Poached Turkey Breast with Gravy
November 19, 2012 | Updated August 17, 2021
As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
Holly and I often have quiet Thanksgivings. Many times we wake up early, head out to hunt for a little while, then kick back with some football and an easy dinner. Roasting a whole turkey, especially a wild one, is not what I call an easy dinner.
But you gotta have turkey with gravy on Thanksgiving, right? True enough, but who says you have to have the whole turkey? Poached turkey breast is the answer.
Poached turkey breast is an easy way to have a lovely Thanksgiving for a couple or small family. I am using wild turkey here but any sort of turkey you can find will work.
If you want to go the extra mile, you’ll need a couple turkey wings (skinned or plucked) to make some broth (and to help the gravy), but you can use store-bought chicken broth instead. We like to use a full turkey breast, which runs about 2 1/2 pounds, but you can cut it in half if it’s just the two of you.
What makes this different from everyone else’s “simple Thanksgiving menu” is the way I cook the turkey and the gravy.
You start with the gravy, which hinges on sherry and those roasted turkey wings that are turned into a simple broth — but again, like I said, you can use regular chicken broth instead. But you need enough broth so you can poach the turkey breast very gently.
Poaching keeps the meat super moist, and is infinitely better for a piece of skinless breast than roasting or pan-frying. Finish it off with some wild mushroom stuffing or simple mashed potatoes and a vegetable of your choice and there you have it: Traditional, with a bit of modern technique.
Even if you skip the Thanksgiving gravy and side dishes, I urge you try poached turkey breast: It is so much juicier and really lends itself to whatever gravy or sauce you feel like using that day. Other great options are Southern red eye gravy, and maple bourbon gravy.
Poached Turkey Breast with Turkey Gravy
OPTIONAL WING BROTH
- 2 turkey wings (both drumette and second digit)
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 2 quarts water
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon cracked black peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon dried sage, or 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
- 1 cup chopped onion
- 1/2 cup chopped carrot
- 1/2 cup chopped celery
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 1/2 cup sherry or Madeira
- 1 to 1 1/4 cup turkey wing broth
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 pounds skinless turkey breast
- If you are making the broth, preheat the oven to 425°F. Coat the turkey wings in the vegetable oil and salt well. Roast in a cast iron frying pan or other oven-proof pan until nicely browned, from 45 minutes to an hour. Put the roasted wings in a pot with all the other ingredients for the broth and bring to a simmer. Simmer gently until the meat wants to fall off the bones. This will take about 90 minutes with a domesticated turkey, longer for wild. You can pick off the meat and eat it later, or you can chop it up and put some in the gravy, too.
- Once you have the broth made, take the turkey breast out and salt it well. Let it sit on a cutting board for 30 minutes or so to come to room temperature.
- Bring the broth to a simmer and drop the turkey breast in. The turkey should be submerged by the broth. If it is not, add water or chicken stock. Once the turkey is in the broth, move the pot to your weakest burner and turn the heat to its lowest setting. Cover the pot and let it steep in the hot broth for at least 30 minutes, and up to 1 hour if you are using a full half breast. Remember to never let the water simmer! You are looking for a target temperature of 155°F to 165°F. So long as you are in that ballpark, you will not overcook the turkey.
- Make the gravy while the turkey is poaching. Heat the butter in a small pot over medium-high heat. When it's hot, add the flour and mix well. Cook this, stirring often, until it smells nutty and turns milk-chocolate brown, about 10 minutes. Stir in the sherry. The mixture will seize up, so slowly stir in 1 cup of the hot broth until the gravy has the consistency of melted ice cream. Add salt, black pepper and Worcestershire sauce to taste. Turn the heat to low and stir from time to time. If it gets too thick, add a little more broth.
- To check if the turkey has cooked all the way through, either test it with a meat thermometer -- you want it to read 150°F -- or slice the thickest part and look: You want a blush of pink in the meat. Slice and serve with mashed potatoes and a vegetable of your choice. Ladle over lots of gravy!
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.
Do you have any thoughts on adding a sear in a very hot cast-iron skillet after poaching, in order to impart a crust?
Is there any risk in drying out the breast if the sear is employed?
Talha: You could, but you’d need a very high smoke point oil, and a very hot pan, with the fan on high to sear fast without cooking the already perfectly cooked breast too much. It can absolutely be done, but it’s tricky.
Can you suggest an alcohol-free alternative for the sherry / Madeira?
I tried diluted apple cider vinegar (1/4 cup water, 1/4 cup vinegar) but thought the gravy tasted too “vinegary”.
Thanks in advance.
Tahla: Skip the alcohol entirely, and maybe add a few dashes of Maggi seasoning or Worcestershire sauce.
I’ve been on the quest for perfect turkey for ever and have tried and loved some great recipes but no one who’s tasted this the turkey breast I just made with your recipe can believe how incredible this is. For a few years for Thanksgiving I’ve roasted our turkey with used the Torissi’s breast method to augment all the white meat requests. This will replace that breast and I’ll be doing these forever! I played with the stock it cooked in which later became soup, and we’re enjoying all of this gorgeous truly tender turkey breast sliced for sandwiches, etc. Thank you for the perfect poaching method! I’ll be back for more of your ideas!
Finally made this for thanksgiving this year. Perfect for two people and the moistest turkey breast I’ve ever had. I always thought I didn’t like turkey breast. Apparently I’ve always had dry turkey breast!
Love the recipe but shouldn’t poultry be cooked to 165 ? I used the 150 measure as recommended but ended up tossing it back in the bath. Mostly see 165 as the number to look for . What do you think about that ?
Gaby: That is an ancient number from the USDA in the 1970s. It’s perfectly safe at 150F, and I think 165F is dried out.
I totally agree! Never above 160 and 155 is perfect.
So glad we stumbled on your recipe! It was delicious!!! The turkey was so tender! I plan to poach some for other uses too! Thanks!
We are going to have wild turkey breast for Thanksgiving. My plan is to cook it in the crockpot using a recipe for regular turkey breast. Should I use the same cooking time (3-3 1/2 hours on high heat), or should it have a longer cooking time? Thanks
Bill: Wow, that seems awfully long for a turkey breast. My version takes closer to 35-45 minutes.
Hi Hank, I have two half breasts from last year that I brined and packed separately in vacuum saver bags in your opinion do you think I could cook them in the vacuum bags sous-vide style or does the broth impart a lot of flavor. For reference I used the turkey brine in Brian Polcyn’s book “In the Charcuterie”
PS – hope your considering a return to the Muelfoot Gastopub in Michigan soon
Steve: I bet you could do that. But you want to watch the salt levels. I feel that cooking it in the brine might make it salty. Not sure, but that’s my gut feeling. And yes, I may well return to Mulefoot in 2018!
Hi Hank. I tried this recipe with your bourbon gravy. I don’t think i have had more compliments!. Great success. Can’t wait to try some of your venison recipes from your new book.