Boiled in Oil

The turkey you eat or the turkey who cooked it? You make the call—then call 911.

Illustration by Tom DejaOne of the first rules of Cajun cooking is, if you don’t know what it is, fry it. This holds true even for the star of Thanksgiving. For all of you who have heard of frying a turkey but have never tried it, I offer you my experience. Since both I and my home are still standing, and I have no Frequent Burn Reward Points accumulating at Christiana Hospital, I may consider myself somewhat of an expert on the matter.

All the you-name-it-marts carry 30-quart, propane-fueled vats that are officially called turkey fryers. For my first fry, I called the folks at Wesson Oil to inquire about a bulk delivery. The lady nicely suggested I go back to the store and look a little to the left or right of where the fryers were stacked. I did, and discovered the preferred oil comes from peanuts and is packaged in 3-gallon and 5-gallon containers.

Next, choose a place to put your fryer. You need to pick a place that can handle the mess (and fire hazard) that five gallons of boiling peanut oil can make. When my wife saw the equipment, the oil and me all together she thought Iraq might be a safe spot. We compromised on the garage while my wife hunted for our homeowners’ insurance policy.

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My first Fried Turkey Day arrived, and with backup reservations at a restaurant discussed and sniffily dismissed by your humble correspondent, I filled the container with the required level of oil. (There’s a whole pre-fry routine of placing your turkey in the fryer, filling the fryer with water, then removing the bird to determine how much oil needs to go in. This for you historians and mathematicians, is based on Archimedes’ principle of displacement, which Archimedes figured out on the way to a Sicilian burn center after he tried to fry a turkey in the third century B.C.)

By the way, never dump a cold or moist bird into boiling oil. As far back as the Dark Ages, when heretics were slowly lowered into vats of boiling oil by Inquisitors who knew their stuff, cooks carefully lowered room-temperature turkeys into the oil to ensure that nothing boiled over and turned the big day into the lead story of the evening news.

Finally, what to do with the oil? According to the brotherhood, strain it back into its container, then store it in a cool dark place. The oil should last up to a year and be good enough for five or six more turkeys—one each for, say, Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Memorial Day, July 4 and Labor Day—before it turns bad.

Tips for First-Timers

For those who have decided frying a turkey is as good a way to burn down your house as any, I generously provide my carefully acquired notes to you here.

1 Go to you-name-it-mart.

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2 Ask guy where the turkey fryers are.

3 Pay.

4 Go home.

5 Go to liquor store and load up.

6 Go to grocery store and buy turkey.

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7 Begin to set up fryer in garage.

8 Move cars out of garage.

9 Resume setup in garage.

10 Fill fryer with oil and heat to 350 degrees.

11 Slowly lower turkey into oil.

12 Scream for kids to ladle out oil when you see you’ve got too much and it’s going to boil over.

13 Wave off EMTs and TV news crew that wife had called when she heard all the screaming.

14 Remove bird and eat.

15 Pretend to be asleep when it’s time to clean up.

When the price of gas reaches the price of peanut oil, Reid Champagne vows to fry his car.

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