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Friday, November 26, 2004

Thanksgiving 2004: Hellfire, Hot Oil, and Turkey Hunger

The most dangerous form of cooking known to man is widely considered to be cutting and cleaning the fugu blowfish. It takes a chef ten years to finish the training required to be certified to serve the dish. The final exam is easy: the initiate prepares a fugu and eats it himself. If he can skillfully slice it up without exposing the delicious meat to the deadly tetrodotoxin in the rest of the fish, he gets his license. If he screws up he dies a horrible death by drowning without water as his brain loses the ability to command the lungs to breathe and the master fugu chef announces a new opening for an apprentice.

Preparing fugu is the most deadly culinary art around. Deep-frying turkey is said to be the second most deadly.

What else can be said about a procedure involving flame and hot oil that propels even professional firefighters into the emergency room with horrid burns? That sends panicked family into the streets as it engulfs their house in smoke and ruin? That uses equipment that has been know to explode minus simple precautions, sending searing-hot contents outward like so much Cajun napalm?

And yet... I'm madly in love with this!

It was two years ago, beginning with a trial-run the week before Thanksgiving, that I deep-fried my first turkey. That one came out great, save for being more than a little burned on the outside. Maybe 15 birds later and I've gotten pretty darned good at both marinading it, then bathing it in Perdition's flame. 'Course, it took me three years after first hearing about it, and then a TON of study into how to do this - what to do and what NOT to do - before finally getting up the courage to take a stab at it. I'll never go back to basted turkey again if I can help it: fried turkey is so amazingly juicy - and with a REAL taste finally, which I never knew turkey even really had - that in my book it's the ONLY way to prepare turkey. Despite the risk of injury and destruction that comes with it. But if you don't mind taking a few common-sense precautions and be patient throughout the process, it's really a very simple and relatively safe thing to do. Just don't approach it as a routine means of cooking: treat each bird as a unique work of art. That's all there really is to it.

Two full-sized turkeys this year. I started marinading them early morning the day before yesterday. For REAL good ideally you wanna try to start juicin' 'em up 36 hours before frying. If that's not possible, at least somewhere around 24 hours. It yields a lot better bird than doing it a few hours before.
The first turkey - a 21-pounder - was the biggest that I've done to date. Even despite my little trick of how you can figure out how much oil to put in the pot, it was enough displacement to send some overflowing and into the propane flame below. I took it extra slow on this one, giving the oil enough time to fill the internal cavity so as to take up some slack. The picture doesn't do it justice but we had a hella good flame going around the pot for awhile there...
350-degree Fahrenheit peanut oil. I've done many turkeys since starting to deep-fry them two years ago and this was the first time I ever came close to injury but only 'cuz the sheer size of the bird played havoc with the setup. It did get in there and the oil level brought down to a safe level, but while lowering it in some oil splattered up and onto my hand. There's a darn good reason why you wear stuff like heavy gloves and eye protection when you do this, kids.
A little over an hour later (figure 3 1/2 minutes of frying time per pound) and here's the result...
Lately some models of turkey fryers have been hitting the market claiming to be safe enough to use by anyone because they're electric, not propane. Some are even supposed to be used indoors (?!?). Blasphemy and sacrilege, I say: turkey-frying is an outdoor sport, done with propane and without any fancy computer to monitor the temperature for you. This is power cooking. This is a man's way of cooking: women and children should be confined to the house while it's going on. I'd even suggest parking all cars and trucks away so that the tires don't melt. It's NOT something for the faint-of-heart or the remotely skittish. You have to WANT to do this enough that even knowing what's at risk, you judge that it's worth getting a turkey this delicious out of it. Come to think of it, you have to be positively crazy on some level to even think of doing this.I mean, people have been killed doing this. I myself would have received horrific third-degree burns on my hand yesterday were it not for the heavy gloves. A lot worse than that could have happened too.

I can't wait to do it again come Christmas!