The turkey is and should always be the centerpiece of a Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner whether it being just Thanksgiving for two or for a large family. This turkey breast recipe with citrus and rosemary is a little fresher, which I think pairs perfectly with all the heavy side dishes of sweet potato, brussels sprouts and stuffing and all the others delicious treats.
In this post I'll share all my tips and tricks how to cook a turkey breast, from how much you need per person, why you should rest it and how to cut it. And of course I'm sharing a ton of side dishes too, because what is Thanksgiving without side dishes? I've summarized this in a recipe card at the bottom, so just click the jump to recipe button above if you want to cut to the chase!
This turkey breast recipe is a part of my Thanksgiving for Two series, where I share a complete Thanksgiving meal, time schedules and all the important stuff to make it go as smoothly as possible on the big day. Thanksgiving for Two is also very easily Thanksgiving for Four or even Six, because of the amount of side dishes.
I have calculated how much you need in order to make a ton of entirely fresh Thanksgiving leftovers recipes the following week. More people just means less leftovers, but that's ok too!
Bone In vs Boneless Turkey Breast
You can of course use a boneless turkey breast. That will probably be both easier and quicker, I Food Real has a lot of info about that. BUT let me just say that I think roasting a whole bird feels more like a special day, like Thanksgiving or Christmas, but a boneless turkey breast is more like an every Sunday kind of meal.
So a whole bird is a little too much for most gatherings, but a bone in turkey breast will be just perfect! And you can get that extra collagen boost by reserving the bones later to make a super healthy bone broth.
If you want to roast a whole bird, why don't you try an orange pepper chicken instead! Feeds 4-6 all depending on how many sides you want to have.
How Much Turkey Per Person
Roasting a whole turkey, or any bird for that matter, isn't really hard. But it can be hard to calculate how big bird you should get. The basic rule is one pound per person, but I would aim for 1 ½ per person, maybe even more. Why? Because we want leftovers, but we also want people to eat however much they actually want and then some. It's a special occasion, and having too little food would be a recipe for disaster. That is why I've actually used more than 1 ½ pounds per person in this turkey breast recipe.
To summarize: 1 ½ pound (700g) per person.
How to Prepare a Turkey Breast: Defrosting
First things first, you need to defrost the turkey. You will most likely buy a frozen turkey (if not, you obviously do not need to defrost it). The basic rule here is to defrost it for about 24 hours per 4-5 pounds of turkey. Keep the turkey in its original wrapping and on a tray to catch any juice, and defrost it slowly in the refrigerator. Defrosting slowly is better to avoid bacteria development.
If you are short on time, it is possible to thaw the turkey breast in a cold water bath. But that requires a whole lot more work. Secure the turkey breast so that no water can enter. The water needs to be 40F (4.4C) or colder at all times, and thus you need to change the water every 30 minutes.
And this needs to be done until it's thawed, which will be about 30 minutes extra per extra pound. Use a thermometer to make sure the water is cold enough. The turkey will likely float, and it needs to be completely submerged at all times, so you need to keep something heavy on top.
Whatever you do, do NOT thaw frozen turkey in room temperature. Poultry should not be in room temperature for more than two hours.
To summarize: Defrost for 24 hours (per 4-5 pounds) in the refrigerator.
How to Prepare a Turkey Breast: Before cooking
Pre-heat oven to 450F (230C), but make sure to reduce it later, keep reading.
You have completely defrosted the turkey breast. Now it's important to rinse it under cold water thoroughly, inside and out, and then pat dry. With your fingers, carefully separate the skin from the meat and spread half of the butter under the skin. Season the meat with salt and pepper. Spread the rest of the butter on the skin along with more salt and pepper. Rub it in.
Place the turkey breast in a roasting pan. You want to use a small roasting pan, so that you can use half of the oven to make your sides (read my Thanksgiving for Two post for tips). Pour the white wine/sherry and juice from the lemon and orange on top.
Cut the juiced lemon and orange into quarters and place in the roasting pan along with the garlic and rosemary. Top the turkey breast with rosemary sprigs.
Reduce the oven temperature to 350F (180C).
How Long Does it Take to Cook a Turkey Breast
The last thing you want to on Thanksgiving is to serve an undercooked turkey. As a general rule, a 4-pound turkey breast will need about 1 ½ hours of roasting time. However, I can't emphasize enough how much I would recommend getting an oven-safe thermometer.
