Tuesday, March 18, 2014

How to Make My Favorite Retro Diner Sandwich by Cleo Coyle

Prices at the deli counter have been giving my husband and I sticker shock for some time now. If you’re making lunch for one or two, the prices are tolerable. But if you’re buying for an entire family or a hungry group, be prepared to take out a second mortgage to pay the bill. 

Here in New York City, premium turkey breast is $8.00 (and more) a pound. We prefer to roast our own turkey sandwich meat for a fraction of that price, and we seldom fuss with a big bird. We simply use a small (6 to 7 pound) turkey breast. 

So here’s a simple recipe for buffet-style turkey. You can use it for a traditional meat-and-potatoes main meal or sandwich-slicing (or both)...

Cleo Coyle's husband is also
her partner in crime-writing.
Together they write
The Coffeehouse
Cleo Coyle’s 
Retro Deli-style
Roast Turkey

This small, all-white meat turkey breast tastes better than anything you can get at the deli counter. It's perfect for making our favorite retro diner sandwich, too, an open-faced turkey with mashed potatoes.

Our secret ingredient is a pair of turkey wings (or even two pairs). Small turkey breasts usually come without wings, but we buy them separately for roasting right along with the bird. The wings render plenty of extra juices for making the rich gravy. See the gravy recipe below this one, and... 

Eat with joy!
~ Cleo


6 to 8 pound turkey breast

+ 2 to 4 turkey wings
   (optional, for extra gravy juices)

3/4 stick (6 T) softened butter

1 teaspoon Bell Seasoning

1 teaspoon Poultry Seasoning

½ teaspoon white pepper

½ teaspoon Smokehouse Pepper

½ teaspoon ground sage

½ teaspoon Kosher salt

1 tablespoon cooking oil or cooking spray


Above is a standard (wingless) turkey breast of about 7 pounds. Depending on the area where you live, you will either find these in your grocery store or something called "Hotel-Style Breasts," which are sold mainly in the Northeast. The Hotel-Style Breasts are perfect for a buffet. They are generally larger than a regular turkey breast (closer to 10 pounds instead of 4-8), and they have the wings attached. Like the big (15 to 35 pound) turkeys, many brands of Hotel-Style Turkey include a packet of giblets. Small turkey breasts like the one above do not include giblets.


Step 1—Prep the slurry: First preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. When the butter is soft, place it in a bowl and add your Bell Seasoning, Poultry Seasoning, white pepper, Smokehouse Pepper, ground sage, and Kosher salt. Blend everything well with a fork until you have a beautiful green slurry. Wash the turkey breast and pat dry. If using wings, remove the wing tips, wash, and pat dry.

Step 2—Prep the bird: Line a shallow baking or roasting pan with aluminum foil. Grease the rack that sits on top. Place the turkey on the rack, and (if using) position wings on either side of the breast. Slather the breast with the slurry you made in Step 1. Massage the slurry under the skin to impart the flavor into the meat. 

You can coat the wings with the slurry, as well. Or simply salt and pepper the wings instead since you're cooking these wings for their juices rather than their meat. 

The wings in my photo above are not attached.
Most small turkey breasts come without wings.
Marc and I like to buy the wings separately and
roast them with the turkey for extra pan juices.

We often roast a second pair
of wings in a separate pan.

Step 3—Roast and cool: Roast the breast, uncovered, according to package instructions, or about 20 minutes per pound. During the last hour, baste the meat in its own juices every fifteen minutes or so. When the meat reaches a temperature of 165 degrees F, remove from oven, tent loosely with foil, and let sit for AT LEAST 30 MINUTES before slicing. Trust me on this! The resting period will keep your turkey nice and moist. If you slice it too soon after removing it from the oven, the juices will run out and the turkey meat will taste dry. 

Amazing pan juices
come from the wings.

Cleo's Favorite Retro Diner Sandwich...

Open-Faced Turkey
with Mashed Potatoes
and Gravy!

For a single serving...

A few juicy slices of freshly roasted turkey

A hearty scoop of mashed potatoes

2 slices of white bread (yes, it has to be white!)

