Soone weekday at noon, we showed up in thecourtyard of a French Quarterhotel where hotel manager-restaurateurJim Chehardy was firing up acrawfish boiling pot with 10 gallons ofcooking oil. On the table was a25-pound dressed turkey that had beeninjected with crab boil the nightbefore and was connected to a yellownylon rope. Soon he dropped thecayenne-coated bird into the oil whereit sizzled and bubbled for anhour and 45 minutes – this, a turkey thatnormally would bake for fouror more hours. At the end of cooking time,he pulled the rope that waslassoed around the turkey and withdrew abeautifully browned, crispycrusted turkey that, when sliced, oozedjuice from its tender, moistmeat. Never had I eaten turkey sogood!
About a year later, whenmany of the nation’s food writers came totown for a conference, I askedChehardy to demonstrate this miracle tothe 110, mostly newspaper foodeditors, attending. So he did. But thenation wasn’t ready yet fordeep-fried turkey. Not even New Orleans wasready. Only in the countryof South Louisiana were cooks, mostly men,daring to fry the turkey. Itwas a Cajun thing.
But, Lord knows, therewere enough Cajuns, orat least experimental cooks, in New Orleans whocouldn’t pass up therecipe. It started taking off and one or two foodeditors were braveenough to run the recipe in their less imaginativehometowns. But my,how things have changed! I’ll bet if you did asurvey on how many peopleare deep-frying their turkeys forThanksgiving, or at least buying adeep-fried one, it would be a largepercentage of those cooking turkey.At least in New Orleans it would.It’s what we’ve done at our house formany years, especially when wehave out-of-town guests who want towitness the experience. All agreethe turkey is delicious. Cooking itoutside also frees up your oven fordressing, rolls and casseroles.
My,we’ve we come a long way! Theoriginal recipe not only included theyellow rope but a hypodermicneedle. Using our crawfish boiling pots, wespent more on oil than wedid on the turkey. Now, slender pots aremanufactured and a fraction ofthe oil is required. We also fry smallerturkeys for a much shortertime – about 30 to 40 minutes, often cookingtwo or more to assureproper leftovers. Later, we food writers did ourstories on the companythat manufactured turkey injectors that come withthe marinade. Beforethat invention we just mixed up liquid crab boiland water and shot upthe turkey with a horse syringe.
There arethose who say the process istoo much trouble and they buy their turkeysalready fried. I tried thatonce, had to pick it up a day early becausethe store was closed onThanksgiving and was thoroughly disappointedwhen the turkey was nolonger crisp on the outside. True, you can reheatit but it’s not thesame. Turkey-frying rigs are relatively cheap, theoil can be strainedand reused time and again and there’s nothing like aturkey right outof the cooking pot. That is, 15 minutes later. The meatmust rest thatlong to coagulate the juices before carving. Then, thatbeautiful,moist turkey just melts in your mouth and the skin is ascrisp ascracklins. My favorite part is the wing that, amazingly,doesn’t dryout and offers more crispy skin than any other part. Yum.
Okay. Now tothe negative.
WhenI ran that story about the deep-fry I made my mostlegendary mark onfood writing history. On Thanksgiving night on the 10o’clock news, wesaw a man being interviewed in front of his flaminghome. His remarkwas, “I’ll never use another one of those recipes.”Then, half a weeklater, a letter arrived from a woman out of town,saying, “Yes, we too,burned down our house.
”Actually, the fires burnedonly part ofthe houses but the cooks had failed to fry the turkeys inthe backyardas the story had indicated. From that day on, anyreference by me todeep-frying turkey includes these warnings: Neverfry a turkey inside ornear a structure. Be careful not to spill theoil into the flame. And,by all means, don’t allow children or pets togo near the pot.
Around the newsroom I became known as the first foodeditor to burn down two houses.
Takingthat in stride, you may want toconsider frying your turkey forThanksgiving, now that we all have somuch experience in the process.Hardware stores, some grocery storesand the Internet all sell the rigsfor cooking them. If you’re justgetting started, you’ll want the wholekit including a 30-quart potwith basket, turkey rack and hook, propanegas burner and thermometer.We always bring the last one cooked to thetable, holding the othersfor backup, seconds and sandwiches. Here is myfamily’s tried-and-truerecipe and, seriously, don’t forget to do thecookingoutside.
1 12-pound turkey (or between 10 and 15pounds)
1 turkey injector with poultry marinade (available at any grocery store)
Creoleor Cajun seasoning mix such as TonyChachere’s, or a mixture of cayennepepper, paprika,white pepper, black pepper, garlic powder and celerysalt
2 to 3 gallons peanut oil
Thenight before, rinse and pat dry afresh or thawed turkey. If using a30-quart pot, the turkey should beno larger than 15 pounds. Using theinjector, shoot the marinadethrough the skin and into the meat all overthe turkey, according topackage directions. One jar will probably beenough for 2 turkeys. Ifonly using half, pour the half you are usinginto a bowl and store therest in the refrigerator. Sprinkle turkeyheavily with seasoning insideand out. Wrap in foil, place in a largepan and refrigerateovernight.
About 2 hours before yourscheduled meal time (or 2 1/2 hoursif frying 2 turkeys), fill the potabout 2/3 full of oil. Begin heatingthe oil over a medium to high flameand heat to 375 degrees, using thethermometer that hooks on to the pot.The amount of oil depends on thesize of your turkey. Some people putthe turkey in the pot, cover itwith water and measure the water todetermine the amount of oil needed.Your cooking oil needs only to coverthe turkey. Using too much oilincreases the chances of it boiling overonto the flame.
Meanwhile,place turkey on the rack through thebreast side so that the breastwill go into the pot first. When the oilreaches 375 degrees, placeturkey in basket and lower it into the pot.Adjust the fire high enoughto return the temperature to 350 degrees assoon as possible. Thetemperature should be between 350 and 370 degreesduring the entiretime of cooking. Cooking time is 3 1/2 minutes perpound, or 42 minutesfor a 12-pound turkey. Remove the turkey from oilwith the grab hookand basket, drain, place on a platter and let it restfor 15 minutesbefore serving. One 12-pound turkey serves about 6people.
WARNINGS:Place cooking rig away from anystructures including a carport oroverhang of a house. Most fires thathave been caused by deep-fryingturkeys result from spilling the oilonto the flame. Situate the pot onthe burner before adding the oil. Useonly enough oil to cover theturkey. Then, keep children and pets awayfrom the pot during thecooking and until the oil has cooled completely.It is a good idea toremove the hot pot from the burner when finished sothat nothing willtilt it over. Then, cover the pot and place it in asafe place.