This thermometer isn't only for roasting meat, it's also handy when making homemade buns, candies like homemade marshmallows and peppermint cream cheese-filled truffles, and lemon curd. So you have plenty of excuses to get a thermometer!
When the turkey breast is roasting in the oven, you can baste the breast with its juices every 20-30 minutes. Just pour its sauces back on top of the turkey. Optional step! If you think the turkey breast is getting too brown too quickly, loosely cover it with aluminum foil to prevent burning.
The turkey breast is done when the thermometer shows a minimum of 165F (74C). You should check the turkey in the thickest part of the breast. Some like to take the turkey out of the oven at a temperature of 160F, keeping it covered until it reaches 165F, but I personally don't like to risk it.
It is Important to Rest the Turkey
When the turkey is done, take it out of the oven and let it rest for 30 minutes. This resting will help redistribute the juices inside the meat, making it juicier. And as an added bonus, the turkey breast will be colder, making it easier to handle and carve!
How to Cut or Carve a Bone In Turkey Breast
The carving may sound like a daunting task. But it's not really rocket science. If you see any bloody juices, the turkey is - sorry to say it - NOT done. That's why we use a thermometer, to avoid that unpleasant surprise.
Use a sharp chef's knife, run the knife along the side of the breast bone. Continue slicing downward, close to the breast bone and down to the wing joint while pulling the breast away with your other hand. Slice the breast into half inch thick slices, against the grain.
Don't forget to cut or pull off the rest of the meat on the bird and serve those too. Reserve the bones to make a great turkey bone broth. And as extra information, here's a video from The Spruce Eats on how to carve an entire turkey.
The Best Citrus Turkey Gravy Recipe
Turkey gravy is adapted from The Kitchn. Because this turkey breast recipe is lemony rosemary flavored, so will the turkey gravy taste like. It’s tangy, but also full bodied and delicious. Because it’s so tangy, I have added a little sugar to the recipe. If you decide to omit lemon in your turkey, I would also omit sugar from the gravy. But I hope you don’t!
When the turkey is done, there will be a lot of sauce and pan drippings in the pan. Save this in a cup. Refrigerate for 30 minutes, this way the fat and pan drippings will separate and it’s easier to measure.
Once done chilling, scoop out the fat and measure. You ideally want ¼ cup, but this time I didn't have enough so I compensated by adding butter to reach ¼ cup. Place in a saucepan. Once hot, add in the flour (to make a roux). Whisk for a few minutes, it will be bubbly, until it smells a little nutty.
When making a roux, we ideally want equal amounts of fat and flour measured by weight. ¼ cup of butter, or fat, weighs about 55g, but ¼ cup flour weighs only 32g, so you should add an additional 3 tablespoon (not heaping), to reach 55g. I have made this with ¼ cup flour too, and it's no big deal, it's still a delicious sauce!
Add in 1 cup, or 250ml, pan drippings (if you have less, add chicken or turkey broth to compensate). Whisk. Add salt and pepper and taste. If it's too sour to your liking, add in 1 teaspoon sugar or more if you want. My gravy was a little sour, but that does not matter when you eat it alongside all the other dishes, it's all about the balance. So remember, a little sour is fine.
Whisk in more chicken stock if needed, to reach desired consistency. It will thicken a little once cooled. Leftover turkey gravy is perfect in a cauliflower soup, see 7 Thanksgiving leftovers blog post.
The Perfect Side Dishes
When making turkey, we can't forget about all the delicious side dishes! This turkey breast recipe is designed to balance with these side dishes:
- Savory Cheddar Herb Sweet Potato Mash
- Marshmallows Sweet Potato Boats
- Honey Balsamic Baked Brussels Sprouts
- Garlic Parmesan Green Beans or Green Bean Casserole
- Orange Cranberry Sauce
- Apple, mushroom and sage stuffing
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Comment below or tag me @thegingerwithspice on Instagram. And don’t forget to Pin it for later! To make sure you’re never missing another recipe, please feel free to subscribe to my newsletter. As a thanks you will receive a free e-cookbook Travels Through the Seasons, with many delicious recipes from around the world that suit different seasons of the year.
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Did you like this recipe? Don't forget to pair it with:
- Cheddar Herb Sweet Potato Mash
- Orange Cranberry Sauce
- Garlic Parmesan Green Beans
- Caramelized onion, apple and sage stuffing
- Orange Cranberry Sangria
- Honey Balsamic Baked Brussels Sprouts