Unconventional Turkey Ideas & One Local’s Outrageous Recipe

Tired of the same tired dry turkey year after year? You are not alone. Much to the chagrin of family members, I feel no sentimentality towards a plain old roasted turkey. This year, with a slew of houseguests, I have decided to push the envelope and have gone in search of unconventional recipes to blow people’s minds! Hey, I rarely host Thanksgiving so why not make it one to remember?

Here are a few amazing recipes I found.

Turkey Tandoori, Bon Appetit

Peking Turkey with Molasses Soy Glaze and Orange Ginger Gravy, Epicurious

Turkey in Mole Poblano, Saveur

Moroccan-Spiced Turkey, Food & Wine

While perusing the internet, though, the thought occurred to me that I should find a local food blogger to join me in this turkey adventure. After coming up empty in the blogger department, I turned to Instagram and found kindred-food spirit and Restonian Sean Vineyard. Sean works in a professional job during the day so that he may indulge in his foodie side in his spare time. He helps out at a farm on weekends and loves to experiment with food. I recommend following his Instagram account.

Sean was totally game for helping create a turkey recipe for Modern Reston. Below is his scrumptious Turkey Porchetta. I recommend reading his recipe from top to bottom before committing. It looks daunting but is actually very straight-forward and chock-full of great information.

Unconventional Turkey Recipe Porchetta

Sean and a friend on the farm

Take it away Sean!

With Thanksgiving just around the corner I am sure that I am not the only one scrambling for recipes. Every year my family loves to get very creative with our side dishes. Roasted squash soufflés, venison stuffing, balsamic roasted root vegetables, you name it and they’re making it. But you know what has never changed? The turkey. I, for one, am tired of the same turkey year after year. I was delighted when Modern Reston approached me to create a recipe to ‘wow’ readers. Don’t be afraid to get creative with an ingredient that, unless you are making a sandwich, you only use once a year.

I want to start off by saying that while recipes are great to have, the key to a great turkey is freshness.

Buy fresh and buy local. While I will not get into all of the pros and cons of freezing animal protein, the gist of it is that freezing meats changes the physical make-up of the meat and, in turn, the texture and flavor. If meat is not properly frozen, it will be inferior to fresh. But, if bought from a trusted source that takes care in the way their meat is flash frozen, it can work just fine. Basically, know where your meat comes from. If you have the time and means, go to a local butcher or even a local farm. I sourced my turkey from Dog Star Farm in Lovettsville, VA and the sausage for the dressing from Faith Like A Mustard Seed Farm in Lucketts, VA. Having said that, let’s get cooking!

turkey recipe reston unconventional alternative

All photos courtesy of Sean Vineyard

This recipe was inspired by the traditional Italian stuffed pork roast of the same name. It’s perfect for those who do not wish to roast an entire bird.

Turkey porchetta

Turkey Porchetta Ingredients:
1 large turkey (20+ lbs) or one large turkey breast, skin on (4-5 lbs)
½ stick of butter per breast
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
3 gloves of garlics, smashed
1 sprig of rosemary
2 sprigs of thyme
1 bay leaf
3 TBSP of olive oil
Salt and pepper

Sausage Stuffing Ingredients:
1 lb. of sausage, bulk or casings removed
¾ Cup of onion, diced
½ Cup of leeks, diced
1 clove of garlic, minced
2 Cups of bread, diced
¾ Cup of roasted chestnuts, shelled and diced
1 egg, beaten
1 ½ TBSP of fennel seed
½ TBSP of rosemary, finely chopped
2 tsp of chili flakes
½ Cup of dried sour cherries, chopped
1 Cup of white wine
2 TBSP of olive oil
1 TBSP butter
Salt and pepper

Preparing the Turkey Breast
One of the many challenges to cooking a perfect turkey is trying to get the entire thing cooked through but still moist. Tying the legs together, pinning the wings back, no matter what you do there are so many questions about how to make the turkey perfect and turkey porchetta is the answer. Traditionally porchetta is made with pork belly and occasionally pork belly and a pork tenderloin. We wanted to use that great technique and apply that to our wonderful local turkey. You can do this one of two ways: (1) buy a whole turkey and bone it yourself, which is what I recommend, or (2) ask your butcher to bone the breast out but leave the skin on. The skin is very important and we will tell you why later.

If you picked up a skin-on turkey breast you can skip this paragraph; however, if you got a whole turkey here is how you want to bone it. Place the turkey on cutting board breast side up and place a damp towel underneath the board (this helps to keep the cutting board from slipping and when you are using sharp knives that is key). It is easiest to remove the skin and breast meat once you have separated the legs and wings. Once you have done that you will want to put your fingers underneath the skin and slowly start to pull the skin away from the meat. You want to keep the skin in one piece. It will often feel pretty challenging so don’t be afraid to use a bit of force if needed. The turkey skin is pretty strong. Once the skin is removed lay the top side of the skin facing down on your cutting board our counter top. Now using a thin, flexible bladed knife (usually a boning knife or even a fillet knife) cut the turkey breast along the breast bone and follow that all the way from the neck to the cavity and all the way down the rib cage. Repeat on the other side.

