Servings: 25 Prep: 30 mins Cook: 2 hrs 30 mins Total: A day or two
Better sandwiches at a third the cost and it’s a whole lot easier than this recipe may lead you to believe!
Obviously, I have no control over the cost of ingredients. They vary greatly these days, all while coming in at different prices at different locations. However, I feel quite confident you can create a massive, tasty stash of delectable, spiced sandwich meat at a full third to a quarter the cost of buying it pre-made.
Not only is there a substantial savings, but you also have total control over the ingredients. You can eliminate the wonky additives and techniques applied to most thinly sliced sandwich meat (much of it is bleached meat mulch). Instead, you can make fresh, healthy, whole-foods based, homemade goodness. Plus, if you start with a whole turkey, you can use the leg meat for roasts, or grind it up for something like a tasty meatball. Finally, roast the bones for a rich turkey broth!
While this recipe may seem like a tall order, please know that the overwhelming majority of the time is spent simply letting the meat brine, roast, or chill. There’s very little actual hands-on time spent with this. Plus, do it once and you’ll find it just gets easier. Any icky time spent boning the turkey or tying a roast is time well spent. All total, it’s maybe 30 minutes of prep time, spread across a day or two. The result is several pounds of spectacularly flavored, thinly sliced turkey… enough for 20 or more sandwiches!
Moist Turkey Roasts: I frequently hear is that turkey breasts are always dry. Sadly, this is all too often the truth. Certainly, a simple brine goes a great distance towards remedying that, but the real trick is to skirt the guidelines…
The USDA recommends turkey be cooked to an internal temperature of 165°F (74°C) to help prevent illnesses from bacteria in undercooked meats. This is an industry standard and is designed to be largely fail-proof. At this temperature your poultry is safe to eat, though… probably dry and overcooked!
Here’s the thing: Yes, it’s good to get your poultry good and hot, to kill off the bacteria. However, time is also a factor. At 165°F (74°C) poultry is immediately safe to eat. However, at just 5°F less, poultry only needs to stay at that temperature for about 30 seconds to be safe. That drop in internal temperature will do wonders to boost the moisture in the meat. In fact, here’s a brief chart showcasing the combination of temperature plus time, resulting in safe, moist poultry:
The trick is in understanding something called “Carryover Cooking”. The idea being, the inside of a food will continue to cook, even while heat is no longer being applied. For example, if you have a large, raw turkey roast and place it into the oven for about 20 minutes, the deepest part of the roast will still be chilly; roughly the same temperature as the inside of your fridge. However, the outside surface will be too hot to touch! Even if you were to completely turn off the oven at this point (don’t do that), the heat trapped inside the oven will continue to heat the surface of the roast. The heat trapped in the outer edges of the turkey will also continue travelling deeper into the roast, warming it as it goes.
For smaller, thinner cuts of meat, this doesn’t really apply. However, for thicker portions of meat (like a big, juicy steak) and especially roasts, carryover cooking plays a substantial role. A large roast’s internal temperature, in the deepest, thickest part, will continue to increase in temperature by 5, even 10 degrees Fahrenheit (3 to 6°C), all while it simply sits on the countertop, relaxing<.em>.
Most pros generally assume a 5°F (3°C) increase in the internal temperature of a big roast is a safe bet.
In the case of this specific recipe, I took the double-breasted roast to an internal temperature of just 147°F (64°C). That’s a good deal a bit lower than the fail-safe industry standard. The reality is that the surface and outer portions of the roast are quite a bit hotter than that. As the roast sits on the countertop for 10 minutes, the carryover cooking will bring it up to roughly 152°F (67°C), as the heat trapped in the outer edges creeps more deeply inward. That 10 minutes spent within the appropriate temperature range, also easily brings us into a safe space.
Between the brine and the thoughtful awareness of safety, plus time and temperature yields a succulent, tender, and juicy roast!
All the herbs and spices just knock it into another stratosphere!
Another Juicy Note: I personally tie the two breasts together to get a thicker, more uniform roast. It will result in a larger, more moistier roast. You can roast the two breasts separately, but because of the smaller roasts, I’d cook the roast to 155°F (68°C) to be safe, then rest for 10 minutes before slicing.
Ready to Eat Tip: After the roast sits in a warm spot for about 10 minutes, it can be sliced and enjoyed as a meal! I often slice some for a hot meal, then I’ll place the rest of the roast, uncovered, in the refrigerator, where it thoroughly chills, overnight. The next day, I slice it into thin slices, weigh out 6 oz. (168g) portions, vacuum package, then freeze. 4 oz. (112g) portions likely makes more sense for most, but 6 is how I roll.
Video: I always buy whole turkeys and bone them, myself. I use the breasts for roasts like this, grind the leg meat, and make broth with the bones. Here’s a great video showing how to bone a full turkey.
