Over the years, I have not been shy about my indifference toward turkey. I’ve called it “a bit of a thermodynamic nightmare” with “the dumbest meat.” I’ve also been pretty clear about my preference for thighs — as dark meat inherently has more fat and flavour — but this buttermilk brined breast has me looking inward, questioning everything, and eating so, so much turkey, along with my words. (This is very impressive at this point in the month, as I have cooked about 18kg of turkey in the last three weeks.)
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that soaking a whole breast in buttermilk would result in tender, flavorful, oh-so-juicy meat—how could you go wrong with all that acid and fat?—but the first bite shocked me, reader, and it turned me into an unapologetic turkey breast enthusiast. (It was just salty enough, with a bit of creamy tang provided by the buttermilk.)
Before we get into the how-to, let me address the question I know is just burning up inside you: “Why not buttermilk brine a whole turkey?” There are a few reasons. For one, a turkey is always at its tastiest when you break it down, and respect each part as its own thing.
Spatchcocking is the best option for a whole bird, but — if my family and friends will let me — I prefer cooking the dark and light meat completely separate from each other, since their target temperatures are a whole 10 degrees apart (65C is best for breast, 76C is what you want for the dark stuff).
Beyond that, buttermilk promotes extremely rapid browning, and buttermilk-soaked thighs and legs are likely to burn before they reach their ideal temperature. This could be mitigated with some aluminium foil, but it requires some futzing and a lot of vigilance, and I like to keep things futz-free and uncomplicated if possible. (For reference, the above breast had foil on it for the last 15 minutes of cooking, and just look at how browned that skin is.)
This is the best roasted turkey breast I’ve ever had. Heck, it’s the best roasted turkey I’ve ever had (period), and that’s because this recipe addresses this cut of meat’s very particular needs by adding moisture, fat, acid and tons of flavour. I’m almost too excited about it. To make your own succulent breast of turkey, you will need:
4-5 pound bone-in turkey breast
100 ml of buttermilk
100 ml of water
1/2 cup of salt
1/4 cup of sugar
5 smashed garlic cloves
1 teaspoon peppercorns (white are ideal)
1 bay leaf
Citrus fruit slices (A couple of lemons and oranges is plenty.)
Pour the water into a sauce pan, along with the salt, sugar, garlic, pepper and bay leaf. Bring everything to a boil, then remove from the heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt. Let the brine cool to room temperature. Once it’s cool, combine it with the buttermilk, then pour the mixture over the turkey breast in a brining bag or small bucket. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.
Preheat the oven to 190C, remove the turkey from the brine, and let drain on paper towels, blotting to remove excess moisture from the skin. Scatter your fruit in the bottom of a roasting pan or large skillet, place a trivet or rack on top of that, then set the turkey on top.
Roast uncovered until the skin is well-browned, covering with foil towards the end if it starts to look dicey. Continue to roast until the thickest part of the breast reads 65C, about 90 minutes to two hours, depending on the size of the bird and your oven. Remove from the oven, and let rest for 15 minutes before carving. Sprinkle with some Maldon salt and citrus zest, and tuck in to a most tasty celebratory bird.