Saturday, November 16, 2013

Turkey Roulade ~ Elegant Holiday Dinner

If you find yourself with only a few guests this Thanksgiving holiday, consider serving turkey roulade (or turkey breast roll).  It makes for an elegant holiday dinner and is not hard to prepare.  Certainly it doesn't involve the myriad techniques and advance prep work required for a great whole roasted turkey.  And in many ways, it's more impressive!

Julian's turkey Roulade
You can stuff it with a wide variety of fillings and prepare it well in advance.  About an hour in the oven and it's ready to serve.  I recommend purchasing the bone-in breast (or bone-in breast half) so you can make a good broth for gravy or later soups.  Each half of the breast halves make a separate roll. And a large breast (two halves) can easily serve 6-8 adults.

3 Hours in Advance of Dinner Time

De-boning half a turkey breast.
As it will just be two of us this year, I'm doing just half a breast which I found fresh in my grocer's meat case.  If you can get fresh instead of frozen the flavor will be better.  Simply cut along the breast bone to remove the breast meat.  Place the bones in cold water with some salt, celery, onions and carrot.  Bring the pot to a boil while you season the meat and reduce to a simmer for excellent gravy base. Then using your favorite seasonings give the breast a good rub on both sides.

A rub down with spices than a rest.
Today I'm using Williams-Sonoma Ultimate Roast Chicken Rub, which I received as a gift and I must say it is quite nice.  Of course just a combination of salt, pepper, garlic, fennel, thyme and lemon would work, or standard poultry seasoning with salt added.  The key to the rub is really the salt, because once you have it well coated all over, it must be placed into the refrigerator covered for one to two hours. This dry rub technique will help the meat remain moist during roasting.  Then simply remove from the refrigerator, brush off excess seasonings (but leave some behind for flavor) and place on a work surface.

Plastic covered and ready for pounding, skin side up.
I like to place plastic wrap both under and over the turkey breast.  Several sheets of plastic wrap on top will be required. as the mallet will likely tear through a single sheet.  If it does, and the meat is exposed, just add another layer.  It's important that the skin side of the breast be up as it will ensure the meat stays together.  Then using some force, pound the meat into a flat disc about one-quarter to one-half inch thickness.

Pounded flat and ready for stuffing.
Lay 4-6 pieces of butchers twine across a work surface, and flip the breast over so the skin side is down on top of the twine.  Repair any holes by pushing the breast together or using small pieces from the edge.  The breast is now ready to stuff.

The hardest part of the meal is now upon you.  What to choose as a stuffing?  Really any combination of your favorite flavors will work.  Famed chef Ina Garten likes dried figs, dried cranberries, brandy, pork sausage, fresh rosemary, pine nuts, and bread dressing. But then who wouldn't?  See her exact ingredients here.  Emeril likes a spinach, mushroom and bacon filling, which even Martha Stewart uses in her recipe.

Julian's stuffing ingredients.
Today I'm using fresh basil, which amazingly is still growing in my garden, along with roasted red peppers, mushrooms, garlic and fresh mozzarella cheese. I've chosen a filling that doesn't need to be precooked.  The peppers are from a jar of already cooked peppers packed in oil.  The remainder of the ingredients don't take much to cook through and the juices released by the mushrooms will add flavor and moisture to the turkey.  But if you instead wish to use chestnut bread dressing, pork sausage, etc. you must prepare that in advance so it is cooked through and has come back to room temperature before using as a stuffing.

Ready to roll!
When placing the ingredients on the flattened breast, try to leave a good inch or more around the edges so it doesn't squeeze out during rolling.  Then carefully lift up the long side and slowly and gently roll it up into a tube suitable for roasting, ending with the seam side down and the skin side up on your work surface.

Roulade ready to roast.
Tie the butchers twine to hold the breast roll together. Don't tie it too tightly or the filling will be squeezed out.  Use a toothpick or two if needed to close up the ends. Oil and season the surface. TIP: I always sprinkle with a little bit of white sugar to ensure good browning.  At this stage you can either roast or refrigerate for several hours, provided that all of the filling ingredients were cold. If you filled it with warm dressing or anything else that was heated, it must immediately go to the oven to prevent food borne illness.

1 Hour in Advance of Dinner Time

Pre-heat the oven to 375F degrees and place the oiled roulade on a rack in a dish or rimmed baking sheet lined with foil.  If you are doing the full breast (two rolls) a large baking sheet is required to give them adequate space and distance to permit even cooking.  Place the roulade in the upper third of your pre-heated oven with a meat thermometer.  Check the roulade during the last half-hour of cooking to ensure it is not overly browned.  When desired browning is reached, cover loosely with foil during remainder of cooking time.


The roulade is ready when the internal temperature reaches 160F degrees.  Remove from the oven and let rest for 15-30 minutes while you finish up any side dishes.

Now if you are like me, you placed the breast bones into a pot of water at the very beginning and by now have a nice turkey stock.  You can use this for gravy if you are making mashed potatoes.  While I  can get away with making one non-traditional item on the holiday table, it would be sacrilege if I didn't serve good mashed potatoes with the holiday meal.  I discussed the method for Perfect Mashed Potatoes recently, so I won't review that here.  But suffice it to say, any great mashed potato is only better with silky gravy.  And a more flavorful stock you will not find for gravy, then a fresh stock made in your own kitchen.  Use some of this to deglaze the roasting pan.  Strain out the solids, and thicken lightly with a corn starch and cold water mixture.  You are now ready to serve this elegant holiday dinner.

Cutting board has a tray carved in to hold the meat and catch juices.
Slice the roulade using a good sharp knife or an electric knife as I am here.  Each person will need 2-3 slices about an inch think.

Roulade ready for the platter.
You may wish to lay them out on a platter and pass them at table.  The roulade will make an elegant display this way, although if you do I would recommend you ladle just a bit of the fresh hot turkey stock over it on the platter to keep it moist and hot during serving.  Do not use gravy for this.


If you are plating each persons meal, then do place some gravy over each serving and on the mashed potatoes, along side the vegetable dish of your choice.  Save the remainder of your stock for future soups and stews.

From my kitchen to yours, have a happy holiday and enjoy a delicious dinner with family and friends. Happy Thanksgiving!

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