Plenty of gravy (recipe below)

While the turkey is cooling, make mashed potatoes and gravy. Most home cooks have their favorite way to make mashed potatoes. If you feel adventurous, you can try my healthier potato, garlic, and carrot mash. It's absolutely delicious and very easy to make. Get the recipe here.

Good gravy and lots of it is the key to this deli-classic...

Turkey Gravy

Makes about 1 ½ cups


2 cups pan drippings
  (or enough chicken stock to make 2 cups)

2 Tablespoons Wondra flour

Salt and pepper to taste


Step 1—Make a roux: While the turkey is cooling, pour off the pan drippings and let them cool. Skim off two tablespoons of fat from these drippings and warm this small amount of fat in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir in the flour until the mixture thickens. You’ve just created a roux. Now gently cook until the roux turns slightly brown (1-3 minutes).

Step 2—Finish the gravy: Measure your remaining pan drippings. If you have less than 2 cups, pour in enough chicken stock to make the full two. Whisk these two cups of drippings (and/or stock) into the roux that you made in Step 1. Heat the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly. Lower the heat but continue to stir and let the gravy simmer until it thickens and the flour cooks (4 to 5 minutes). The key here--
to prevent the gravy from breaking--really is stirring! Add salt and pepper to taste, serve hot, and...

Eat with joy!
~ Cleo Coyle

New York Times bestselling author of
The Coffeehouse Mysteries

Yes, this is me, Cleo (aka Alice). 
Friend me on facebook here.
Follow me on twitter here
Visit my online coffeehouse here.

Now a National
Bestseller in Hardcover

A Coffeehouse Mystery 

*Starred Review* -Kirkus

"Top Pick"  -RT Book Reviews

"...a highly satisfying mystery."
-Publishers Weekly

See the book's
Recipe Guide
by clicking here.

* * * 

Coffeehouse Mystery
Free Title Checklist
(with mini plot summaries)

The Coffeehouse Mysteries are bestselling
works of amateur sleuth fiction set in a landmark
Greenwich Village coffeehouse, and each of the
13 titles includes the added bonus of recipes. 

* * * 

Haunted Bookshop
Free Title Checklist, 


  1. 9 in the morning and you have me drooling for some roasted turkey! Boy, does that look fabulous!
    A local bagel place offers "turkey off the bone" for a higher price than regular turkey. I haven't noticed that it looks like it actually came off bones any time recently.
    I love turkey, but for some odd reason, my kids don't. Now that they are in their 20's they are more tolerant, but they still prefer chicken. Go figure.
    Thanks for the inspirations.

  2. LOL on the higher-priced turkey that still doesn't measure up to home roasted. I hear you! In fact, I feel that way about most deli meats. I've done posts here in the past for easy Roast Beef and Mini Hams that will do the same thing--give you great sandwich meat for a fraction of what delis charge.

    I know convenience factors into grabbing and going. And as a former Pittsburgh-area resident, I will always love my chipped ham! My real issue is value for money over time, and here in NYC the taste of deli meat combined with the high cost (on a daily or weekly basis) just makes no sense when we can simply throw something into the oven fast (be it beef, ham or turkey) and get a better product for much less money.

    I'm glad you enjoyed the foodie photos, Libby, and thanks again for dropping by our Kitchen. It's always a pleasure to hear from you. May you…

    Cook with joy!
    ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
    “Where coffee and crime are always brewing…”
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  3. Oh, Cleo! Your photos are making my mouth water. Off to find a hot turkey sandwich... Must tell you that my mother, daughter, and I all enjoy your books and recipes. I especially like the way you include three generations of women in your stories, and all of us are looking forward to your next book. Take care - Fran

    1. Fran - I hope you found that hot turkey lunch by now! And thanks for the nice words about my books. I'm especially pleased to hear that the generation over and under you are also enjoying the Coffeehouse Mysteries. That certainly reflects the books themselves with Clare, her daughter, Joy, and Joy's octogenarian grandmother playing important parts in the mysteries. Thanks so much for dropping in today, and I hope you'll keep in touch! (FYI - If you haven't signed up for my newsletter yet and would like to, drop on by my website to sign up...the link is below...)

      ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
      “Where coffee and crime are always brewing…”
      Cleo Coyle on Twitter

    2. Thanks, Cleo. I signed up. Fran

  4. One of my favorite sandwiches, too. Looks delicious. Rita P

    1. Thanks, Rita, I wish I could make a plate just for you. Cheers and thanks for dropping by today!

      Coffeehouse Mystery.com
      “Where coffee and crime are always brewing…”

      ~ Cleo Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  5. I know what you mean about the price of sandwiches in a deli. Luckily most are big enough for two, but when you add fries, dessert, drinks, yipes! Love the recipe. I'm a big fan of turkey breast.

    Daryl / Avery

    1. Thanks for dropping in Daryl/Avery - You're so right about all of it adding up...although I'm not as concerned with the price of sandwiches at a deli or restaurant as I am the costs at the grocery store deli counter where families shop on a regular basis.

      By-the-pound costs have been inching up for the last few years, and if you want to feed a hungry family decent meat, you're looking at several pounds of sliced deli counter turkey at upwards of $8.00 a pound (at least here in NYC). For families on a budget, that's pretty crazy when you consider the cost of a turkey breast is closer to $1.29 a pound. It all adds up in the long run...a little cooking can save families a lot of money over time. Roasting at home is also better tasting and better for you, because the cheaper the deli meat, the more fillers, preservatives, and processing, too. Thanks again for dropping by and have a delicious week!

      ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
      “Where coffee and crime are always brewing…”
      Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  6. Sounds delicious! I accidentally bought the "hotel style" turkey breast thinking it was just a turkey breast. I was shocked to find it had wings. I thought they were all the same. Thank you for explaining the difference. I will never make that mistake again! :)

  7. Robyn - I had the same reaction to the "hotel-style," which is why I looked into it. I'm so glad the info was helpful to you. Thanks so much for letting me know.

    ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
    “Where coffee and crime are always brewing…”
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  8. Hi Cleo/Alice: It is going to be midnight soon and here I am reading my e-mail and wondering how on earth I can wait until morning to get back to the grocery store to get a turkey breast to roast this week!!!! My daughter and I always do a turkey plus a ham, plus a roast lamb for Easter dinner, but this year, I am going to have a turkey before that since seeing your blog posting. :) I agree about the prices of deli meat AND how high other meat prices have gotten just in the past couple of months. Did we ever think that bacon would be $7-8 a pound and the price of beef and pork too has gone way up as well. And cooking at home is one way to help with the food costs just as you so eloquently explained. I guess families with a tight budget may have to do a couple of meatless meals each week to keep prices down, and that may be a good thing too as it will give people more beans and legumes and other nutritious food that doesn't have to have such a high cost attached to it. Convenience costs money that is for sure. And roasting a turkey breast is an easy way to get around paying those high prices for deli turkey. And even baking a ham at 1.99 a pound is far less expensive than buying good quality deli ham as well. Easy things to do to save a big chunk of money each week. Thank you for giving mea boost to getting a turkey breast sooner than later and for thinking of all of the people who may not have realized how much money they can save this way.

    Another thing I do to get more juices for gravy is to put a couple of stalks of celery under the turkey on inside the turkey and it kind of steams when cooking and adds so much nice flavor to the drippings. I also quarter an onion and slip in inside the breast with all of the turkeys and when that cooks and goes into the meat drippings it sure is flavorful. We get the hotel style breast up here in MA so I always have the wings to cook for extra pan juices too. Thank you again.

    1. Thanks, Cynthia! I know you are a serious foodie and dedicated cook for your loved ones, so I appreciate your stopping by. Cheers and have a delicious week...

      ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
      “Where coffee and crime are always brewing…”
      Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  9. Oh my gosh!!! This sounds fabulous! I'm practically licking the computer screen. A turkey breast has made it's way onto my shopping list. Thanks for sharing.