Around this time last year, a colleague who was long on culinary passion and short on storage space offered me a brand new Butterball Digital Electric Turkey Fryer, that claimed to be suitable for use indoors. I am, if nothing else, not the least bit risk-averse when it comes to big cooking projects and somewhat of a glutton for peril.
And, quite frankly, I've gotten a tad fed up with some media's seeming obsession with making people panic that if shopping benchmarks aren't achieved by a certain point, all will be lost, family will disown you and your dog will regard you with a mixture of pity and disdain.
I set out to prove that one can indeed be birdless, mid-afternoon and have a company-worthy turkey by early evening, and that deep-frying doesn't have to spell disaster - if you exercise appropriate caution.
While peanut is, per the deep-fryer's directions, the preferred oil for flavor and smoke point, this is Park Slope, Brooklyn and not Macon, Georgia. The bottles of peanut oil are wee and costly, so I settle for two large three-quart handles of store-brand corn oil at $7.49 a pop. The 12.85-pound fresh bird runs me $20.43. Homeward.
2:55 p.m. – Change into non-flammable dress, tights and hard boots, Tie hair back remove wedding rings and pre-locate protective apron, mitts and goggles. I am not an ex-metalsmith and the daughter of a chemist for nothing. Plus, it all just adds a fabulous sense of occasion.
3:00 p.m. – It's the device's maiden fry, so it's irksome to find that the cord isn't long enough accommodate placement on the kitchen tiles, away from cabinets, the fridge and other splashable surfaces as I'd planned. Luckily I find that a countertop a foot from the the door to my Barbie-sized backyard offers a stable base and easy access to pavement upon which I can stop, drop and roll should I perchance ignite.
3:15 p.m. – The turkey was touted as "fresh," but its exile to back-of shelf Siberia left ice crystals, palpable through the plastic wrapping. Those would, if every single video on the internet is to be believed, cause the heated oil to Vesuvius out of the fryer upon contact. I lower the bagged bird into a galvanized, skull-emblazoned party tub full of cool water and start scheming about seasoning.
3:34 p.m. – I note on Eater.com that Iron Chefs Mario Batali and Michael Symon are engaged in a Twitter battle over turkey treatment. Batali is stumping for wet brine while Symon says it makes for mush – just season the night before.
My last second decision leaves no real room for either - just self recrimination. Still, it also indicates that the eschewing of brine isn't necessarily a damnation to the far reaches of Cardboardia. Then I remember that my nephews-in-law have in the past used my homemade dry-rub to season their deep-fried birds at Christmas. Run pell-mell to cookbook shelves to paw through Karmel and Raichlen tomes and lightly alarm the dogs.
3:45 p.m. – I cobble together 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup Kosher salt, 1/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons of sweet paprika (husband hates hot spice), 1/4 cup of fresh black pepper, 2 Tablespoons each of dry mustard, celery seed, onion powder and garlic powder, 1 Tablespoon of coriander and a few solid shakes of dried thyme.
This all goes into a Pyrex measuring cup, and I mix it with my fingers, rubbing out lumps. It smells...promising.
4:00 p.m. – I unwrap, rinse and blot the bird dry inside and out with paper towels after removing the neck, giblet bag and device that looks as if it's used to restrain wayward poultry in the back of a paddywagon until they can be dropped off at the drunk tank.
Unnerve the dogs a bit further by performing impromptu puppet show with hand up bird. Then rub mixture thickly in cavity, under the skin and on all external surfaces and jam the giblets back down inside.
4:23 p.m. – Pour in the oil - which fails to reach the "max fill" line and fret a moment. Then I close the lid, plug in the cord and - oh my - a light comes on. This is no longer a whim. The thing works and pretty soon, I'll be faced with the prospect of lowering a nearly 13-pound bird into six quarts of 375° oil. Alone. In my kitchen.
I set the countdown clock - approximately four minutes per pound, but what's important is achieving an internal temperature of 165°F - and check Twitter.
4:30 p.m. – Well, Twitter is pretty much telling me I'm going to die in a horrifying sizzle. All and sundry commence Tweeting links to cautionary videos. Right pointer finger knuckle spontaneously begins gushing blood for reasons I do not understand. I peer outside for raining frogs and swarming locusts. Bet they'd be great deep-fried.
4:53 p.m. – The oil timer tolls. It tolls for me.
4:59 p.m. – I'm sure I look like a chemist with a leather fetish - biker jacket, goggles, motorcycle boots - but better safe than scalded. I lift the fryer basket with the enclosed stainless-steel two-pronged grappling hook and open the fryer lid. It's daunting in there, roiling and popping audibly. I inhale deeply, ignore the flick and throb of a mid-back spasm and begin to lower the bird, millimeter by millimeter into the oil.
It protests, surging up angrily, but I maintain my glacial pace until the basket hits the bottom of the fryer, frothing oil fully claiming the bird. I shut the lid.
5:00 p.m. – My. House. Smells. AWESOME. It's like the most bewitching Chinese restaurant has opened up a branch in my very own kitchen, minus the green-hued oranges and Maneki Neko figurine beside a pot of lucky bamboo. Twitter friends are still predicting my doom, but the heady scent of frying meat and spice somehow melts away the fret.
5:13 p.m. – Kenny, my friend and dog walker (I forgot to call and cancel) comes walking in, sniffing the air. He says he can smell it all the way out to the sidewalk and agrees that it's pretty darned heavenly.
5:45 p.m. Kenny and the dogs return, and he asserts that it's wafting even further. His own wife had gotten deeply into a cooking project the other night and he'd found himself, hunger-mad at the rich, meaty air, bursting into his apartment hissing, "What...did...you...DO?" We chat for a bit and then...
5:50 p.m. – Bing! Turkey's done. Kenny offers encouragement and caution as he departs, saying he doesn't want to be the one identified in the police report as the last person who'd seen me alive. Heh.
I lower the dial, unplug the unit, re-dress in my paranoia gear and lift the lid oh, so slowly. Would that this video were in smell-o-vision.
The grappling hook comes back out and I ease the basket from the bottom, hooking it into a position several inches above the churn and take the bird's internal temperature. Perfect. It must drain for ten minutes, but I begin picking at the leg meat and skin with tongs. It's sweet, smoky and sumptuously moist and suddenly, I'm ravenous. I spear the liver with a fork and wander around dazed and munching.
6:02 p.m. – At 2:30, I was turkeyless. Three hours and thirty-two minutes later, I have a miraculous, crispy-skinned, deeply flavorful whole bird, fit to serve whomever should just happen on by. I have one quite specific guest in mind, so I limit myself to a couple of feral gnaws at a drumstick, foil tent the pan where it's now resting and stash it in the oven on low.
7:35 p.m. – The dogs jump up. I hear my husband's key in the lock. He enters the living room, sniffing the air.
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