Herb-Roasted Turkey Breast and Stuffing (Thanksgiving for a Small Crowd) Recipe

Open oven with Herb-Roasted Turkey Breast
Smaller than a traditional roast turkey and stuffing, but just as tasty. J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

Why It Works

  • A turkey breast is the ideal size for small gatherings and is far faster to cook, going from fridge to table in under 2 hours.
  • You only have to keep in mind a single final target temperature, instead of having to worry about legs and breasts cooking at different rates with a whole bird.
  • Removing the turkey breast halfway through to finish roasting on its own ensures both the meat and the stuffing are cooked to the right temperature.
  • Adding pan juices to the stuffing just before reheating provides moisture and saturates it with rich turkey flavor.

Perhaps your family is small. Perhaps your friends all bailed on you the week before. Perhaps only half your family eats meat. Heck, perhaps you simply don't enjoy leftovers.*

*You weirdo.

Point is, there are any number of reasons you might have for not wanting to roast an entire turkey for Thanksgiving, but nobody should be deprived of juicy meat, crispy skin, and turkey-saturated stuffing on that day, am I right?

My initial thought was that since I already have a great method for Spatchcocked Roast Turkey, and a roast turkey breast is essentially a spatchcocked breast without the legs, I should just be able to use the exact same technique, throwing the breast on top of a casserole dish full of stuffing to catch the drippings. I tried it, using my Traditional Sage and Sausage Stuffing recipe, and rubbing my turkey over and under the skin with some herb butter.

Simply cooking a turkey breast is far easier than cooking a whole turkey, since you only have a single final target temperature in mind, instead of having to worry about legs and breasts cooking at different rates. As soon as that breast is at 150°F, you can pull it out of the oven and let it rest.

About halfway through cooking, I realized there was a problem.

Testing the temperature of roast turkey breast

While my stuffing was already pushing 180°F and starting to char around the edges, the turkey breast was not even close to finished. It still had a good 30°F to get up to my 150°F target temperature.

On top of that, the butter in the stuffing, combined with the sausage fat, and the rendering fat from the turkey breast made the stuffing unpalatably greasy—there was a huge pool of oil on top of it. This greasiness is exacerbated by the fact that if the stuffing gets much above 160°F or so, the eggs I use to bind it will curdle and break, squeezing out the fat that they were initially trapping.

Fortunately, the solution was relatively simple.

First of all, I decreased the butter content of my stuffing, figuring that what renders from the turkey will make it plenty rich.

Second, I decided to just remove the turkey breast half way through roasting, and let it finish on its own. Once it had cooked, I then took all those exuded pan juices and poured them right back onto the stuffing.

Pouring pan juices over stuffing

Since the turkey needs to rest for about 20 minutes anyway to make sure that you don't lose all its juices, this gives you ample time to throw that stuffing back into the oven to crisp up on top and reheat to 160°F. The stuffing comes loaded with turkey flavor, but if you want even more, make sure to stuff the cavity under the breast and under the flap of fat near the neck with stuffing as well before you start to roast.

Gravy being drizzled over sliced roast turkey on a plate

The best part? The whole process goes from fridge to table in under two hours. How's that for a fast holiday meal?

Recipe Facts

Active: 45 mins
Total: 2 hrs
Serves: 6 to 8 servings

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Ingredients

  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick; 113g) butter, divided
  • 1 1/2 pounds (680g) sage sausage, removed from casing
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped (about 2 cups; 300g)
  • 4 large stalks celery, finely chopped (about 2 cups; 202g)
  • 4 cloves garlic (28g), minced or grated on microplane, divided
  • 1/4 cup (17g) minced fresh sage leaves (or 2 teaspoons dried sage leaves; 3g)
  • 32 ounces (4 cups; 946ml) low-sodium chicken or turkey broth, preferably homemade
  • 3 whole eggs (150g)
  • 2 1/2 pounds (about 2 loaves; 1.1kg) high quality sandwich bread or soft Italian or French bread, stale or dried in the oven
  • 1/2 cup (30g) minced fresh parsley leaves
  • 2 tablespoons (3g) minced fresh oregano leaves
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 whole bone-in, skin-on turkey breast (about 4 to 5 pounds; 1.8 to 2.3kg), patted dry

Directions

  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.

    Mixed sage sausage stuffing
  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 baking dish and place turkey on top.

    Using poultry shears to cut out turkey backbone
    Sage stuffing pressed into underbelly of turkey breast cavity
  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.

    Inserting hand underneath skin of turkey breast
  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.

    Roasted turkey breast on rimmed baking sheet beside pan of stuffing
  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.

    Sliced roast turkey breast arranged over stuffing

Special equipment

9- by 13-inch baking dish

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