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The first Thanksgiving my wife (then girlfriend) spent with my family, her mother asked if she could send us a holiday ham as a gift. My wife was left explaining that it might not be most appropriate present for a Jewish family, thus beginning the tradition of a lovely in-law-provided floral centerpiece on our Thanksgiving table.
Oh, how I wished things went differently, though.
I have an insatiable appetite for ham, and knowing that those flowers could have just as easily been a beautiful, sweet city ham gnaws at me each successive holiday. We've long since given up keeping kosher and I've been waiting for the right time to introduce the idea of a ham instead of a bird. Well, it turns out that 2013 is finally the year it's going to happen. The only problem? The murmur of an absentee turkey didn't elate my dad and stepmom to quite the same degree, so I'm left finding a scaled-down version of turkey to satisfy everyone at the table.
Given the circumstances, a bacon-wrapped turkey may seem a little counterintuitive, but this recipe blew away the cranberry- and apple-stuffed turkey breast I was also developing, and it's my firm belief that serious eaters deserve only the best.
Sweet Sausage Stuffing
The recipe was devised as a solution to many problems. It's not only turkey we're taking away this year, but stuffing, too (which we're trading in for mac and cheese). But I love the sweet cornbread and sausage stuffing that has become our family tradition, so I saw this turkey breast as a way to sneak that back into the meal, as well.
I start out by browning sausage and then cooking onion, celery, and apple in its rendered fat. Sage and thyme add an herbal touch, and it all gets mixed in with crumbled cornbread and some chicken stock for additional moisture.
My prior attempts at turkey rolls have been alright, but suffered from some dryness around the edges of the breast. To retain that much-needed moisture, I busted out the bacon weave, which obviously also delivers the welcome addition of salty-smoky flavor.
Laying six strips of bacon out side by side, I interlaced six more running perpendicular to the first strips. The turkey breast, brined for even more moisture, is butterflied and pounded out, laid over the bacon weave, spread with stuffing, and rolled into a cylinder. I wrapped the roll tightly in plastic wrap and let it sit in the fridge for a few hours so it would firm up and not require any tying.
Roll n' Roast
I tried two methods of cooking the roll-up: one on the smoker and the other over indirect heat on the grill. The bacon added enough smokiness to render the smoker extranneous, so I went with the grill, roasting the breast until it hit 150°F. The bacon was mostly well-browned by then, but did benefit from a quick stint over direct heat at the end to give it a little more crispness and color.
This turkey breast is more than just the sum of its parts. The meat is juicy throughout, but most of the flavor is a mix between the sweet-and-savory cornbread stuffing and smoky bacon. It's a natural pairing, and one that managed to evoke Thanksgiving traditions of the past while presenting them a new, enticing way.
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