Sweet. Cold. Smoke.
Can you smell that- the sweet scent of a fresh log crackling in the fireplace? Can you see that- the vibrant oranges, reds, and yellows of the leaves turning color? Can you feel that- the slight chill in the air? That’s the change of seasons in the North East. In the past several years this change of seasons seems to happen overnight, but nevertheless, I still look forward to it and embrace it. You see, I get excited for all the seasons- in spring I look forward to wild ramps; in summer I love outdoor live fire grilling and fresh jersey produce; and when the first chill in the air hits I can’t wait to restoke my smoker. While I love low and slow BBQ pork butt and brisket in the summer, I really look forward to throwing on a flannel, going out in the warm sun, yet brisk air, and getting into the season with some light smoking in the fall months. Whether it’s a smoked beef tenderloin, fresh beets, or a turkey breast with a little bit of herbed butter and fresh spinach tucked up under the skin, I go for a light smoke both in time and flavor.
My summertime smoking calls for strong, woods- hickory, pecan, mesquite- combined with a brine or dry rub, and a vinegary mop. But in the fall, I like to use softer fruit woods- apple, cherry, peach- just adding a hint of smoke flavor to my finished product.
For this fall day, let’s talk turkey. I like to gently separate the skin of a bone in turkey breast and rub some softened herbed butter under the skin. I like to keep a versatile herb butter on hand (I like this any season of the year!)- parsley, thyme, and a little tarragon. I use this butter in many ways, whether to finish off some sautéed vegetables, a dollop on a ribeye seared in my cast iron pan, or even a schmear on a slice of baguette. This butter will not only add a level of flavor but will also add some much-needed fat to my other wise lean turkey breast. I then add a little whole leaf spinach under the skin. As the turkey cooks, the spinach will naturally wilt, and bathe in the butter and natural fat from the skin. Lastly, I will make a dry rub with some sage, thyme, salt, black pepper, paprika, and garlic. I gently apply the rub to my turkey, and usually allow it rest in the fridge while I get my smoker ready (sometimes I’ll let the turkey sit in the fridge overnight, uncovered, if time permits).
With my chair waiting on the patio, and my fire dying down and ready for some wood, I lay my turkey breast in the smoker. I leave it alone for a short while, allowing the wood scent to lightly enrobe the turkey, giving it just a kiss of sweet smoke flavor, allowing the butter to melt slowly while the spices of the rub start to marry with the skin. The process up until now is simply to lay the foundation of flavor. After about an hour I’m ready to begin cooking the turkey.
I finish my lightly smoked turkey breast in a 350° oven for 1 ½ hours, until the internal temperature of the turkey reaches 155°, and the crispy skin is golden brown.
Can you see that?
I’d serve this turkey with roasted brussels sprouts (I like a lot of the leaves separated out to get nice and crispy), and half an acorn squash drizzled with butter, brown sugar, and maple syrup.
Hmmm, can you smell that?
I’ll leave it up to you whether you’ll smother this turkey breast in gravy (none for me, thanks), or tell you what to drink with it (for me- maybe a beer, but probably whiskey).
Sometimes, the result of a journey is certainly the reward, but in this case every step is rewarding for me. Now let’s not mistake this for Thanksgiving dinner…this is simply early Fall on a plate.
Can you feel that?