Some years ago (Let’s say in 2002), I joined with Chef Pam at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky to teach a food preparation class to the spouses of seminary students. Chef Pam (the only name by which I knew her) was a highly accomplished chef in the Louisville area especially in regard to fish. Rumor had it that Chef Pam even appeared as a guest on the Julia Childs show to demonstrate the preparation of some fish dish.
Though I was serving at the seminary as an associate professor in the area of practical ministries, I had become good friends with Chef Pam. Not only was I known to frequent the seminary cafeteria on a regular basis, but also each year during the holiday season, I would make an appointment to use the seminary’s state-of-the-art kitchen to prepare two or three of the hams I wrote about in the previous blog post. Chef Pam (and all the others who worked in the food services) would hover around the table as I carved the ham to scavenger all the trimmings I could spare.
One year she suggested that we team up and teach a food preparation class for student spouses. She wanted to teach the wives (and a couple husbands) how to bake a turkey and make some decorative garnishments for the holidays. I was assigned the task of teaching the art of knife sharpening and how to cut a whole chicken fryer into parts.
Chef Pam demonstrated how to take carrots and radishes and make birds and bunnies from them. I followed by teaching knife sharpening and chicken cutting. Then Chef Pam began to teach all of us how to bake a turkey so that it would be juicy and delicious. I use this method to bake turkeys to this day. It works every time.
Preheat the oven to 550 degrees.
Cover the bird (I say “bird” because this baking method will work on chicken hens, Capons, ducks, Cornish Game Hens, or turkeys) with vegetable oil.
Salt the bird heavily (watch for cuts in the skin. You don’t want the salt to have direct contact with the meat).
Place the birding the hot oven and monitor until the skin turns golden brown. At that point, cover the bird with aluminum foil and back the temperature down to 325 degrees.
No further basting is necessary the juices will be held inky the crust created by. The sale, oil and high heat in the first few minutes of baking.
For a rough idea on how long to bake a turkey, refer to the instructions on the wrapping (it will likely tell you so many minutes per pound). Use this formula only for determining when you should begin taking internal temperatures. You want to leave the bird in the oven until the bird reaches 185 degrees. Be sure to take the internal temperature by inserting the meat thermometer into the thigh on the side closest to the breast. You will want the tip of the thermometer to rest near the knuckle where the thigh bone is connected to the back bone.
When Chef Pam finished showing us how to prepare the turkey to place it in the oven, she also had another turkey ready to be removed from the oven. She then said, “Dr. drake, would you take one of your knives and poke this turkey in the breast? The moment the point of the knife punctured the skin of that turkey breast, juice spurted out. She then had me slice enough breast meat for all of us to have a sample. It was the tastiest and juiciest turkey I had ever eaten.
Now back to the coking instructions. Estimate when to remove the foil by reaching 175 degrees internal temperature or when you think you are 15 to 20 minutes before removing the bird. Removing the foil for 15 or 20 minutes before removing the bird from the oven will allow the skin to get crispy. If you prefer not to have crispy skin, simply leave the foil on the bird until you are ready to remove it. After the bird is removed let cool until you can handle the meat with out being burned.
Carve either by removing wings, legs and thighs (bone-in) and removing breast meat (boneless) or pull meat off all the bones.
To present the dish in the first scenario, place wings at opposite sides at the top of an oval platter. Behind each wing on each side of the platter, first lay the thighs and behind each thigh place the legs. Be sure to lay the large part of the leg is laid next to the thigh. Then place the sliced boneless breast in the middle of the platter dividing a wing- thigh-leg on each side.
To present the dish in the second scenario, lay all the pulled dark meat on one side of the platter and all the sliced white meat on the other side.
In either presentation the sooner the meat is served after it leaves the oven, the more compliments you’ll receive.