You will then want to butterfly your turkey breast in a manner that will make the meat an even thickness all of the way around. Turkey breast is just inherently never an even size, so in our case butterflying will be putting your breast meat at eye level and figuring out where the breast starts to get significantly thicker. That happens usually at one of the far ends. At the point where the meat begins to get thicker, take your knife and make a parallel cut and continue that cut until you are about an inch away from the end of the breast (be careful not to completely remove that piece of meat). Once the cut is made you can just flip that piece of meat of and now you have a much more even piece of turkey. You can use a meat mallet to help with this process as well. With a paper towel pat dry the turkey meat and skin. You will then want to score one side of the turkey breast – scoring is cutting small incisions into the meat that help to absorb the flavors of a marinade. You want to cut them into a cross hatched fashion (like a series of hashtags for all of you instagrammers) 1-2” apart and not more than ½ inch deep. Salt and pepper each side of your turkey breast and lay it down on the skin, scored side facing up. Spread room temperature butter (I use Vermont Creamery, President, or Kerrygold butter because the flavor is incredible) on the scored turkey meat. This is also a fun time to use a compound butter. I like to use a tiny bit of maple syrup and some fresh chopped sage leaves and roasted garlic for a little added sweet and savory level of flavor.

Making the Sausage Dressing
Take a small baguette or loaf of Italian bread and cut it into ½ inch cubes. Let it sit out for a day or two to harden. You could also put it in the over at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes if you do not want to let it sit out.

Prior to cooking the sausage you will want to cut the leeks and place the cut leeks into a large bowl of water. Leeks area incredibly sandy and you don’t want that in your delicious stuffing! Let the leeks sit in the water for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain the water and repeat for 5 more minutes.

Preheat a heavy bottomed skillet with a 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil on medium-high. Once the oil and butter combination is heated, drop in the sausage and brown. The browning processes caramelizes the sugars and proteins on the surface of the meat giving the meat a much richer flavor. About half way through the browning process throw in your onion and leeks. To make sure your garlic is properly cooked (because both raw garlic and burnt garlic are very bitter) use your spoon to move a little bit of the meat and onion combination to the side of the pan, creating some surface area to cook the garlic. Add a tablespoon of olive oil and the diced garlic. Cook for 3-4 minutes, or until very lightly golden brown, and then combine with sausage and onion. Then add the rosemary, chili flakes, and fennel seed and cook for one more minute. Put sausage mixture into a large bowl and add one cup of white wine (I like to use a very oak chardonnay for the added flavor to the dish) to the pan to deglaze it. Let the wine reduce by about ½. Deglazing will pick up all of the brown delicious bits at the bottom of the pan to make an extra flavorful sauce to incorporate into the stuffing.

In a large bowl mix the sausage, bread, the egg (beaten), sour cherries, salt and pepper, roasted chestnuts, and the deglazed juices from the pan and cover. Let this sit in the refrigerator until it is completely cooled. This part is very important because you add a warm stuffing mixture to the turkey it will slowly bring the turkey breast meat to the ‘danger zone’ and could inhibit bacteria growth.

Assembling the Porchetta
Let the dressing cool and spread about 1/3 to the center of the turkey breast. Now roll the entire breast into as tightly as possible. This is one of the reasons why using the extra skin (and buying a whole turkey instead of just the breast) is so important. It gives full coverage of the turkey porchetta and will help to not assist in keeping the rolled turkey together, but also for adding additional flavor and keeping in the moisture. With butchers twine you want to tie that turkey off every 1-2 inches so that the turkey will retain its shape as it cooks. Once the turkey breast is tied refrigerate it at least overnight but up to two days for added flavor.


When you’re ready to cook the turkey, take it out of the refrigerator and let it come to room temperate for 30 minutes or so. Drizzle the entire skin side with extra virgin olive oil and salt and pepper. Put it in a roasting pan on top of the stove on medium-high with a little bit more olive oil in the pan and aromatics (carrot, onion, celery, garlic, thyme and rosemary) and sear it until the skin begins to get color. Preheat your over to 375 degrees and cook for about an hour to an hour and a 15 minutes or when the internal temperature of the turkey has reach 145-150 degrees. You want to take the turkey out and let it rest for at least 10 minutes. As the turkey rests it will cook an additional 5-8 degrees and will reabsorb all of the delicious juices so that when you cut it, you won’t lose any moisture or flavor. Now cut the butchers twine off, slice however thick you would like to and enjoy!

The best part of the stuffing and the compound butter is that you can play around with flavors that you enjoy. Don’t stick to the recipe – experiment a little. The important thing is to have fun with it. Again, use what is in season, use what looks delicious, bring your family and friends in to help cook and just have fun with it. But most importantly, enjoy your holidays and eat well!

For suggestions about what wines to serve with turkey, take a look at our article about wine pairings for Thanksgiving.

  • Carrie Burns

    Outstanding!!!! Can’t wait to try this! This Sean guy is a genius!

  • Paola

    I am terrified de boning the thing- but I am thinking of possibly trying this. Sean- I’m from Arlington so we are nearby! Do you by any chance know if the local farm from lovettsville can debone the turkey for me?