Herb-Orange Turkey with Pear Gravy

From the moment I started working on this Thanksgiving menu, I kept thinking about the turkey. All the other recipes fell into place but the turkey was a bit of a puzzle. I wanted a recipe that would measure up to The Biggest Loser nutritional standards, but also be worthy of the Thanksgiving supper spotlight. And then, it came to me: craft a simple yet elegant turkey that used flavors from the rest of the menu to tie everything together.

While it’s no secret that the white meat on the bird is a lot better for you, it tends also dries out really easily so roasting it for the holiday can be a crapshoot. In this recipe, there are three major precautionary measures to ward off dry turkey. First, the turkey should be bone-on because that will help the bird cook more evenly and infuse it with more turkey flavor. Secondly, the turkey gets roasted in broth for the first half, which ensures it stays super moist despite the 90 minute cooking time. Third, the honey-orange baste brings another layer of flavor and moisture to the finished dish. Then, to further boost the flavor, the pears and onions in the roasting pan get blended up and used as the base of the gravy for a take on turkey that’s a fraction of the fat and calories.

Herb-Orange Turkey Breast with Roasted Pear Gravy Recipe

By the numbers: A 5 ounce serving of traditional turkey is about 275 calories and 10 grams of fat, but 5 ounces of this turkey is only 160 calories and 3 grams of fat. The gravy is a guiltless gravy since it’s fat free and about 15 calories per serving.

Makes 24 to 26 servings (24 to 26 (4 oz) servings of turkey) and 3 cups gravy (24 (1/8 cup) servings)

Total Time: 1 hr 30 mins to 1 hr 45 mins

Hands On Time: 20 mins


For the turkey:
4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
2 (3 to 4 pound) bone-in skin-on* turkey breast halves (see note)
8 medium garlic cloves, quartered
Zest from 2 oranges
1/4 cup fresh thyme leaves, divided
20 fresh sage leaves, thinly sliced, divided
4 teaspoons olive oil, divided
1 cup fat free low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth or water
5 medium ripe pears, halved and pitted
2 medium yellow onions, quartered
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons orange juice

For the gravy:

2 ripe medium pears, roasted or steamed until fork tender

1 medium yellow onion, roasted or steamed until fork tender
2 medium celery stalks, diced 4oz, about 1 cup small dice
8 medium fresh sage leaves
Leaves of 5 sprigs fresh thyme
1 medium dried bay leaf
2 cups low-sodium fat free chicken broth
2 tablespoons white whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon cider vinegar (optional)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


For the turkey:
Heat oven to 350°F and arrange a rack in the middle. Remove skin from turkey if it has not yet been removed (see note below for tips) then pat dry with paper towels. Sprinkle half (2 teaspoons) of kosher salt all over two turkey breast halves.

Place garlic, orange zest, half of the thyme, half of the sage, and a few cranks of freshly ground black pepper on a cutting board and sprinkle remaining kosher 2 teaspoons of the salt on top. Chop until mixture is a rough paste (it should resemble cornmeal). Drizzle turkeys all over with half (2 teaspoons) of the oil, rub with the paste, and let sit at room temperature while the oven heats up, about 30 minutes.

Arrange turkey breast side up in a roasting pan fitted with a rack and pour broth in the bottom of the roasting pan. Toss onions and pears with remaining 2 teaspoons of oil, season with a pinch kosher salt and pepper, and arrange in bottom of the roasting pan. Cover pan tightly with aluminum foil and roast until internal temperature of turkey reaches 140°F, about 1 hour 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, place honey and orange juice in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Remove from heat as soon as it boils and set aside.

Remove foil, raise oven to 400°F and brush turkey liberally with the honey glaze. Roast until glaze is golden and turkey is 160°F to 165°F, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove turkey from roasting pan, sprinkle with remaining fresh thyme and sage, a pinch of kosher salt, cover loosely with aluminum foil, and let turkey rest at least 10 minutes before carving. Reserve pears and onions for the gravy .

For the gravy:

Place two pears (four pear halves) and all the onion from the turkey roasting pan in a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Process until smooth, about 2 minutes then set aside.

Place the roasting pan (turkey should be out of roasting pan) over two burners over high heat. (Alternatively, pour all the roasting pan juices in a large frying pan.) Add celery and herbs and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. When the pan juices begin to sizzle, slowly pour in half of the broth and cook, scraping up any browned bits with a flat spatula.

Pour juices into a medium saucepan, whisk in pear puree, remaining broth and flour, and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Simmer, whisking constantly, until thickened slightly, about 5 minutes.

Taste the gravy; if it is exceptionally sweet, add the vinegar. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, then strain through a fine mesh strainer. Push on the back of the strainer to remove all the liquid, discard the solids, and serve with the turkey.

*Note: Bone-in turkey breasts are less common (you may have to special order them) than boneless but they are worth seeking out because they have a nicer presentation and the bone lends more flavor to the final dish and helps protect against overcooking the meat. They are usually sold with the skin on, so use a paper towel to pull of the skin and discard before roasting. If you can’t find bone-in turkey breasts, you can use boneless, skinless but look for one that doesn’t have added brine or water solution as they’ll be loaded with salt.

Nutritional information for the turkey (per serving):

Calories 200
Fat calories 25
Total fat grams; 3
Sat fat grams, 0
Cholesterol mg 60
Sodium mg 300
Total carbohydrates g 10
Fiber g 1
Sugars g 7
Protein g 38
Vitamin A IUs %; 0
Vitamin C % 6
Calcium % 0
Iron % 10

Nutritional information for the gravy (per serving):

Calories 15
Fat calories 0
Total fat grams; 0
Sat fat grams, 0
Cholesterol mg 0
Sodium mg 90
Total carbohydrates g 3
Fiber g 1
Sugars g 2
Protein g 0
Vitamin A IUs %; 0
Vitamin C % 2
Calcium % 0
Iron % 0

Chicken // Poultry Entertaining How To Lunch // Dinner Recipes