I really had a hankering for a different kind of turkey this year. Something boldly seasoned, piquant, tangy, or Mexican-inspired. Alas, Chelsea would have to make her traditional stuffing that she’s been making since she was a little girl, and we weren’t sure if our guests would be up for the diversion. And quite frankly, I wanted to “keep it simple.” Ultimately, I decided on something in between exotic (if you consider a loosely Roman interpretation at all exotic) and traditional, and between medium and simple on the skill-o-meter.
The result is turkey saltimbocca. Last I checked, saltimbocca, which means “to jump in the mouth” or something like that, may hail from Rome, where there probably aren’t many turkeys, especially Amish ones, but there are plenty of sage and dried-cured pork products. San Francisco’s Zuni Cafe isn’t necessarily Roman-inspired, but it is Italian-inspired and that is where I became entranced by a perfect rendition of saltimbocca in which a perfect leaf of sage was pinned to the breast of a guinea fowl like a feathery-brooch, wrapped in a toga-like veil of prosciutto and gently seared. A simple pan jus provided just enough sauce to accompany this delectably rich and herbaceous dish.
My turkey, inspired by the saltimbocca preparation, is just left of traditional. First, the turkey has been spatchcocked which believe it or not, has nothing to do with medieval torture or execution. It simply means that the turkey’s backbone has been cut out. This is done by holding the legs of the turkey straight up and chopping, straight down, on either side of the spine with a cleaver and removing the backbone. Then, by pressing down on the inside of the breastbone, you crack it, flattening the turkey. This method results in a turkey that takes up less space in your oven and cooks faster.
The breast skin has been loosened and underneath it, the naked flesh has been rubbed with an herbaceous seasoning and lined with fresh sage leaves. The outside of the turkey skin has also been seasoned, and the top of the breast has been cloaked with thin slices of pancetta, an Italian-style cured and rolled pork belly. The breast has been tied with butcher’s twine to slightly form the meat and to help in holding the pancetta to the breast. When the turkey roasts, it will have a sheet of parchment and foil covering it for most of the roasting time. Toward that last 30 minutes or so of cooking time, the parchment and foil will be removed and the skin will be crisped.
I have prepared a turkey stock from the backbone, neckbone, pope’s nose, and giblets from the turkey, and will use that to prepare a gravy after the turkey comes out of the oven. The gravy will be enhanced with a splash of dry Marsala wine for that little left-of-traditional touch. I’ll let you know how it turns out!