So, you feel like giving deep-fried turkey a try? OK, but don't say that I didn't warn you. (Somehow, I don't feel warm and toasty about a cooking method that almost burned down my friend's garage.) Here's my recipe, with lots of tips and caveats.
Cajun Deep-Fried Turkey
Makes 10 to 12 servings
Every time I turned around, another person was telling me about how deep-fried turkey was the best method known to man. A quick Internet search revealed hundreds of deep-fried turkey sites, all with guaranteed recipes, some only a couple of paragraphs long to describe what is not a procedure for inexperienced cooks. (The most detailed was from my friend “Hoppin’” John Taylor, from his The Fearless Frying Cookbook.) Some of my guests did love the crisp golden skin and moist tender meat. It certainly is the quickest way to cook a bird--about three minutes a pound.
For years it has been a staple at Cajun-country cookouts, where it makes sense. In Louisiana at church suppers where they are cooked outdoors in 10-gallon pots on propane burners with lots of lard from the local hogs, deep-fried turkeys are no hassle. Outside of the Bayou, I have my reservations. When I first started frying turkey, I had to gather a battery of equipment, including a ten-gallon stockpot with fryer insert and a propane ring, at a professional restaurant supplier. Now, you can buy inexpensive outdoor deep-fryer kits just about anywhere.
•Of all the turkey cooking methods, this takes the most organization. You must keep your wits about you, so stay out of the Bloody Marys. Also, discourage kids and pets from coming around the pot.
•Place the propane burner on a level dirt or grass surface. There are heatproof protectors (they look like big doormats) designed for grills that also work for deep-fryers. Splattering oil will stain concrete driveways, and wood decks could catch fire. Do not fry turkeys in attached buildings, such as garages, or near bushes. Of course, in inclement weather, the area must be covered. Do not leave the burner, not even a second. I made this mistake, and when I returned, found that some paper had blown into the burner and started a scary fire. Have a fire extinguisher or baking soda nearby.
•You will get oil on your clothes, so wear old ones. An apron is not enough protection.
•Many of those Internet recipes from pseudo-gourmets inject the bird with spicy liquid seasonings from a marinating syringe, although the herbs and spices in the recipe I tried wouldn’t go through the tiny nozzle. Anyway, this seasoning detracts from the natural turkey flavor. It does absolutely no good to season the bird with salt, pepper, spice rubs, or the like, as they wash off into the oil. Also, additional moisture will only increase the chances of the oil bubbling over. Allow each person to season their own serving with salt, pepper and hot red pepper sauce. A squeeze of fresh lemon juice is also an excellent accent. If you think I am crazy and want to inject flavorings, look at some other sites for ideas.
•Buy the vegetable oil at a wholesale price club or Asian grocer for the best price. While Cajuns often use rendered lard, and many cooks suggest expensive peanut oil, regular vegetable oil works just as well. Save the oil container, as you will probably need it to dispose of the used oil. Let the oil stand overnight in the pot to cool completely, then funnel it back into its container for disposal.
•Do not even think about using the oil again. It is very easy for previously-used oil to catch when reheated. You must factor in the oil into your budget. And seriously consider how you will dispose of the dirty cooking oil. My township’s health department told me to flush it. If you have a septic tank, pour the cooled oil back into its original container, and take it to your local dump.
•Heat the oil to 390° F, using a long-stemmed deep-frying thermometer to gauge the heat. Watch the oil carefully, because if begins to smoke (usually around 410° F), the turkey will have an off flavor. When the turkey is added to the hot oil, the temperature will drop. Adjust the heat as needed to keep the oil around 365° F.
•The amount of oil called for here works for a 10-pound turkey. To double-check the amount of oil needed, place the turkey in the pot and fill the pot with water until it reaches one to two inches above the turkey. To allow for the inevitable oil bubbling, the pot must never be more than two-thirds full. Remove the turkey and measure the amount of water. Dry the turkey and the pot very well to reduce splattering.
•The frying basket keeps the turkey from touching the bottom of the pot, where it could burn. It is not an optional tool. If you can’t locate a basket, place a large collapsible metal vegetable steamer or colander in the pot before adding the oil. Some deep-fried turkey equipment suppliers sell turkey holders, a kind of hook that looks like a fireplace holder, that can be used to lower the bird into the hot oil.
•Small 10 to 14-pound turkeys work best. If you have a lot of guests, cook two birds. Cover the first bird loosely with aluminum foil to keep warm as the second bird fries.
•Do not stuff turkeys for deep-frying. Bake your favorite dressing on the side.
•If you want gravy, buy some and spike it with bourbon and red pepper sauce.
•Be sure your propane tank is full. You don’t want to run out of gas in the middle of frying.
One 10- to 14- pound fresh turkey, neck and giblets reserved for another use, and fat from the tail area discarded
5 gallons vegetable oil, as needed
Salt, pepper, hot red pepper sauce, and fresh lemon wedges, for serving
One 10- to 12- gallon stockpot
Large deep-frying basket insert for stockpot
A 12-inch propane gas burner with at least 100,000 BTUs (an electric hot plate will not work)
A long-pronged deep-frying thermometer for outdoor frying, or a conventional deep-frying thermometer attached to a long piece of flexible wire
A large roasting pan
1. Rinse the turkey well, inside and out, with lukewarm water to help remove the chill from the bird. Pat the turkey completely dry, inside and out, with lots of paper towels. If the turkey is too cold or has any moisture at all on its surface, the oil will splatter dangerously when the turkey is added to the pot. Fold the turkey wings akimbo behind the shoulders. Remove the hock lock and do not tie the drumstick together. Place the turkey on a large wire rack and let it stand while heating the oil.
2. Place the stockpot on the burner and add enough oil to reach two-thirds up the sides of the pot. Attach the deep-frying thermometer. (If using a conventional thermometer, attach it to the pot handle with thin, flexible wire so its tip is submerged 1 to 2 inches into the oil.) Light the fire and heat the oil to 390° F. This will take about 30 minutes, depending on the burner’s efficiency. Be sure that the flames are not licking the outside of the pot.
3. Place the well-drained turkey, breast first, in the basket. Wearing oven mitts, carefully lower the basket into the oil. The oil will bubble up dramatically, so don’t be surprised. Lift up the turkey, and dip it again into the oil 3 or 4 times before leaving it in the pot. This allows the oil temperature to gradually adjust to the turkey and prevents the oil from boiling over. Fry the turkey, allowing about 3 1/2 minutes per pound, until golden and a meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh registers 175° F (the temperature will rise 5° to 10° F while the turkey stands), about 45 minutes. Adjust the heat as needed to maintain the oil temperature at 365° F.
4. Lift the basket out of the oil and transfer to the roasting pan. Drain the turkey completely, especially the body cavity, allowing the oil to drain into the pan. Let the turkey stand for at least 20 minutes before carving. Carve and serve, letting each guest season the turkey with salt, pepper, hot pepper sauce, and lemon juice.