Roasted Cajun-Style Turkey BreastPrint Pin Rate
- 4 cups water
- 1/2 cup (124g) kosher salt (or 1/4 cup [60 mL] table salt)
- 2 Tbsp sweetener optional
- 4 cups ice water
- 2 large skin-on turkey breasts
- 1/3 cup paprika
- 3 Tbsp fresh cracked black pepper
- 3 Tbsp cayenne pepper
- 12 cloves garlic minced
- 2 Tbsp fresh chopped thyme
- 1 Tbsp fresh chopped oregano
- 1/4 cup melted butter
- Bring the 4 cups of water up to a boil in a small sauce pot.
- Once the water is boiling, whisk in the salt and optional sweetener. Continue whisking until the water is clear and the seasoning have completely dissolved. Turn off the heat.
- Find a large pot, bowl, or container large enough to hold about 2 gallons of liquid. Pour the hot seasoned water into the container. Add the ice water to the container and stir until the ice melts. At this point the water should be cold. If it isn’t, place it into the refrigerator or freezer until it is thoroughly chilled.
- If you have a full turkey, remove the breasts using the technique shown in the video above. Make sure you keep the skins on. Submerge the two breasts in your chilled brine and place it into the refrigerator overnight. At least once or twice, flip the breasts in the brine. If any portion is floating above the surface, place something like a bowl on top, to weigh them down.
- The next day, pre-heat oven to 350°F (177°C).
- In a small mixing bowl, combine the paprika, black pepper, and cayenne pepper.
- In a separate small bowl, combine the chopped garlic, thyme, and oregano.
- Remove the turkey breasts from the brine, discarding the brine. Wash them off, to remove excess seasoning from the surface. Dry them and place them on a large, rimmed baking tray. You can do this on a cutting board, but the rim helps keep things clean.
- Rub the melted butter all over the outside surface of the two breasts.
- The two breasts will be somewhat shaped like teardrops. Position the two breasts, side-by-side, on the tray, with one thin tip facing you and one thin tip facing away from you.
- Take about 1/3rd of the herb garlic mixture and evenly rub over the exposed surface of the two breasts. Then, take about 1/3rd of the spice mix and evenly sprinkle it over the exposed face. If you have a flappy “tender” attached to the inside of the two breasts, make sure you get the spices, garlic, and herbs spread in and amongst the tender, as well.
- Take the breast on the left, flip it over, and place it on top of the breast to the right. This should sandwich the flavorings between the two breasts, all while keeping one tip facing you and one tip facing away from you.
- With butcher’s twine, tightly tie the two breasts together into a large, mostly even, football (American style) shaped roast. Because the two breasts have opposing shapes, the end result is more even in shape and thickness. If the two tips were both facing you, the roast would be quite thick on one side and taper to a thinner end, resulting in an unevenly cooked roast.
- Rub the remaining garlic and herbs over the surface of the roast.
- Finally, sprinkle the remaining spice mix over the outside of the roast. Much will spill all over your baking tray. Simply roll the roast through the spice until it is well and evenly coated with the mixture.
- Lane a separate large casserole pan or baking tray with parchment paper, or grease it. Place the roast into the center of the pan, then place it into the oven.
- A lot will depend on the size of your roast. Mine weighed about 7 1/2 lbs. (3.41kg). This took a bit less than 2 1/2 hours to roast, but I started testing the internal temperature after about 90 minutes. The goal is 147°F (64°C) for a double-breast roast, or 155°F (68°C) for two individual breasts. If the roast(s) are not at temperature, allow to roast for a further 15 minutes, then test again. Continue this process, until the goal is achieved.
- Once ready, remove from the oven and set on top of the stove to relax and allow “carryover cooking” to continue heating and cooking the inside for a further 10 minutes. At this point, it’s ready!
- Slice off whatever you’d like to have for an instant hot meal, then place the rest in the refrigerator, uncovered, to thoroughly chill, overnight. Do not place it beneath anything that will drip on it and do not place it under a shelf containing delicate items. That shelf will get warm. In general, clear out a nice, large, open space for the roast to chill within.
- Once the roast is thoroughly chilled, slice the roast as thin as you can. From there, package and freeze!
- I personally like larger 6 oz. (168g) portions but would likely recommend 4 oz. (112g) portions as a more common weight for sandwiches. If you’re a family of four, then I’d package bundles of about 1 lb. each. You’ll likely get about 6 packages worth. I personally vacuum pack my chilled, sliced turkey, but plastic wrap or zipper bags will work, as well. Just squeeze out as much air as possible, before freezing.
- The night before making a sandwich, place a bundle in the refrigerator so defrost. The next day… make sandwiches!
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