Thanksgiving for Two

Thanksgiving Table 2012

For Thanksgiving, I had the smallest celebration of any holiday that I can remember, as Claire and I enjoyed Thanksgiving by ourselves. Just the two of us. It was great. Quiet. Super relaxing. My parents and my youngest sister, Anna, had visited the days leading up to Thanksgiving, and then drove on to Colorado to be with my other two sisters. We purposefully stayed behind, knowing that my schedule was going to pick up with winter season rapidly approaching, so time together was going to become much more sporadic.

When I realized that it was going to just be the two of us, I was faced with a conundrum – the absolute best part of Thanksgiving was turkey with stuffing. And I am a firm believer in stuffing being flavored by the turkey.

A little aside: My mom always stuffed the turkey with homemade stuffing. She would actually save scrapes of bread throughout the year to use for the stuffing, which I have in turn started doing as well. She would not only stuff the main cavity of the bird, but also the neck cavity, and recover it with the skin. As the bird roasted, the stuffing would bake on to that piece of skin, so as my dad carved the bird, I would eagerly stand by him, like a little hungry puppy, tail wagging, waiting for that piece of skin with the baked on stuffing. I don’t know how to describe it, but it is the absolute best portion – rendered crispy skin and homemade stuffing flavored by all the fat from the skin. AMAZING! And thankfully, my sisters hate stuffing, so that part of the turkey was always mine.

And while I am also a firm believer in Thanksgiving leftovers, I did not want to be eating turkey for the next month and be forced to throw away what we could not eat. Thankfully this year, J. Kenji López-Alt from Serious Eats, developed a great recipe for turkey and stuffing for a small crowd, where he roasted the turkey breast atop the stuffing, allowing the juices and the fat from the turkey to flavor the stuffing.

In the column he talked about some adjustments that he had to make as it was not as simple as using the same recipe for stuffing that he would use if stuffing a whole turkey. First, he reduced the amount of butter in the recipe. And second, he realized that halfway through cooking he had to remove the turkey from the stuffing and continue to roast the turkey by itself to prevent the stuffing from burning.
Roasted Turkey BreastBut the results were wonderful. The skin on the breast was extremely crispy, thanks to the herbed butter rubbed under the skin. The breast meat was incredibly juicy, thanks to the fact that I only had to worry about cooking the breast to around 150°F. (One of the major problems of cooking a large turkey is that by the time the dark meat is done at 165°F, the breast meat is overcooked and completely dry.) And the stuffing was moist and flavorful, although the recipe yields a lot more stuffing than we needed, even after factoring in leftovers.

In addition to the turkey and stuffing, we also feasted on homemade rolls, mashed potatoes, sautéed kale and cauliflower, and gravy. For dessert we made blackberry crisp with homemade vanilla ice cream. It was a great Thanksgiving of simply enjoying each other with no stress of company or family.

If you find yourself in a similar situation as Claire and me, celebrating Thanksgiving with too few people to roast a whole turkey, definitely give this recipe a try.

Herb-Roasted Turkey Breast And Stuffing (Thanksgiving For a Small Crowd)

J. Kenji López-Alt
Nov 8, 2012

Ingredients

  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, divided
  • 1 1/2 pounds sage sausage, removed from casing
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped (about 2 cups)
  • 4 large stalks celery, finely chopped (about 2 cups)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced or grated on microplane, divided
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh sage leaves (or 2 teaspoons dried sage leaves)
  • 32 ounces (4 cups) low-sodium chicken or turkey broth, preferably homemade
  • 3 whole eggs
  • 2 1/2 pounds (about 2 loaves) high quality sandwich bread or soft Italian or French bread, stale or dried in the oven
  • 1/2 cup minced fresh parsley leaves
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh oregano leaves
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 whole bone-in, skin-on turkey breast (about 4 to 5 pounds), patted dry

Procedures

  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 450°F. In large Dutch oven, melt 5 tablespoons butter over medium high heat until foaming subsides (don’t allow butter to brown), about 2 minutes. Add sausage and mash with stiff whisk or potato masher to break up into fine pieces (largest pieces should be no greater than 1/4-inch). Cook, stirring frequently until only a few bits of pink remain, about 8 minutes. Add onions, celery, garlic, and sage and cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables are softened, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and add half of chicken stock.
  2. Whisk remaining chicken stock, eggs, and 3 tablespoons parsley in medium bowl until homogeneous. Stirring constantly with wooden spoon, slowly pour egg mixture into sausage mixture. Add bread cubes and fold gently until evenly mixed.
  3. Using poultry shears, cut off and remove any back portion that may be attached to the turkey (there may not be any). Fill cavity under turkey breast and under flap of fat around neck with stuffing. Transfer remaining stuffing to a buttered 9- by 13-inch casserole dish and place turkey on top.
  4. Using your hands, carefully separate the turkey skin from the meat by inserting at the bottom of the breast, being careful not to tear it. In a small bowl, combine remaining butter with remaining parsley and oregano. Add 1 tablespoon kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Stir with a fork until homogenous. Rub mixture evenly over and under turkey skin.
  5. Transfer to oven and roast until stuffing starts to brown, about 45 minutes. Remove from oven, transfer turkey to a wire rack set in a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet, and return turkey to oven. Continue roasting until turkey is golden brown and crisp, and thickest part near bone registers 145 to 150°F on an instant read thermometer, about 30 minutes longer. Remove from oven, transfer to a plate, and let rest for 20 minutes.
  6. Meanwhile, pour exuded juices back over stuffing. Return stuffing to oven and cook until it’s golden brown and registers 160°F on an instant read thermometer, about 15 minutes. Carve turkey, spread over stuffing, and serve.
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