I like most anything deep-fried. Well, maybe not Mars Bars (the deep-fried Mars Bar being a late 20th-century Scottish contribution to international gastronomy), but most anything else. I even deep-fry steak sometimes. But when my wife, in my absence, suggested to my in-laws that they deep-fry the organic free-range turkey they planned to serve us for Thanksgiving down in Florida this year, I briefly considered deep-frying her. I wasn't just skeptical of the whole endeavor; I was scared. There's a reason that people have been roasting these birds for centuries, I said: It's the best way to cook them, period. Anyway, don't you know how many accidents there are involving oversize fowl and boiling oil every year? I even sent her folks documentary evidence of the dangers of the process.
But it was too late. The Florida contingent had already bought a special turkey-frying rig (from Mississippi, where I do have to admit they know their frying), along with two three-gallon jugs of peanut oil — apparently the thing to use, judging from the photographs of deep-fried turkey adorning the package.
So. Cut to the afternoon itself. The rig consists of a low, wide, sturdy propane burner that sits on the ground; a large aluminum pot, like a big stockpot; a metal contraption that looks like one of those vertical paper-towel holders; and a hook with a large handle. Other essential pieces of equipment: flame-resistant barbecue gloves and a long heatproof thermometer. The turkey, 14 pounds worth, had been brined for 24 hours and very thoroughly rinsed and dried. It was then impaled, drumsticks up, on the paper-towel holder. The in-laws had previously, wisely, calculated the approximate displacement of liquid by filling the pot with water and lowering the creature into it, so we knew just how much oil to pour in.
On went the propane. In went the thermometer. When the oil reached 375 degrees F, it was time to bathe the bird. Father-in-law David (himself from Mississippi) put the hook through the top of the turkey-carrier, then very slowly, carefully lowered it into the cauldron. (The process is supposed to take at least one minute.) Oil hissed and spattered and flew into the air, but somehow remarkably failed to reach the flame beneath the pot — which would have turned the whole thing into a gigantic tiki torch. David watched the pot, keeping the temperature at a steady 350 degrees F (it had dropped, of course, when the turkey went in). Mother-in-law Barbara, meanwhile, was cooking up the mashed potatoes, brussels sprouts (with apples and bacon), and oyster dressing (since there'd be no drippings for gravy, she'd bought that from the local Cajun butcher). After the bird had bubbled away for not quite an hour, David deemed it done, turned off the flame (an important step), and gingerly lifted a dark golden-brown masterpiece out of the oil. It turned out to be the best turkey any of us had ever had, moist, just salty enough, and delicious; and the super-crisp skin was just magic. I apologized for my skepticism to one and all, and dug in.
David has since been bragging about his turkey-frying prowess, and Barbara sent me this follow-up report: "A friend we saw on Sunday said that each Christmas, a few days before the holiday, he orders a bunch of 12-pound turkeys and fries them up one after another (production line style), then wraps them in colorful aluminum foil and gives them as much-appreciated Christmas gifts to friends expecting many guests over the holidays. Apparently deep-fried turkeys reheat beautifully. Makes some sense once you have the oil hot, and each turkey only takes 45 minutes. The stock from the carcass, incidentally, was absolutely amazing: The deep frying was almost like roasting the bones so the stock came out unbelievably flavorful."