Not cooking for a crowd? How to roast a turkey breast and thigh for a holiday meal for a small group
I used to host very large Thanksgiving dinners with tons of friends who didn’t have family in town. One year in Chicago it was bitterly cold and twelve of us huddled together over delicious food. But over time, and with people in my life spread out across the country, dinners have gotten smaller. Last year I did Thanksgiving dinner for two in the slow cooker. This year, we’re taking our Thanksgiving picnic to the beach with my sister and her husband. I’ll be making turkey salad, broccoli salad with slivered almonds, stuffing “muffins”, and we’ll come home for pumpkin pie with coconut whipped cream. Since my husband loves dark meat, I also cooked one turkey thigh for him.
I’ve been experimenting with buying just turkey breasts, and sometimes thighs, and roasting them with a variety of rubs. It’s quicker and easier than dealing with an entire turkey, and if you are only hosting a couple of people it makes more sense. You still end up with pan drippings for gravy, and a couple of bones you can use for stock if you make your own stock. With fresh turkeys in pieces much more readily available now, you can also simply cook your own turkey breast and slice it thinly for low-sodium sandwich meat.
There are a couple of things you’ll need:
- A large ovenproof roasting pan. (One that’s safe to put on a burner if you want to make gravy.)
- A roasting rack to fit inside. (Aluminum foil if you don’t have a roasting rack.)
- An instant-read meat thermometer.
Required FTC disclosure: I received the pan in the photos as a gift from Calphalon (at my request) with the agreement that I would use the pan in this post. I was not paid to write this post.
low-sodium, migraine, gluten-free, paleo, Whole30, reduced-sugar diets (you’ll need to use tapioca starch or arrowroot starch for paleo gravy)
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How to roast a turkey breast
- 1.4 pounds turkey breast (bone-in, skin on) (this was a small half-breast)
- .75 pounds turkey thigh (bone-in, skin on) (this was a much smaller thigh)
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp thyme (dried)
- 1/4 tsp sea salt smoked if you have it (omit for salt-free diet)
- 1/4 tsp white pepper
- 1/4 tsp sage (dried)
- 4 tbsp brown rice flour use arrowroot starch or tapioca starch for paleo and Whole30 diets
- 2.75 cups chicken stock (low-sodium) or homemade turkey stock
- 8 ounces mushrooms thinly sliced, optional
How to roast turkey breast
- Let the turkey sit out until it's room temperature.
- Preheat the oven to 350F/180C/gas mark 4. Place a rack in the center of the oven. While many online recipes call for starting the meat at 450F, and I do so for whole birds, I find that this can dry out smaller cuts of meat.
- Prepare the roasting pan: Lightly spray or oil the rack, or create a "rack" by crumpling up a length of aluminum foil and creating a U-shape with it to keep the meat off the bottom of the pan.
- Finely grind the dry rub ingredients together in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder. If you have meat totaling more than 2.25 pounds, double the dry rub amounts.
- Use your fingers to work the rub under the skin and on the underside of the meat.
- When you have coated the meat, stretch the skin over the meat as best you can. This creates a protective coating of fat that bastes the meat as it cooks.
- Place the meat skin side up on the rack or foil rack, and place pan in the oven.
- Set the timer for one hour, then check with a meat thermometer at the thickest part of the meat, but not hitting bone. Remove the turkey when it reaches 165F/75C. If you are cooking two pieces of meat, one will likely be done before the other. If it's close to 165F, check every five minutes. If it's not close (like 125F), set the timer for 10 minutes and check again. This is why an instant-read thermometer is super helpful. A large breast (4-6 pounds) may take 2 hours.
- Remove turkey pieces to a cutting board and let rest 10 minutes. Note that turkey thigh meat is naturally pink, and may not look completely done because of this even if it has reached temperature. When in doubt, cut into the meat to the bone and see if it's completely cooked through. Remove skin and, if no one in your group wants to eat it, save it for making stock with the bones.
- Once the turkey pieces are cooked, you can make pan gravy by putting the pan on the burners on medium heat. Make sure you use hot pads every time if moving an all-stainless steel pan like this one. Those handles are HOT.
- If you want mushroom gravy, sauté the mushrooms in the pan drippings until golden, about 8 minutes. If the pan drippings are very dry, I mince up some of the turkey skin and cook that to release more fat. If cooking mushrooms and it's very dry, add some olive oil or other healthy fat.
- Sprinkle 4 tablespoons brown rice flour into the pan drippings.
- Begin to stir the flour into the pan drippings, which in this case were quite dry.
- Once the flour is golden, add about 1/2 cup of the warm or hot chicken stock.
- Stir and cook into a roux (thick paste) for about five minutes until golden.
- Stir in the remaining stock, and turn up the heat until it starts to boil. You'll need to continue stirring to break up any clumps of roux, but they will dissolve into the soon-to-be gravy. There are some bits of turkey skin and meat in this photo.
- Continue cooking until thickened, about five minutes. Add black pepper if desired. I stop when the gravy is thick enough to hold open spaces in the bottom of the pan as I'm stirring, as in the photo.