Mon 03 Mar 2014

Food Without Fuss: Hail to the Crown


This recipe, while hopefully of use and interest to all, was written with the Easter 2014 selections of The Society’s Wine Without Fuss subscription scheme particularly in mind. Voted Best Wine Club by both The Independent and Which? Magazine, Wine Without Fuss offers regular selections of delicious wines with the minimum of fuss. Why not join the growing band of members who let their Society take the strain, and are regularly glad they do?

Find out more about Wine Without Fuss in a short video on our website.

roastturkeyI have never understood why so many people prefer the breast meat of a domestic fowl, tame in every respect and redeemed, for me, by the dark, succulent leg.  Yet, ‘taking drumsticks’ was traditionally very much the Christian duty of someone well down the, er, pecking order:  I’m reminded of Amy, the youngest of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, who is commended for doing so by her saintly Papa and ‘Marmee’.  One assumes that the parson’s nose was reserved for Hannah the Help.

At a very chic three-starred establishment in southern Burgundy, I was once even offered ‘breast or thigh’ of my poulet de Bresse by a supercilious waiter.  As the price amounted to several weeks’ wages, I was expecting the full monte and nearly caused an international incident by demanding both. The rest of the story doesn’t bear repeating, but we’ve never been (allowed) back.

The difference in texture between the two is, of course, one of the challenges of cooking turkey. The choice of dry breast or still-raw leg is no choice at all, and, increasingly daunted by interminable brining, obsessive basting, triple foil-wrapping and all the other techniques designed to even the score a bit, I now deem any big fowl a game of two halves. Thighs are slowly braised in wine and herbs, while a crown can either be boned and stuffed or, as below, roasted on the bone with a generous dollop of well-flavoured butter tucked under the skin.

This festive Easter recipe, is straightforward to prepare, easy to carve and vinously versatile. Simply vary your basting butter to match your chosen tipple:  garlic and Provence herbs for robust Mediterranean whites and reds, a dash of chilli or smoked paprika and fresh coriander if you’re in Spanish mode or – a Rolls Royce moment, this – white truffle butter for a creamy chardonnay or pinot noir.

Janet Wynne Evans
Specialist Wine Manager


Serves 4-6

1 premium turkey breast on the bone, about 2.5kg
2 large carrots, chunked
2-3 very large onions, quartered
4 sticks of celery, cut into halves or thirds if very long
a head of garlic, halved
200ml white wine
a handful of thyme sprigs
Salt and freshly ground pepper
120g flavoured butter of your choice, softened
200ml chicken or game stock
1 tablespoon or two of double cream (optional)

Preheat the oven to 180ºC/Gas 4

Put the onions, carrots, celery and garlic into a roasting tin that comes with a rack or trivet. Add the thyme sprigs and moisten with the wine. This will be the rhythm section for your gravy. If you’ve lucked into unexpected giblets, wash these carefully and tuck them in too.

Put the trivet over the vegetables and the turkey on top of that, skin-side up. Pat the skin thoroughly dry with kitchen towels.

Now carefully lift the skin from the flesh taking great care not to tear it. Provided you don’t have killer talons, fingers are best for this. Otherwise use the end of a wooden spoon or similarly blunt instrument. Navigate your way along the length of the breast, separating skin from flesh until you have made a large pocket to hold the butter.

Now take half the butter and push it gently into the space created, pressing down on the skin to spread it evenly across both halves of the breast. Pull the skin back over the exposed flesh and pat into place. Smear with the rest of the butter, and season well with salt and pepper.

Transfer the tin to the oven and roast for about 1¾ hours. Check after an hour to ensure that the skin is not getting too brown: if it is, cover it with aluminium foil. Continue cooking for another 30-45 minutes. Test readiness by pushing a skewer into the thickest part of the breast. If the juices run completely clear, it’s done.

Lift the joint from the trivet onto a serving platter and rest it in a warm place for at least 20 minutes while you make the sauce. Remove the vegetables from the base of the pan with a slotted spoon. If you like, squeeze the soft, sweet garlic pulp from the spent heads and whisk in for a big flavour boost. Put the pan over a brisk heat and add the stock. Simmer to reduce, tasting as you go. A dash of cream at this stage can’t hurt. When it tastes right, check the seasoning and pour into a warmed sauce-boat.

Note: If you prefer a more traditional gravy, thicken the sauce by whisking in, over the heat, either a little cornflour, dissolved in some cold water, or a spoonful of beurre manié (a paste of equal parts of butter and flour).

Carve into thick slices and serve with the sauce and an assortment of vegetables or wild rice.

Leave a comment