Roast Turkey Breast Ssam With Squash Ssamjang and Jujube Date Relish Recipe

[Photographs: Vicky Wasik]

We’re putting a Korean spin on the classic Thanksgiving roasted turkey with gravy and cranberry sauce by serving it ssam-style. Ssam translates as “to wrap,” and describes a Korean way of dining that involves wrapping various leafy greens around meat, condiments, banchan, and kimchi. It’s an extremely interactive way to eat—perfect for the holidays, when you’re down to bump elbows and double-dip around your family and friends.

While ssam is traditionally made with steamed pork (bossam) or grilled meats, it works perfectly with our Korean Thanksgiving dinner. For the turkey breast, we dry-brine it for at least 12 hours, then slather it in a cinnamon compound butter that bathes and seasons the skin as it roasts to a rich golden brown.

The condiments for this ssam—honeynut squash ssamjang and sweet jujube relish—fill in for the classic Thanskgiving gravy and cranberry sauce. Ssamjang is the condiment served with ssam and Korean barbecue, a thick spread that’s sweet, salty, spicy, garlicky, savory, and bright. Classically composed of doenjang, gochujang, garlic, sesame, and rice syrup, my version also incorporates roasted honeynut squash, which adds a sweet earthiness and incorporates a classic fall flavor. This sauce will keep for up to a week in the fridge, and it’s a great condiment to have on hand to add depth to a pot of bean soup or as a spread on a ham and cheese sandwich.

The relish features jujubes, which are a variety of date common to many Asian cuisines. They’re drier and less sweet than more common date varieties. Once rehydrated in hot water and softened, they take on the texture and flavor of baked green apples, with a slight butterscotch undertone. The jujubes are cooked with the turkey until those sweet, fruity flavors take on a deeper caramelized note, and then they’re blended with all of the buttery, cinnamon-spiced roasting juices to create a relish that offsets the leanness of the turkey breast.

Why It Works

  • Rubbing turkey skin with cinnamon-spiced butter helps with browning while also adding flavor to the drippings, which are used for the roasted jujube relish.
  • Roasted winter squash adds complementary sweetness and body to spicy ssamjang, making the perfect accompaniment for roast turkey breast.

What’s New On Serious Eats

  • Yield:Serves 4 to 6 as a large main course, or 6 to 8 as a component of a larger meal
  • Active time:1 hour
  • Total time:2 1/2 hours plus up to 24 hours dry-brining time

Ingredients

  • For the Squash Ssamjang:
  • 1 pound (450g) honeynut or similar winter squash such as butternut, acorn, or kabocha (1 small squash)
  • 1 tablespoon (15ml) vegetable oil
  • 4 medium garlic cloves (about 20g), finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons (30g) toasted sesame seeds
  • 2 tablespoons (30ml; 30g) doenjang
  • 2 tablespoons (30ml; 30g) gochujang
  • 2 tablespoons (30ml; 40g) honey
  • 2 tablespoons (30ml; 25g) toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon (8g) gochugaru
  • One 1-inch piece fresh ginger (about 20g), peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon (4g) freshly ground black pepper
  • For the Turkey and Jujube Relish:
  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks; 170g) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tablespoon (9g) ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons (8g) garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon (4g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt use half by volume or the same weight
  • 1 teaspoon (4g) freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons (30ml; 30g) doenjang
  • 1 (6- to 7-pound; 2.7 to 3.2kg) bone-in turkey breast (aka crown), dry-brined for at least 12 hours following these instructions (see note)
  • 5 1/4 ounces (150g) dried jujube dates (about 40 small dates), soaked in hot water for 1 hour, then pitted
  • 1 tablespoon (15ml) cider vinegar
  • For Serving:
  • Assorted lettuces and chicories, separated into individual leaves, and perilla leaves (see note)

Directions

  1. For the Squash Ssamjang: Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 425°F (220°C). Cut squash in half lengthwise and scoop out seeds; discard seeds or set aside for roasting.

  2. In a 10-inch cast iron skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Place squash halves in skillet, cut side down, and cook until squash flesh just begins to lightly brown, about 2 minutes.

