Pastrami-style Turkey Breast with Cornmeal Bao

Yeah, haven’t been very good about updating this site from home, even though I could because my connection will be okay till May. What can I say? I’m busy writing . . . in between bouts of puppy playfulness! They are staying awake for longer and longer, which is adorable but does cut into my time for stuff that does not involve puppies. Also the weather is so nice how can I resist taking dogs to the park? All of a sudden if I get 2000 words per day, it counts as really productive!

So, I’ll try to catch up with posts over the next couple of days.

First, I’m filing this under the new “Real Food” tag – this is another new-to-me recipe I made recently that was a big hit, with me and with my parents. I don’t always, or even often, take my parents any of the food I make because we have widely divergent tastes. But I figured they would like this, and I was right. (The dogs all upvoted this recipe, too.)

For a change, I made this almost just as it was written. The original recipe, from Bon Appetit, can be found here.

The turkey was very easy. The bread was no harder than any other yeast bread; you just need to plan ahead. The black pepper sauce was super simple.

In case you, like me, seldom deal with large pieces of meat and are not sure how long it might take to defrost a whole turkey breast in your fridge, I got this one on Sunday and it was thawed and ready to cook on Thursday.

Pastrami-style Turkey Breast

2 Tbsp coriander seeds
2 Tbsp black peppercorns
1 Tbsp fennel seeds – I am not a huge fennel fan, to say the least, but sometimes fennel is all right in a spice mixture. I used almost the full amount here and liked the combination very much.
2 Tbsp Kosher salt – you will want to use about half this amount if you are using regular salt
1 6-8 lb skin-on bone-in turkey breast
1 Tbsp oil – I forgot this and everything turned out fine

Grind the seeds in your handy spice grinder. Or, of course, use already-ground seeds. You ideally want rather a coarse grind, though, which is hard to find; and I’m not sure fennel seeds come in ground form. You could use a mortar and pestle if you have one (I do), but this is a huge amount of seeds to grind if your mortar is small (mine is tiny).

Anyway, grind the seeds. Add the salt. Pull the skin away from the turkey breast and rub the spice mixture on the meat under the skin. I never did this before, but it wasn’t hard. Let the turkey rest at room temp for one hour or refrigerated for 12 hours plus room temp for one hour.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Put the turkey in the oven. Roast for 40 minutes or so. Reduce the oven temp to 250 degrees and roast for about an hour longer. Let rest 30 minutes before carving.

My meat thermometer turned out to have a dead battery, and I didn’t quite go for the maximum suggested times, which is what I suggest here because my turkey breast was just a tiny bit pink near the bone. So if you don’t have a meat thermometer, I suggest 40-45 minutes and then a full hour and then resting for the full 30 minutes. That will probably work unless your oven temps are very different from mine.

Cornmeal Bao

You probably know that “bao” are Chinese steamed breads. (I actually learned this word from Firefly. Remember where that came up? What a great episode.) I really like steamed breads, though my success with occasional forays into dumplings is, ah, mixed. These are pretty easy, though.

2 Tbsp sugar
¼ oz (2¼ tsp) yeast
2/3 C warm water
2 C flour
1 C Jiffy corn muffin mix. This will leave about a third of a package, which I used to make pancakes with. Then I got several more boxes of Jiffy corn muffin mix, because the pancakes were pretty tasty.
1 Tbsp kosher salt, or a little less if that seems like a lot to you. It seemed like a lot to me.
1 tsp baking powder

Make the bread dough. Let rise 1½ hours or so. Divide into 16 balls and roll each ball into a 6” by 3” oval. Mine were difficult to roll out to those dimensions without getting pretty darn thin. The thinnest ones didn’t rise enough in later stages of this recipe, so I suggest not trying too hard to get the 6×3 ovals. But do roll the balls out into ovals, not circles.

Brush the top of each oval with vegetable oil. Fold the ovals in half lengthwise, making rough half-circles. This is the final shape. You are making them this way so the breads can be steamed, then opened up like sandwiches for the turkey.

Let the little rolls rise 60-90 minutes. Steam for 10-12 minutes, most likely half at a time unless your steamer has a lot more room in it than mine. My two-tiered bamboo steamer held eight bao at a time without crowding.

Black Pepper Sauce

¼ C sugar
3 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Thai-style fresh chili, a bird’s eye or half a cayenne or probably half a serrano, whatever you have handy, minced
½ inch piece ginger, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp dark soy sauce or soy paste or a more regular soy sauce plus a little more sugar
2 tsp rice vinegar
1 tsp freshly ground, coarsely ground black pepper. You will have to measure it to believe how much a tsp is, probably. I ground what seemed like a lot and then ground some more.

Heat the sugar with the 3 Tbsp soy sauce until the sugar dissolves. Add the remaining ingredients.

Assemble the sandwiches: Slice the turkey. Open the sandwiches. Fill with turkey and drizzle with black pepper sauce. The original recipe suggests adding mayonnaise, pickles, shredded carrots, and cilantro. I tried all those additions except the cilantro, since I forgot to get that. All the extras were fine, but frankly unnecessary. The turkey and black pepper sauce worked great with the cornmeal bao, no other additions necessary.

If you try this, I hope you like it as much as we did.

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