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This year, unlike those in the past, I will not be cooking for a roomful of people. Nor will I be bringing a large amount of oyster and chestnut dressing or pumpkin custard pies, as a guest, to someone else’s shindig.  No, this year’s Thanksgiving will be quiet and intimate with just my hubby and our 2-year-old son.

Which made me think, why do we need a big bird hanging around in our fridge after the festivities? We are not huge on leftovers in my household. There are, of course exceptions.  I’ll always take leftover salmon kedgeree (for breakfast with some  sliced, freshly boiled eggs), homemade soups or stews and enchiladas. Other than that, no one much cares for leftovers in my household.

The thought of coming up with a host of new and stupefying ways to use leftover turkey meat (whose flavors degrade rapidly after it’s initially served) seems  a bit like torture to me.  If you love it, I’ll leave you and the thousands of other Foodpress bloggers out there, as they are sure to tickle your fancy with their astounding homages to this thankful beast.

I, however, will not be taking part because I have come up with a stunning plan for those of us who A) are hosting a smaller and more intimate gathering B) are more adventurous in our cravings and do not need to adhere to strict codes of tradition in our fare and C) who are loathe for the leftover adventure.

The menu at my house this year will consist of turkey breast only (it’s what we fight for in my household anyway.) But when you make the decision to work only with turkey breast, you have to ensure that the breast meat will remain juicy and flavorful, not drying out. This is why I have decided to look to the French in their infinite culinary wisdom and am making Turkey Roulade (rolled up, stuffed meat) using caulfat to seal in the juices and add extra flavor. My recipe is inspired by the Chicken Roulade made by Vitaly Paley at the extraordinary Paley’s Place restaurant, here in Portland.

Paley’s Place restaurant in Portland.

Caulfat (sometimes called lace fat), for the uninitiated, is the fatty abdominal membrane that encases the internal organs of animals like cows, sheep and pigs. The French use this on ballotines, crepinettes and pates and when wrapped around lean meats, it melts away as it bakes, infusing the meat with moisture and flavor. The caulfat from pigs is prized for its flavor and the fineness of its webbing and it’s what I will be using in my Turkey Roulade. If you doubt the power of caulfat, I have but one word for you — bacon. Just as bacon kicks everything up a notch with a pizzazz that only pork can bring, so too, does caulfat.

The wonderfully savory, lacy filigree that is caulfat

Now that you know what it is, where do you get your hands on it? Caulfat can usually be found at ethnic grocers and full service butcher shops, though some may need to special order it for you, so be sure and allow a few days lead time when checking with your local butcher.

I will be filling mine with a savory mixed mushroom and meat stuffing along with that boneless turkey breast and topping it all with pear cider gravy. But you can take the basics here and come up with your own unique spin on the Roulade. Vitaly Paley’s delectable Chicken Roulade recipe can be found here in his Paley’s Place Cookbook.

Cover of "The Paley's Place Cookbook: Rec...
Cover via Amazon

Turkey Roulade

1 whole, skin on, bone in turkey breast

1  large sheet of caulfat

2 shallots, finely chopped

1/2 Walla Walla sweet onion, chopped

2 bunches fresh thyme (one left whole, the other de-leaved and chopped)

1 bunch of fresh sage (a handful of which you should de-leave and chop)

4 cloves of garlic

8 ounces of fresh crimini mushrooms, brushed and chopped

1/2 pound of ground turkey, dark meat

Olive Oil

sea salt

fresh ground pepper

Soak the caulfat in cold water for an hour or so to remove any blood from the membrane (this will allow it to have the lovely white color instead of a pink pallor.) If the water becomes discolored, change it to continue leaching the excess blood from the membrane.

De-bone your turkey breast and carefully pull back the skin from the breast, removing it in one whole sheet. Lay the skin down on a clean cutting board, so that the inside of the skin is facing you. Carefully remove any excess fat and discard, leaving a fairly clean-looking, thin layer of turkey skin. Refrigerate it along with the breast meat.

Saute the shallots and mushrooms in 2 tbsp of olive oil, seasoning with salt and pepper, until the shallots begin caramelizing along the edges and the mushrooms are browned. This gives the mixture a sweeter taste, perfect with the pear gravy. Set them aside to cool. (HEALTH AND SAFETY NOTE: do not stuff poultry with hot or warm food as this could promote foodborne illness.)

In a bowl, fold together your chopped onion, garlic, and the handfuls of chopped sage and thyme with the ground turkey meat, along with 1 tsp each of salt and pepper. Set aside.

Squeeze your caulfat dry, spreading it out on a clean cutting board, and cut it in half. Set it aside.

Remove your turkey breast and skin from the fridge, spreading the skin out flat (again with the inside facing you) and cut it in half, vertically, as well. Generously season the skin. Take a portion of your ground turkey mixture and place it flattened and even upon the chicken skin (about the same width and length of your turkey breast.)  Season the turkey breast with salt and pepper on both sides and place it on top of the flattened mixture, pulling the excess skin around the edges of the breast.

On the bottom half of one of your flat, stretched caulfat pieces place more of the ground turkey mixture, (again, approximately the length and width of the breast) and then place the turkey breast with it’s mixture and skin carefully in tact (skin side up) on top of the ground turkey mixture on the caulfat, patting it down to flatten it. (If you have any of the ground meat mixture left you could use this in a side dressing or for breakfast the next day.)

Carefully pull up the edge closest to you of the caulfat and pull it up as far as it will go up the side of the chicken breast. Then carefully begin to roll the chicken and it’s mixture up in the caulfat, tucking the ends in and creating a tidy package. Remember not to wrap it too loosely (your filling will fall out) or too tightly as it will crack the caulfat as it cooks. Repeat on the second breast.

Then in a large skillet, with 2 tbsp of olive oil,  saute your roulades (one at a time if your skillet is smaller) over medium heating, bringing them to a golden brown on all sides. Move them to a roasting pan lined with your remaining thyme and sage and let them cook in a 400 degree oven  until done, about 40 minutes. Using a meat thermometer, the internal temperature should reach 165 degrees.

Once done, remove from oven and let sit for five minutes covered, to seal in the juices before slicing. Serve with your favorites.

We’ll be having ours with roasted chestnut soup, savory bread pudding, baked yams with cinnamon butter, Gruyère popovers, kale with almonds in orange muscat champagne vinegar and cranberry and clementine relish. For dessert there’s always room for mini-caramel eclairs and a tunnel of fudge cake.

Caramel eclairs — What a mouthful!