The meat, that is.
I rarely cook turkey except on Thanksgiving, but my French compatriots love it, to the tune of nearly 12 pounds per capita per year. And turkey is available here in France year-round.
I joined them the other day, as I planned a dinner party for a group of close friends, more than half of whom won’t touch pork with a ten foot pole, and eat lamb so often it wouldn’t be special. Since I’m not a beef eater – matter of taste and most likely the unfortunate result of my time in a Texas slaughterhouse – well, what was left? Chicken? Nope. So I brought home an “escalope,” or cutlet, a 1/2-inch, horizontal slice from the turkey breast.
My butcher, who is also my neighbor and a featured character in In a French Kitchen, gave me some ideas about how to prepare the escalopes. I wasn’t entirely thrilled with the prospect of braising them in cream, but I tucked the thought in my mind and let it sit there. I stopped by the Pelerin cafe across from my house for an exprès before returning home, and was presented with a small box of l’ail des ours, or ramps, hand-harvested in the forest by owner Shao. “Oh Susan, I find so many, please take these and have fun,” she said.
I was on the train to Paris later on, wondering what I would do with those turkey cutlets and my new-found bounty of l’ail des ours, when it hit me. Macerate them with piment d’Espelette and lemon zest, sauté the l’ail des ours and roll the turkey breasts around it. Then, I’d refer to my butcher and braise the little packets in white wine, with a touch of cream added at the last minute.
That’s what I did, adding a few herbs here and there. The result was, if I may say so myself, more than delicious. The turkey remained moist and it was flavored with the pepper and the zest; l’ail des ours has an edgy garlic flavor, and cream – a scant cup – softened the whole dish. And I mashed potatoes and added l’ail des ours there, too, for resonance and color.
My guests were all French. They had no idea that in the woods surrounding Louviers l’ail des ours grows rampant, nor had they ever tasted it. It took Shao – who is Chinese – and the “Américaine” to show them!
I won’t turn up my nose at turkey breast anymore,nor should you. (If you cannot find it outside the holidays, by all means use a skinless chicken breast. If it is too thick to roll, simple slice it in half, horizontally, so you have a chicken cutlet!) It’s fun, a tender flavor receptor. As for l’ail des ours, I’m a fan. And if I don’t have it I’ll use Swiss chard or spinach, sautéed with a clove of garlic instead. The texture is similar, the result as delicious.
TURKEY CUTLET STUFFED WITH RAMPS (OR SWISS CHARD OR SPINACH)
ESCALOPE DE DINDE FARCIE AU L’AIL DES OURS
You may use chicken breasts if you can’t get turkey, for this satisfyingly delicious spring dish. I like to serve these little, savory packets on mashed potatoes. When I can, I season the mash potatoes with either sautéed ramps, or Swiss chard sautéed with minced garlic.
6 cutlets (about 1/2-inch;1.25cm thick) turkey breast
1 to 2 teaspoons piment d’Espelette or hot paprika
The zest from 1/2 lemon, minced
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil or goose fat
1 pound (500g) ramps, or Swiss chard, rinsed and diced
Fine sea salt
1 small onion, diced
1 medium carrot, peeled, trimmed, diced
Freshly ground black pepper
1 fresh or dried, imported bay leaf
1 cup (250ml) dry white wine such as Sauvignon Blanc
2/3 cup (160) heavy cream
1 small bunch chives, optional garnish
Additional piment d’Espelette, optional garnish
- Lay out flat the cutlets of turkey breast, and sprinkle them evenly with piment d’Espelette. Sprinkle over the lemon zest, place the cutlets in a single layer in a dish, cover, and refrigerate overnight, or for 4 to 8 hours, so the turkey has a chance to absorb the spices.
- Remove the turkey cutlets from the refrigerator.
- Place 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the ramps, stir, add 2 tablespoons water and season with salt, cover and cook, checking and turning occasionally, until the ramps are fully wilted and tender, and a quite dark green, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and adjust the seasoning.
- Divide the ramps among the cutlets, pressing them in a flat, even layer. Roll up the cutlets, beginning at the narrow end, into a tight little roll. Tie the roll, stuffing back in any ramps that have jumped out as you rolled up the turkey.
- Place the remaining oil in the heavy skillet where you cooked the ramps, and heat it over medium heat until it is hot but not smoking. Add the turkey packets and brown them on all sides, which should take 6 to 8 minutes. Add the onion and the carrot to the pan and stir them down among the packets, cooking them for about 2 to 3 minutes. Season everything with salt and pepper, pour in the wine, turn each packet, add the bay leaf, cover, and braise the turkey until it is cooked through, 20 to 25 minutes, turning the packets from time to time, and checking to be sure there is enough liquid in the pan. If the pan is getting dry, add additional wine or water so that the packets have at least 1/4-inch (.75cm) water in the pan.
- Transfer the packets to a medium-sized bowl. Add 1/2 cup (125ml) water to the pan, increase the heat so the liquids boil, and scrape up any caramelized bits from the bottom of the pan. Boil the liquids so they reduce to about half, reduce the heat to medium-low, stir in the cream and cook, stirring often, until the mixture thickens just slightly. Be careful not to boil the cream.
- While the cream is cooking, remove the strings from the turkey. Return the turkey to the pan with the sauce and cook until the packets are hot through, turning them once or twice. Remove the pan from the heat and serve the turkey packets with the sauce, and a garnish of whole chives and piment d’Espelette.