Falling Out of Love with Hate, Part 4: The Thermomixed Turkey Fryer Edition

(Preamble, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3)

Phil Bolger’s “Alice”, a 28′ power-cruiser

The late and much missed Phil Bolger, in Boats with an Open Mind, chapter 37, writing about his Alice design, a 28 footer, drawn to resemble an early 20th century power-cruiser, but with fewer of their vices:

Recreation suffers from thinking too hard. By definition it ought to be spontaneous. The people motoring through rivers and harbors look as though they were doing it right, but the boats they’ve been sold don’t. The designers have studied harder than is appropriate.

The boats are great performers, whatever you think of the looks of them (the stylists have been thinking too hard). They go faster, are stopped less in rough seas, and have fewer handling vices than anything that ever floated. They have accommodations on deck and below like Arabian Nights fantasies. They carry huge loads without complaint.

But none of them ever look tranquil, although their people often do. The boats look tense, affected, impatient. They’re fast, but inelegant when they slow down; able, but out of place in smooth water; comfortable, but obtrusive…

The virtues of this boat [Alice] is that she will bolster everyone’s self-satisfaction. Her owner will congratulate herself on her good taste as she admires the wood grain and the unaffected style, her good sense in taking an afternoon on the water with a foolish excess of power and equipment, and her independence in choosing distinction without pretension.

At the neighboring landings, the owners of the 70 knot catamaran on one side and the four-story seagoing condominium on the other will feel just as contented, knowing that their boats are faster, more seaworthy, more comfortable, and much more expensive.

 —

Michael Brendan Dougherty is a correspondent for the American Conservative magazine and I follow him on Twitter because he often tweets things that annoy me, but that do not annoy me so much that I become uncivil. I think this is an important thing for me to do, to make sure there are people in my intellectual firmament that challenge or provoke me. So this Thanksgiving weekend I’ll thank Michael for being just such a person.

But sometimes following Michael takes me to the edge of my tolerance.

Thursday, as we journeyed from Montauk to my wife’s family homestead in Brooklyn, Michael tweeted something that filled me with such rage I nearly unfollowed him. But instead  I want to respond to  this tweet in which he offers suggestions to “fix Thanksgiving” in the context of the value of keeping an open mind, plus that whole Thermomixed thing. Here’s the text of the tweet:

Cut the parade, move dog show up into the early morning (also, allow out-crossing for health), stop deep frying turkeys. Thanksgiving fixed.

I don’t have opinions on the parade or the dog show, but I do have a story to tell about frying turkeys and turkey fryers.

I used to live out West, Oregon. I used to do a fair amount of hunting and fishing. I used to look forward to getting the Cabela’s catalog in the mail at each turn of the season.

The Cabela’s Fall Catalog, 2005 edition

This was before the internet, so the big fat Cabela’s catalog was a way to learn about and day dream about all sorts of interesting outdoor gear from other regions, other types of hunting and fishing I didn’t do, or innovations that hadn’t made it to the shops in sleepy southern Oregon yet.

And one of the things that caught my eye was the Turkey Frying Kit.

My friend Nick used to call the Cabela’s catalog the redneck supply catalog, and in the pages of the Cabela’s catalog it was easy to imagine turkey frying to be one of those battered grotesqueries that you hear about being consumed at state fairs in fly-over country. I had visions of a 16 pound tom, encrusted in a doughy batter, deep fried into some sort of insane super-sized chicken Mc Nugget. Something that people who rode around on ATVs would do.

A stainless steel turkey frying kit

I now own a turkey fryer. I bought one a few years after we moved from New York City to Montauk. I bought it because I was (still) really curious about the idea of cooking an entire turkey in a cauldron of near boiling oil. I justified it because living in Montauk means you can eat as many clams, oysters, lobsters and crabs as you’re willing to gather; and the apparatus for deep-frying a turkey doubles as a seafood steamer. Stove-top steaming stinks up the house and never churns out the volume of food needed to support a real shindig. The turkey-fryer, with it’s 145,000 btu burner supports a clambake with ease.

But back to deep frying turkeys.

Perhaps you’d be less condescending/more intrigued by the idea if we called it “fondue bourguignonne.” That, I’ve just found out, is the fancy name for fondue featuring oil and meat instead of cheese and bread, or chocolate and strawberries. Once or twice a year my mom used to serve this. (In a house around the corner from the one Mitt Romney just bought, BTW.)

At any rate, whether or not the fancy name helps you along, there are some real benefits to cooking a turkey using the poached-in-oil method. Oil gets a lot hotter than water (poaching), and conducts heat better than air (roasting)  That means faster cooking times. Poaching a whole turkey in oil will cook at about 3 min./pound, or about 45 minutes for a Thanksgiving sized bird.

