Gail Simmons’ Pastrami-Style Roast Turkey

Turkey perfect for a small holiday gathering.

Turkey perfect for a small holiday gathering.


Tea for two?

How about Thanksgiving turkey for four?

It can be done — beautifully, and without a lot of hassle, too.

Thanks to Gail Simmons’ recipe for “Pastrami-Style Roast Turkey.”

It’s from her new cookbook, “Bringing It Home: Favorite Recipes from A Life of Adventurous Eating” (Grand Central Life & Style), of which I received a review copy.

“Top Chef” fans, of course, will recognize Simmons as a regular judge on that popular Emmy-winning TV show. She’s also the special projects director at Food & Wine magazine, as well as a wife and mother.


Cooking chops runs in her family, as her mom was a freelance food writer and a part-time cooking teacher. Simmons followed in her footsteps, graduating from culinary school and apprenticing at some of New York’s top restaurants.

Which means, in short, that she knows her stuff. These are recipes that she cooks at home for family and friends, so nothing is overly fussy.

The dishes take influence from her multi-faceted career, her Canadian heritage, and her travels. Take a taste of “Chocolate-Ginger Scones,” “Quebecois Pork & Bean Stew,” “Christmas Brisket Fried Rice,” and “Toasted-Hazelnut Tarte Au Sucre.”

This roast is a snap to make, especially if you ask your butcher to bone out and butterfly the turkey breast half for you.

Butterflied and smeared with a heady spice mixture.

Butterflied and smeared with a heady spice mixture.

Rolled, tied, and ready to go into the oven.

Rolled, tied, and ready to go into the oven.

A load of black pepper, coriander, smoked paprika and dry mustard with a touch of light brown sugar gets smeared underneath the skin, as well as inside the breast, before it’s rolled up, tied with twine, and coated with one final flourish of the rub and some butter. Then, it goes into the oven like a neatly tied present.

The turkey skin gets crisp and the flesh emerges juicy. Does it taste like pastrami? You bet. There’s a robust peppery bite. There’s a lilt of citrus from the coriander. And underneath it all is a subtle undercurrent of sweetness for balance.

It may not be as showy as carving a 14-pound whole bird at the table. But when you slice into the compact roast to reveal the pretty spiral of spices inside, there’s sure to be a round of ooh’s and ahh’s in excitement.

Best yet, because it’s pastrami-style, any leftovers make for one of the tastiest day-after-Thanksgiving sandwiches you’ll ever enjoy.

Festive and delicious.

Festive and delicious.

Pastrami-Style Roast Turkey

(Serves 4 to 6)

Canola oil for brushing

1 large garlic clove, smashed and peeled

Kosher salt

1 tablespoon light brown sugar

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon ground coriander

1 tablespoon smoked paprika

1/2 teaspoon mustard powder

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 dried bay leaves

1 skin-on boneless turkey breast half (2 to 2 1/2 pounds), butterflied (see Note)


Heat oven to 450 degrees with the rack in the middle. Lightly brush a small roasting pan or medium oven-safe skillet with oil.

Thinly slice the garlic, then mound with 1 teaspoon salt on a cutting board; using both the blade and the flat side of a chef’s knife, chop and scrape the mixture into a paste. Place in a bowl. Add the sugar, pepper, coriander, paprika, and mustard and stir to combine.

In a small saucepan, heat the butter and bay leaves over medium until the butter is melted. Set aside.

Spread the butterflied turkey breast on a cutting board skin-side up. Carefully run your fingers between the skin and the flesh of the turkey from one end, being careful not to pull the skin completely off. Spread about a quarter of the spice rub under the skin, then turn the turkey skin-side down. Spread about half the remaining rub over the meat. Roll and tie firmly with twine every 2 inches to make a compact cylinder. Spread the remaining rub all over the outside of the meat. Season generously and all over with 3/4 teaspoon salt. Place seam-side down in the prepared roasting pan.

Spoon about half of the butter over the turkey, then place in the oven and reduce the temperature to 400 degrees. Roast, basting with the remaining butter halfway through, until an instant-read thermometer registers 165 degrees in the center, 40 to 45 minutes.

Transfer to a cutting board and let rest, loosely covered with foil, for 10 minutes. Slice the turkey and serve.

Note: To butterfly a boneless turkey breast, remove and discard any netting and/or pop-up thermometer. Unroll and lay the breast flat on a cutting board, skin-side down with the long side facing you. Holding the blade of a chef’s or boning knife parallel to the board and working from the narrowest end of the meat, make a horizontal cut halfway into the thickest part of the breast. Continue cutting until you are all but 3/4 inch through, making sure not to cut all the way to the other side. Open the breast flat like a book. Cover with plastic wrap and use the back of a small, heavy skillet or meat mallet to pound out any thicker areas so that the meat is fairly uniform in thickness.

From “Bringing It Home” by Gail Simmons with Mindy Fox


Another Gail Simmons Recipe to Try: Plum Tart

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