly stir to blend, cooking for another minute. Add pan juices, stock, cider, mustard, and vinegar. Whisk to blend. Bring to a boil and then lower to medium heat, simmering gravy until mixture becomes thickened (should be able to coat the back of a spoon), about 15-20 minutes. Season to taste with black pepper and add salt if necessary. Remove from heat. Stir in sage. Serve hot with turkey.

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