You don’t need any special equipment for this juicy turkey breast recipe. Start it on Wednesday so you can cook it on Thursday for Thanksgiving!
Are you a white meat person or dark meat person? Admittedly, I’m a dark meat person. But that changed after I got a taste of this Brined Turkey Breast with Olive Oil and Herbs. It was so incredibly juicy. And melt-in-your-mouth tender!
So how did this turkey breast get so tender and juicy? Two reasons:
1. A simple brining process
2. An herb and olive oil mixture that gets rubbed all over before it bakes.
How to brine a turkey breast
After some research, I discovered that adding spices and herbs to your brine doesn’t add much (if any) flavor. So I skipped them and opted for a simple brine of water and salt.
Since the turkey breast is so small (4–5 lbs), it doesn’t need a whole day. 10–12 hours is about the sweet spot. I don’t recommend any more than that to prevent the turkey from becoming too salty.
In order to cook the turkey breast on Thanksgiving Day, you’ll want to start this process on Wednesday morning.
Thankfully, a boneless turkey breast is small enough that you won’t need a brining bag. I brined my turkey breast (which was 4¾ lbs) in a Kitchenaid mixing bowl.
I filled it with ¼ cup of salt and about 9 cups of water, which was enough to submerge it. I covered the bowl with plastic wrap and pulled a rubber band around the top to prevent any accidental spills on the way to the fridge.
Getting crispy turkey skin
The brining process adds a small amount of water to the turkey. Similar to how you pat meat dry before searing it (to get a nice crisp crust), the turkey needs the same process.
Just patting the turkey with paper towels didn’t quite do the trick, so I let the turkey sit overnight in the refrigerator, uncovered. I used a baking rack set on a sheet pan for this (mine came in a set like this—also perfect for chicken wings and bacon!).
The cold air circulating around the turkey dries out the outside of the breast. Otherwise, the skin won’t crisp up very well.
The olive oil and herb rub
The second step to a tender and juicy herb roasted turkey breast is the “rub”. It’s less like a spice rub and more like a wet rub. Best of all, it’s really easy to make.
In my food processor, I combined garlic, shallot, parsley, sage, and thyme. I pulsed it a few times, streamed in some olive oil, and it was done. There’s no salt in the rub—the turkey breast will have enough seasoning from the brine.
Half of the olive oil mixture gets rubbed into the turkey before it starts to cook. The other half is poured over the turkey breast mid-way through cooking. This keeps the turkey nice and juicy, and the olive oil encourages the skin to brown nicely.
Turkey drippings and gravy (or lack thereof)
The bad news about turkey breasts is that they don’t create drippings to make gravy. If they do create any drippings, it’s a very smalll amount. The turkey breast that I bought actually came with a bag of gravy inside the package.
But can I suggest something else? Instead of trying to create turkey drippings by roasting turkey parts (or whatever other lengths people go to when they want to make gravy), you should just go to the grocery store. Walk up to the Deli and ask for their pre-made gravy. Chances are, it’ll be good. They’re used to making it, after all!
If you’re set on making your own gravy, I’d recommend Alton Brown’s T-Day Gravy. It’s made from turkey wings and parts of it can be made ahead.
An Italian-inspired Thanksigiving
I served the Brined Turkey Breast as part of an Italian-inspired Thanksgiving.
My friend Kelley of Haviland Events supplied the table decor and dishes. It’s amazing how she can take a blank table and add a few things to make it pop! She used a combination of eucalyptus, blood oranges, candles, miniature pumpkins, and a few branches of red leaves plucked from a tree in the yard (ok, the neighbor’s yard—lol!).
The rest of this Italian-inspired Thanksgiving menu for 4–6 people includes the following:
Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Olive Oil, Thyme, and Parmesan
Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Italian Stovetop Green Beans
Two-Layer Hazelnut Pumpkin Pie
And while it isn’t Italian-inspired, this Creamed Corn Casserole is a classic side dish that everyone loves.
Olive Oil & Herb Roasted Turkey Breast
- 4–5 lb boneless turkey breast
- 8–10 cups water
- ¼ cup kosher salt
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled
- 1 small shallot, peeled
- ¼ cup fresh parsley
- 4 large fresh sage leaves
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
- ½ cup olive oil
- For garnish: kumquats, a pomegranate (cut into eighths), fresh herbs (sage, thyme, parsley)
- Bring 2 cups of water to a boil over high heat. Add the salt. Stir to dissolve. Let cool for 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, place the turkey breast in a large bowl. Add 6 cups of water. Pour in the cooled salted water. Add additional water to cover, if necessary. Refrigerate for 10–12 hours (but no more).
- Remove the turkey breast from the brine and pat dry. Place on a small sheet pan fitted with a baking rack. Refrigerate for at least 12 hours (or up to 24) to dry out the surface (this will create a nice brown crust).
- Heat oven to 425°F. Place the garlic, shallot, parsley, sage, and thyme in a food processor. Pulse until finely ground. Add olive oil and pulse until combined.
- Spoon half of the mixture over the turkey and rub it in with clean hands.
- Place the turkey breast (still on the sheet pan/baking rack) into the oven for 30 minutes.
- Reduce the oven to 375°F.
- Pour the remaining olive oil mixture over the top and bake for an additional 45–75 minutes, or until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the turkey breast reads 160°F.
- Remove from the oven. The temperature will rise to 165°F as it sits. Let sit for 15 minutes before slicing.
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