In the week leading up to Thanksgiving, Brow Beat will be providing all the essential recipes you need to celebrate the holiday with culinary aplomb. See also our previous entries on pumpkin pie, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce.
One of the family photographs I remember most from my childhood is one of my mother, very young and a little nervous, standing in our kitchen, wearing a very 1970s-ish apron, hovering over her first turkey before putting it in the oven. Who can’t relate to that anxiety? I don’t remember that particular Thanksgiving, but I could guess with confidence that my paternal grandfather declared it one of the finest meals that he ever ate, and if either of my grandmothers had a contrarian thought about the gravy, then they kept it to themselves. I can say one thing with certainty, though: My mother, in roasting that turkey, cooked it wrong.
There is only one good way to make a Thanksgiving turkey, and that is to deep-fry it. A couple caveats: 1) Obviously, you can’t do this in an apartment. (Butterball apparently disagrees with me and is marketing an indoor fryer. I have never tried it and would be wary.) Find a friend with a house with a driveway or concrete patio. 2) Yes, it is a little dangerous. You are using a considerable amount of very hot oil. Follow the instructions. And never fry a frozen turkey that hasn’t been thawed.
Deep-frying a turkey is a vastly superior option for countless reasons. The most important: Like everyone who’s ever tried it will tell you, it tastes better than roast turkey. The white meat is moister, the dark meat is even more flavorful, and the skin, while not always totally crispy, is never slimy and gross.
There are other, more practical, reasons to deep-fry your turkey. Unless you have a double oven, roasting a turkey takes up way too much oven space. Move the turkey outside, and you eliminate all headaches as to how to coordinate your dressing, sweet potatoes, and green-bean casserole. Also, frying is faster. In fact, you can fry two turkeys in less time than it takes to roast one, and as someone who loves turkey sandwiches, I highly recommend it. Lastly, it gives the men something to do. Set up a fryer and a cooler full of beer outside, and soon every man in the house will find himself around the fryer, even if it’s cold.
One small headache? Gravy. No roasting pan means no drippings means no gravy, which is admittedly a problem. Suck it up: Make yourself a nice chicken stock, combine it with a rich roux, and add some sage. If your guests can possibly taste the difference between chicken and turkey gravy by the time dinner rolls around, they haven’t been drinking enough wine.
Deep-frying a turkey does take some advance planning. You need a frying kit, for one. The kit should include a base with a hose and regulator for hooking it up to a propane tank, a heavy pot, a deep-fry thermometer, and either a basket or turkey stand and hook to get it out of the oil. And you need lots of oil, probably 3 gallons for a 12-pound turkey. Peanut works best, but anything with a high smoke point will do.
Deep-Fried Cajun-Spiced Turkey
Yield: 10 to 12 servings
Time: About 3 hours, mostly unattended
One 10- to 12-pound turkey
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons onion powder
2 tablespoons garlic powder
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons black pepper
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon ground cumin
About 3 gallons peanut oil
1. Rinse the turkey and pat it dry. Combine the paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, chili powder, black pepper, basil, oregano, salt, cayenne pepper, and cumin in a small bowl. Rub the spice mixture all over the turkey and in its cavity. Put the turkey in a roasting pan, cover it with foil or plastic wrap, and refrigerate it for at least 2 hours.
2. Assemble the burner, propane tank, and large pot of your frying kit on a solid, level, non-flammable surface (like brick or concrete). Fill the pot about halfway (but no more than halfway) with the peanut oil, and heat it to 350°F. Do not overfill the pot with oil!
3. Put the turkey in a turkey basket or on a turkey stand and slowly and carefully lower it into the hot oil with a hook. (Do not drop it quickly!) Do not leave the turkey unattended after lowering it into the oil, and periodically check the temperature of the oil and adjust the heat as necessary to keep it at 350°F. Cook the turkey until its internal temperature reaches 170°F in the breast and 180°F in the thigh, 40 to 45 minutes.
4. Turn off the heat. Carefully remove the turkey from the oil with the hook, and transfer it to a roasting pan or a disposable foil tray. Let it sit at room temperature for at least 10 minutes before carving and serving. (Store leftover turkey wrapped in foil in the refrigerator for up to several days.)