Fried turkey and Thanksgivukkah

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fried-turkey.colorI think Thanksgivukkah was designed for Jews in the South. After all, who knows better how to combine oil and food than Southerners. They perfected the art of frying chicken, green tomatoes, pickles, okra, moon pies (a Southern chocolate/marshmallow/graham cracker delicacy) and fish accompanied by fried hush puppies and French fries.

I even found a recipe for Deep-Fried Pecan Pie. How much more Thanksgivukkah can you get than Deep-Fried Pecan Pie!? Oh, I forgot — the deep-fried turkey, of course, a big Southern specialty!

I am all for celebrating the holidays, and gastronomical celebrations are my specialty. But this Thanksgivukkah phenomenon is testing my culinary limits. You know I willingly and eagerly make potato latkes (hundreds of them) every year. I use plenty of oil and enjoy every greasy morsel. I even like the way the house stinks for days, inside and out. You can smell those latkes coming up the driveway.

I am willing to stretch my boundaries a bit for Thanksgivukkah — sweet potato latkes, maybe a few fried green tomatoes, but fried turkey? What would bubbe say? I have spent years perfecting her method of marinating the turkey overnight in a rub made with lots of fresh garlic, salt, pepper and a few other seasonings. I even use a little oil to rub down the turkey.

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I’m not afraid of a little oil, but dunking a whole turkey in a huge vat of boiling oil is just taking this whole thing way too far. I can’t, I won’t, I refuse to do it!

On the other hand, I couldn’t resist calling a few friends to find out how they do it — and why. In the process, I was given a recipe, some helpful tips and an offer to come over and join in the fun. Everyone raved about the crispy skin, the moist tender meat and the amazing flavor. I also learned this is no job for wimps.

I learned that frying turkeys is generally a man’s job (one less thing for the women cooks to worry about). There are a whole set of tools and gadgets — turkey fryers (electric or gas, gas being the more macho), turkey stands, big spear like forks and heavy duty mitts and aprons to prevent serious injury.

They are cooked outside on a driveway covered with butcher paper to catch the splattering grease. No kids allowed. Only men standing around smoking cigars while they watch the turkey boil in oil (more room in the kitchen for the rest of us).

They are done in about 45 minutes. How are these men ever going to appreciate the days spent toiling in the kitchen to prepare a proper Thanksgiving feast?

I don’t know, maybe next year.

As for me, I will continue to work on combining my acquired Southern Thanksgiving traditions combined with the oily mandate of Chanukah. The fried turkey is out, even though I have friends who have been frying their turkeys for years without even a hint of influence from Chanukah. Maybe I can turn the old standbys — squash casserole and corn casserole — into a fried corn and squash fritter (the Southern version of a latke).

It’s worth a try — for a holiday that only occurs once every 77,000 years!

Fried Turkey (if you dare)
Esther Schuster
Prep time: 20 minutes plus marinate overnight
Cook time: 45 minutes
Yield: Turkey for 12
1 12-14 pound turkey, giblets removed
1/2-3/4 cups Italian salad dressing
2-3 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon black pepper or cayenne depending on your preference
2-3 tablespoons fresh or dried minced garlic or garlic powder
1 tablespoon of any other spices you like on a turkey*
3-4 gallons of peanut oil
* Some people do a Cajun style fried turkey adding cayenne pepper and other Cajun spices

Clean turkey and remove giblets.
To measure the amount of oil needed to fry the turkey, put the turkey in the fryer pot and add water until the turkey is completely submerged. Remove the turkey and then mark the water line with a crayon or marker indicating the amount of oil you will need to fry the turkey. Remove the water from the pot and thoroughly dry the fryer pot. Having too much oil can cause a fire. The pot should not be more than 3/4 full or the oil could overflow when the turkey is added. The fryer should be dry before adding the oil.

Dry the turkey well, inside and out, with paper towels. Mix the salt, garlic, black pepper and any other spices together in a bowl. Add the salad dressing and mix well. Rub the spiced marinade inside the cavity of the turkey and on the skin. Separate the skin from the breast meat and massage the marinade onto the meat with your hands. Put the turkey on a large sheet tray and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight or up to 24 hours.

An hour before you are ready to cook the turkey, remove the turkey from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature. Fill the deep-fryer to the marked line with peanut oil and preheat to 400 degrees F.

Once the oil is hot and the turkey is at room temperature, very carefully lower the turkey into the hot oil. Turn the temperature to 350° and make sure the oil maintains its 350° temperature while frying. Do not leave the turkey unattended while cooking.

Fry the turkey until the skin is dark golden brown and crisp, or until the internal temperature of the breast reaches 155 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer, roughly 45 minutes or 3 1/2 minutes per pound. Carefully remove the turkey from the oil and let it rest and drain on a wire rack, about 30 minutes. The internal temperature will rise to 165 degrees F while resting.

Transfer the turkey to a serving platter, carve and enjoy.

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