Brillat Savarin, the famous French food writer of the early 19th century, called turkey ''one of the finest gifts that the New World gave the Old.''
Our reply is that the Old World's gift to us is the cooking techniques and sauces its cooks have developed, which we enjoy using for our turkeys.
In both Europe and the United States, roasting is the customary way to prepare turkey both for holidays and for serving year round. But now that families are generally smaller a whole turkey, even a relatively small one, is often just too large.
And since several hours are required to roast a whole turkey, the breast meat tends to dry out if it is not basted often.
The solution to these problems is to plan festive meals around turkey breasts , using an easy formula that is popular in the best of French restaurants.
The briefly cooked, moist meat is accompanied by a smooth, quick-to-prepare sauce and colorful fresh vegetables in season.
Each plate is arranged attractively, with the turkey slices coated with sauce in the center, and the vegetables encircling it.
A variety of cooking methods is suitable for turkey breast slices. Broiling or sauteing is best when serving them with a relatively strong-flavored sauce, such as a mustard or curry sauce. For delicate sauces, poaching or steaming is preferred.
Because turkey breasts are very lean, they are an ideal companion for the modern French sauces, which are rich in cream and butter. Turkey Breasts With Curry Sauce and Broccoli 11/2 pounds turkey breast slices, 1/4- to 1/2-inch thick Salt and pepper to taste 2 tablespoons vegetable oil 2 tablespoons butter 2 medium onions, finely chopped 1 tablespoon curry powder Pinch of salt, to taste 2 cups turkey or chicken stock or broth 1 cup whipping cream 3 bunches broccoli, divided into medium flowerets
Sprinkle turkey slices all over with salt and pepper. Heat oil and butter in large frying pan and add enough slices to make one layer. Saute over medium-high heat about 2 minutes on each side or until just tender when pierced with a sharp knife. Do not overcook, or meat will be dry. Remove meat and saute remaining slices and remove.
Reduce heat to low and add onions to pan. Cook, stirring often, about 10 minutes or until soft. Stir in curry powder and cook 2 minutes, stirring.
Stir in stock, add salt and bring to a boil. Simmer, stirring often, until about 1 cup mixture remains. Stir in cream and bring to a boil. Simmer 5 minutes or until sauce is thick enough to coat a spoon.
Meanwhile, add broccoli flowerets to large pan of boiling salted water and boil uncovered about 5 minutes or until just tender. Drain thoroughly.
Taste curry sauce for seasoning. Return turkey breasts to sauce, cover, and reheat gently; do not boil.
To serve, place turkey breasts in center of plates or platter and coat with sauce. Arrange broccoli around turkey. Serve with boiled or steamed rice. Makes 4 servings. Turkey Breasts With Mustard Sauce and Brussels Sprouts 1 tablespoon butter 1/2 medium onion, chopped 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar 1/4 cup water Pinch of thyme 1/2 bay leaf Salt and pepper to taste 1 cup heavy cream 1/2 teaspoon tomato paste 12 ounces small Brussels sprouts 11/2 pounds turkey breast slices, 1/4- to 1/2-inch thick 2 teaspoons Dijon-style mustard Pinch of cayenne pepper
Heat butter in medium saucepan. Add onion and cook over low heat, stirring often, about 10 minutes or until soft but not brown. Add vinegar, water, thyme, bay leaf, and pinch of salt and simmer until nearly all the liquid evaporates.
Stir in cream and bring to a boil, stirring. Simmer over low heat 5 minutes, stirring often.
Stir in tomato paste. Continue simmering, stirring often, 5 more minutes or until thickened.
Strain into another saucepan, pressing hard on the onions. Cover and refrigerate until close to serving time; sauce can be made up to 1 day ahead.Trim Brussels sprouts, removing tough bases and any yellow leaves. Add sprouts to large pan of boiling salted water and boil uncovered 15 to 20 minutes or until just tender. Drain thoroughly.
Preheat broiler if necessary. Sprinkle turkey with salt and pepper on both sides. Broil about 3 inches from heat 3 minutes. Turn over and continue broiling about 2 minutes or until just tender when pierced with a sharp knife; do not overcook or meat will be dry.
Meanwhile, reheat sauce over low heat, stirring often. Whisk in mustard. Add a small pinch of cayenne pepper and taste for seasoning.
To serve, put turkey breasts in center of plates or platter and coat with sauce. Arrange Brussels sprouts around turkey. Serve with boiled new potatoes. Makes 4 servings. Turkey Breasts With Lemon Sauce and Cauliflower 11/2 pounds turkey breast slices, 1/4- to 1/2-inch thick Salt and pepper to taste 4 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice 2 tablespoons water Pinch of thyme 6 tablespoons whipping cream 6 tablespoons cold butter 1 large cauliflower, divided into medium flowerets 4 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley 2 tomatoes, cut in thin wedges
Sprinkle turkey slices with salt, pepper, and a few drops lemon juice on both sides, using total of 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice. Rub seasonings into meat and leave to marinate for 30 minutes to 1 hour at room temperature.In medium saucepan, combine remaining lemon juice, 2 tablespoons water, thyme, and pinch of salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Whisk in cream and bring to a boil. Simmer about 4 minutes or until thick enough to coat a spoon.
Cover and refrigerate until close to serving time. Sauce can be prepared up to 1 hour ahead. Cut butter into 6 cubes and refrigerate.
Bring water to a boil in bottom of a steamer. Put enough turkey slices in top of steamer to make one layer. Steam 2 to 3 minutes or until just tender when pierced with a sharp knife. Do not overcook, or meat will be dry.
Transfer to paper towels and keep warm. Repeat with remaining turkey.
Meanwhile, add cauliflower to large pan of boiling salted water and boil uncovered about 7 minutes or until just tender. Drain thoroughly.
Reheat sauce over low heat, stirring often. Add butter cubes one at a time, whisking sauce constantly, so butter is incorporated into the sauce. Remove from heat as soon as last cube is absorbed. Stir in parsley and taste for seasoning.
To serve, put turkey breasts in center of plates and coat with sauce. Arrange cauliflower and tomato wedges around turkey. Serve with a rice pilaf. Makes 4 servings.