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Last Wednesday’s homework for the culinary arts classes at Coffee County Central High School was to bring sides and desserts for the class’s Thanksgiving lunch.
At the center of the feast was, naturally, a turkey, but unlike a run-of-the-mill bird, dry and lacking flavor, the one prepared by seniors Savannah Casbon, Regan Church and Juan Vejar was easily the best turkey I’ve ever eaten.
The secret is threefold – an apple-fresh sage bouquet inside, an herb rub and butter treatment outside and, finally, a magic bag, as the students called it, to protect all of the bird’s wonderful juices.
The students explained that the first step is to wash the bird after removing the giblets and gravy packet.
elp moisten and flavor the turkey, they used a butter basting method reminiscent of traditional French method of larding or barding fat into or onto a lean cut of meat for roasting.
“We cut butter and put it under the skin,” Church said.
Vejar explains, “First we had to separate the skin from the skin. We used our hands to smear butter. You slide your fingers in and move them around in there, but be careful not to tear the skin.”
On the outside of the skin, vegetable oil is brushed on; then, rub thyme, rosemary and seasoned salt into the oil.
Culinary arts teacher Becki Louden said that rub is made with one teaspoon of seasoning salt, rosemary and thyme.
“We also cut up a raw onion, celery and apple and placed it inside the bird’s cavity along with fresh sage. This will make it smell and taste great. The onion, celery and apple, as it cooks lets off moisture, which turns to steam then moist juicy goodness.
“Before placing the turkey in the bag we put sliced onion and celery on the bottom and laid the seasoned turkey right on top of it,” Louden said.
The bag, however, is the secret weapon in the struggle for moist turkey.
Louden explained the cooking bag prevents the juices from evaporating during cooking.
“They accumulate in the bottom of the bag. This is a self-basting method that creates a moist-heat cooking environment for the turkey and produces a turkey that is juicy and tender.
“The bag traps in moisture and natural juices to keep food from drying out so it comes out marvelously moist and tender every time.”
The bag holds the juices and flavors that produce a good stock than can be transformed into gravy.
“We also put a cooling rack in the bottom of the roasting pan and placed the whole bag on top of it so the air could circulate.
The final step that is often overlooked is that once the bird is finished cooking it must rest.
“It is important to let the turkey rest. Once you remove the turkey from the oven, tent it with aluminum foil and allow it to rest for 20 to 30 minutes, so the meat can firm up and hold juices.”
She said that by letting your turkey rest allows for redistribution and re-absorption of the juices in the meat.
“This makes for ultra-moist, flavorful meat while also giving the turkey a chance to cool for easier carving. If you skip this important step, you will both burn yourself and end up with a flood of juices on your carving board, not to mention a dry turkey.”
Knowing when done is done. The USDA recommends that all poultry should be cooked to 165 F.
“For safety, we check our turkey in the thigh and the breast with a meat thermometer. The thigh and leg, being dark meat, takes longer to cook because it is full of tough connective tissues that only break down when heated to 180 F.”
She adds, “One thing that could be done to help this is the breast could be covered with aluminum foil while the legs and thighs get more heat.
“If protein gets too hot to fast it will become dry. Therefore, slow roasting the turkey at a lower temperature helps with the dryness as well.”
The class made all the Thanksgiving meal sides and desserts at home for Thursday’s meal. Principal Joey Vaughn and CTE director Richard Skipper joined the Louden’s third-year students for the meal.
The left over bones are retained frozen for soups, stocks or other recipes.