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Turkey breast with ta’am

I’m not a big fan of cooking meat–never really had a great knack for it, and the lack of easy access to kosher butchers and fresh, unfrozen meat for most of my working life has made it easier to move to dairy, vegetarian, and fish dishes as my mainstays. Out here in Pasadena, my Trader Joe’s carries reasonably priced kosher chicken, turkey, and occasionally beef. But in recent years, the Post, Iowa slaughterhouses that supplied the west coast kosher markets were treating both their cattle and their workers so badly before they were shut down that I just stopped buying meat altogether for a while.

In the past two months, though, I’ve tried to get back to cooking chicken once in a while–Trader Joe’s started carrying Empire poultry again, and my daughter and husband have been clamoring for it. But once you lose the habit of cooking meat, it’s hard to go back.

For one thing, chicken and turkey are so dense compared with fish and dairy. Doesn’t really matter how many or how few pieces you have, it still takes the better part of an hour to cook all the way through–something I’d forgotten about. Even microwaving doesn’t seem to help much. Contrast that with a fish fillet or steak in 15 minutes or less, an omelet in 5 minutes, filled pasta in 10. No wonder I don’t gravitate towards chicken now that I have a kid.

Still. I had a nice-looking half of a turkey breast, recent vintage (i.e., purchased a week or so before and stuck in the freezer, rather than one that had been buried in the freezer for 4 years unused and unloved. My personal record for this year: an abandoned rock cornish game hen from 2001!)

I knew from sore experience that it would take more than a day in the fridge to thaw properly, so this time I started 2 days ahead, and it seemed to go better from there. I also figured out enough time–at least 2 hours just in case, on a day when I wouldn’t end up frustrated and furious.

But turkey–I’ve never eaten turkey that was actively good. Well, not the white meat, anyway. Ta’am (“taste” in Yiddish and Hebrew), my grandmother’s first criterion for whether food was worth eating, is something I never really associated with turkey breast, and probably for good reason. A duty rather than a pleasure, and I always think it would have been better if it were chicken. What to do?

Then I thought about the way I often cook fish–brown an onion in oil, sear the fish on both sides, then microwave covered until the middle is just barely cooked through and still moist. The microwave didn’t seem like a good idea in this case because of the dense meat and my extreme impatience, but it’s pretty classic restaurant technique to brown poultry and then stick it in a hot oven to finish. Would it work for me? Continue reading

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