Sunday, November 28, 2004

Turkeys: Oh, and you're probably wondering how the Thanksgiving meal went.

Well, we did two turkeys this year--we roasted one and we deep fried one. The original plan was to smoke one and deep fry one, but we decided that if we did two experiments and they both failed, we'd not be forgiven. So we roasted the big turkey, just to make sure we had plenty of meat, and we deep fried the 12 pounder.

I brined both birds all morning in a mix of water, kosher salt, dark brown sugar, and orange juice, as per Alton Brown's I'm Just Here For The Food. I did it in a huge 5 gallon ice chest, with ice thrown in to keep the temperature low.

The fun started when my two-year-old pulled the spigot on the side open, releasing turkey-juice infected brine all over herself and my floor. After decontaminating the kid and the floor, things were uneventful until I stuck the thing in the trunk of the car to take to my parents and realized the ice box lid didn't have a lock.

Of course, all of this was out of site of relatives and onlookers, so if I didn't mention it here, no one would ever know.

The big bird was smothered in oil and thrown into a 500 degree oven for half an hour. Then we turned the temperature down to 350, stuck a triangle of foil over the breasts, and stuck a probe thermometer in the breast and set it for 161. All that was left to do with it was pull it out of the oven when we heard beeping. It would be either the thermometer or the smoke alarm, and either way it would be time to take out the bird.

In the meantime, we set up the deep fryer. Basically, this thing is a rocket engine that runs on propane. Rather than straight peanut oil, like everybody recommends, we went for about a half-and-half mix of peanut oil to canola oil. Not only is canola oil cheaper, but the smoke point is actually higher than peanut oil, making the mixture a little less temperature sensitive (fortunately for us).

As for the frying itself--you know how, when you fry something, the oil looks so still and calm and unthreatening until you toss the food item in, and then it starts to snap, crackle, and pop? This was something like that, except that from the moment the tip of the bird contacted the oil, that oil became the way the surface of the water becomes in the movies, when they want to denote that something really, really bad is happening underneath the surface, usually involving pirana.

You'd be amazed at the potential energy inside a turkey. I can understand why people use steam to power ships and turbines.

The hardest part was controlling the temperature. You're supposed to cook it between 350 and 360, but with this rocket engine down there, we were hard pressed to keep it under 400. We turned the gas off altogether at one point--a risky move, since 25 degrees too low is way worse than 25 degrees too high, but it paid off.

Deep fried bird is just as good as everybody says. Working with a scalding vat of oil is just as crazy as everybody says. Don't let the kiddies around.

The whole thing was done in 45 minutes. We set the thing up out of the box, heated the oil, and had the bird out before the roasted bird was out of the oven--that bird took just over three hours, total, which is still fast, if you're talking turkey.

We thought we had saved some money by borrowing the deep fryer from a friend, but I think it just became an ad for us buying our own. Any other year, I'd have got compliments on how good the roasted bird came out--because it was good. This year--I think it was barely noticed.

That hot vat of oil has won another family of converts. Thanks, Tako.

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