  3. Transfer skillet to oven and roast squash until completely tender and flesh offers no resistance when pierced with a paring knife, 25 to 30 minutes. If cooking turkey crown the same day, don’t turn off the oven after removing squash, and wipe out skillet. Let squash cool to room temperature, then scoop out flesh into a medium bowl; you should have about 1 cup (8 ounces; 225g) flesh. Discard squash skins. Using a spoon or fork, mash squash flesh until smooth, about 30 seconds.

    Roast Turkey Breast Ssam With Squash Ssamjang and Jujube Date Relish Recipe

  4. Stir in garlic, sesame seeds, doenjang, gochujang, honey, sesame oil, gochugaru, ginger, and black pepper. Mix until ingredients are thoroughly incorporated into a thick sauce. If serving the ssamjang the same day, transfer to a serving bowl, cover, and set aside at room temperature until ready to serve. If making ssamjang in advance, transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 1 week. Bring to room temperature before serving.

    Roast Turkey Breast Ssam With Squash Ssamjang and Jujube Date Relish Recipe

  5. For the Turkey and Jujube Relish: Preheat oven to 425°F (220°C). In a small bowl, stir together butter with cinnamon, garlic powder, salt, and black pepper until thoroughly combined. Using clean hands, spread doenjang all over interior cavity of the turkey. Spread cinnamon butter mixture evenly all over turkey skin.

    Roast Turkey Breast Ssam With Squash Ssamjang and Jujube Date Relish Recipe

  6. Transfer turkey to 10-inch cast iron skillet, with skin side up and back directly in contact with the pan. Add jujubes to skillet, spreading in an even layer around the turkey.

    Roast Turkey Breast Ssam With Squash Ssamjang and Jujube Date Relish Recipe

  7. Roast turkey until jujubes begin to darken around the edges and sugar begins to caramelize in the pan, about 20 minutes. Using a spoon, carefully transfer jujubes to a small heatproof bowl, and return turkey to oven. Continue to cook until skin at the lower part of the breast turns golden brown, about 20 minutes.

    Roast Turkey Breast Ssam With Squash Ssamjang and Jujube Date Relish Recipe

  8. Using tongs, carefully reposition turkey crown so lower part of breast and the cavity are in contact with the skillet. Baste skin with drippings, and return turkey to oven. Continue to cook until the thickest part of the breast registers 150°F (65°C) on an instant-read thermometer, about 30 minutes longer. If skin begins to get too dark before turkey has reached the proper internal temperature, reduce oven temperature to 350°F (175°C). Once turkey is cooked, transfer crown to a cutting board and allow to rest for 20 minutes before carving. Strain drippings from skillet through a fine-mesh strainer into a small saucepan.

    Roast Turkey Breast Ssam With Squash Ssamjang and Jujube Date Relish Recipe

  9. Roughly chop reserved jujubes and add to saucepan with drippings, along with cider vinegar and 2 tablespoons (30ml) water. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until jujubes are softened and mixture forms a thick relish, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a small serving bowl.

    Roast Turkey Breast Ssam With Squash Ssamjang and Jujube Date Relish Recipe

  10. For Serving: Carve turkey breast into thin slices and transfer to a serving platter. Serve, passing jujube relish, ssamjang, and lettuces at the table.

    Roast Turkey Breast Ssam With Squash Ssamjang and Jujube Date Relish Recipe

Special Equipment

10-inch cast iron skillet, fine-mesh strainer, small saucepan

Notes

Whole, bone-in turkey breast is also known as a crown, and can be purchased individually at supermarkets and butcher shops, or you can purchase a whole bird and do the butchering yourself.

Sturdy leafy lettuces such as red and green leaf lettuces work best for ssam. Perilla leaves (sometimes sold as “sesame leaves”) can be found at Korean markets such as HMart, or at farmers markets in summer months.

Make-Ahead and Storage

Roast turkey is best enjoyed right away, but leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 5 days. Ssamjang can be made in advance and refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week; bring to room temperature before serving. Leftover jujube relish can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

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