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This Thanksgiving, Treat Your Turkey Like Pork

By Steve Dunn Published

Treat turkey the way Italians do pork, and you’ll be rewarded with a stunning, robustly seasoned, entertaining-friendly holiday roast (plus awesome leftovers).

If turkey breast is your holiday centerpiece this year, I’ve got a proposition for you: Trade the roasted turkey crown and brown gravy for the prettiest, most flavor-packed piece of white-meat poultry you’ve ever tasted.

I’m talking about turkey porchetta, or turchetta, a preparation that takes its name, shape, and seasonings from the iconic Italian pork roast called porchetta. To make the pork version, home cooks usually slather a boneless loin with a garlicky herb and spice paste; wrap it with the fatty, skin-on belly; and roast the pork low and slow until the skin browns and crisps and the meat is ultratender. Borrowing the approach for turkey breast has become a popular way to deliver bold flavor and an impressive presentation with a typically mild-mannered roast, and it actually offers turkey cookery a few unique advantages. As an all-breast-meat preparation, it skirts the challenge of evenly cooking a whole bird, and this treatment is make-ahead friendly because the bulk of the hands-on work is done well in advance. The boneless, cylindrical roast also cooks evenly from end to end and slices beautifully, and the skin, which essentially swaddles and insulates the lean meat, browns exceptionally well. The garlic-herb paste adds so much flavor that gravy is unnecessary, and the leftovers elevate next-day turkey sandwiches to a whole new level.

Of course, a turkey breast is anatomically unlike pork loin and pork belly, so assembling it in the classic porchetta format requires a completely different approach. And that’s where I got strategic, since my first few attempts produced meat that was overcooked and unevenly seasoned, with the potent herb-spice paste concentrated in the center of the roll rather than distributed throughout each slice. Wrapping the delicate skin all around the roast proved tricky, too, and the browning was spotty.

Perks of the Porchetta Treatment

Rolled with a garlicky herb-spice paste and wrapped in deeply bronzed skin, porchetta is the ultimate template for mild-mannered turkey breast. It’s also surprisingly practical for holiday entertaining.

 

• Naturally make-ahead

Cooks evenly  

Slices easily     

Robustly seasoned meat

Crispy, mahogany skin

Exceptionally good leftovers

 

I opted to debone a turkey crown myself rather than start with a boneless roast because the quality of the latter tends to vary widely (it often features ragged skin and poorly butchered portions of breast meat), whereas a whole breast guarantees that all parts are intact. After removing the backbone, I peeled away the skin in one piece and set it aside while I cut each breast half off the bone, gently separated the tenderloins from the lobes so that I ultimately had four pieces of boneless meat, and butterflied the plump end of each breast half so that it was evenly thick.

Give It a Good, Long Rest

  • Don’t be tempted to shortchange the turkey’s half-hour sojourn on the counter at the end of cooking. The roast comes out of the oven when it is 15 degrees shy of its target temperature (160 degrees), and this time is built into the recipe to take advantage of the carryover cooking that inevitably occurs as the meat rests. Heat from the roast’s surface will gradually migrate to its middle, raising its temperature until it hits the mark but doesn’t exceed it. 

Porchetta seasonings classically include ground fennel seeds and black peppercorns, rosemary, thyme, loads of garlic, and salt. I added fresh sage to steer the profile toward Thanksgiving and buzzed the mixture in a food processor with olive oil to make a loose paste. Then, instead of painting the paste onto one side of the meat as many recipes suggest, I tossed the meat with it in a bowl so that every surface was coated. That way, when I wrapped the skin around the meat into a cylinder (with some creative arranging, all four pieces lined up nicely), the paste was swirled throughout the roast, lending each slice attractive marbling and loads of flavor. Plus, the salt could work its moisture‑retention magic throughout the roast rather than just from the exterior.

I tied up the roast and refrigerated it for at least 8 hours so that the salt had time to migrate into the muscle and so that the skin (which I sprinkled with more salt) could dry out, which would help it brown. On serving day, I brushed the roast with melted butter (its milk solids encourage browning) and used a three-stage cooking approach to ensure that it cooked up juicy and evenly browned. First, I slid the roast into a 275-degree oven and let it cook gently. When it hit 125 degrees—well shy of the 160-degree target—I removed the twine, cranked the heat to 500 degrees, and blasted it for about 15 minutes to brown the surface and raise the turkey’s internal temperature to 145 degrees. Finally, I let it sit on the counter for 30 minutes. During that time, carryover cooking raised its temperature the last 15 degrees with zero risk that it would over- or undercook. Simultaneously, the meat rested, so it retained most of its flavorful juices when sliced.

Succulent, marbled with the heady paste, and deeply browned, it was a showstopper—not to mention the friendliest bird I’d ever cooked and carved on Turkey Day.

Recipe Porchetta-Style Turkey Breast

Treat turkey the way Italians do pork, and you’ll be rewarded with a stunning, robustly seasoned, entertaining-friendly holiday roast (plus awesome leftovers).

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JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.