The fast cooking time and total immersion in oil does not cook off nearly as much of the birds’ natural juices as a long roast. Because oil and water do not mix, the oil does not penetrate the flesh, so banish any thoughts of a grease-ball bird from your mind.

Imagine instead, a whole 15 pound turkey cooked in three quarters of an hour, emerging from the bubbling cauldron with a perfectly crisped skin, and and moist, succulent flesh. Also imagine banishing all the Is it done yet?/back-timing anxiety that is often a part of the Thanksgiving feast.

 

A photo-illustration accompanying the Epicurious “Thanksgiving in New Orleans” article.

And if you want to go full-redneck, which is to say, completely embrace this regional/class-specific cooking method (I haven’t actually researched the origin, but the easy inference is this is a down-market, Southern, countrified folk thing to do) you can inject the bird with any sort of marinade you can think up. Store-bought vinaigrettes work fine, but between the mild, flavor-accepting nature of the meat, and your imagination, there’s really no limit.

The first time you do this you might feel pretty chuffed. You’ll be outside (this is strictly an outdoor method of cookery) standing around drinking a beer, adjusting the flame to keep a proper temperature, gabbing with friends and family, and making sure you don’t do anything stupid that results in fire, explosion, or dumping 5 gallons of boiling oil everywhere. The entire process will feel consequential, and you’ll likely feel an urge to memorialize the event with a photo and post it to the internet.

Deep frying turkeys ten at a time!

This might get you mocked.

Siva Vaidhyanathan is a media studies professor at the University of Virginia, and another person I follow on twitter because he tweets things that often challenge or provoke me. A few hours after Michael’s turkey frying tweet, Siva tweeted this:

People who deep-fry turkeys: 1) They have to tell you about it. 2) They post pictures of themselves doing it, like it’s mountain climbing.

Siva’s sentiments must resonate, apparently there’s a lot of turkey fryer hate out there, because seven people retweeted him.

Now those of you playing the home-game already know where I’m going. Megan McArdle, from In Praise of Kitchen Gadgets:

There is, of course, the joy of acquisition.  And why give that short shrift?  The high may be temporary, but the same is true of climbing a mountain.  Why valorize one over the other?

Mountain climbing indeed! I tweeted back at Siva:

“Prople [sic] who write books, they have to tell you about it….”

At any rate, I say the hell with Siva and his seven sycophants. Probably they’ve never fried a turkey, so what to they know? And if they have and have arrived at point where they can’t enjoy other people’s pride in accomplishment to the point that fried-turkey boasting annoys them enough to try and rain on other people’s parades, well you don’t need that sort of person’s approval anyway! Take a pic, share it on Twitter and I will retweet it!

A turkey fryer explosion. Make sure your turkey is completely thawed!

Last spring I went into the city for an art opening. The opening featured a piano and singer combo, artisanal bourbon tasting, and chicken satay “lollipops”.

There was also art, and the art was quilted.

The concept (this art was conceptual) was that quilting is a very American art form, so the artist had re-made iconic American paintings as quilts, paintings like American Gothic and Chistina’s World, but then to twist it a little further, he had substituted himself and his friends for the original subjects in the paintings. Also there was a very big, quilted American flag and a sixteen panel quilt wherein each panel the artist was wearing different kinds of sunglasses.

And just so you wouldn’t miss it, there were laminated placards next to each quilt with an image of the original painting and some verbiage explaining the history and substitution and whatnot.

And just in case it’s not clear from my retelling, I was not very impressed.

An art quilt

But I wasn’t there as an art critic, I was there on a business-social outing, so despite my having some pretty strong opinions about art, I was doing my best to keep them to myself.

I found myself standing next to a woman about my age. She was tall, slender and shapely. She was very well turned out. Jeans and a jean jacket, scarf knotted around her neck. She was prematurely grey, but worked it nicely with a crisp, expensive-looking haircut. Despite her causal appearance it was quite clear she had plenty of money backing up her look. She was wearing denim, well-aged, but she didn’t look shabby, she looked posh. I could tell by the way people related to her the was a bit of a queen bee. I instinctively mistrusted her. I decided I’d go with a nugget of common interest, with generous dollop of  signaling ladled over the top.

A Mennonite quilting circle

“One of the fellows I have working for me as a carpenter is a Mennonite and an artist. He told me he wants a complete report when I get back to boat shop.” In one cleverly crafted sentence I let her know I was high enough up on the economic food chain to have employees, that we were engaged in something regarded as High Craft and that I knew a little about quilting culture.

“Oh, it’s not that kind of quilting,” she parried.

Then we both retreated; I to the chicken satay lollipops, and she to the artisanal bourbon, our mutual self-satisfaction no doubt raised considerably!

“It’s not that kind of catamaran.”

 

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9 thoughts on “Falling Out of Love with Hate, Part 4: The Thermomixed Turkey Fryer Edition

  1. the only issue with deep frying turkeys are the jackanapes burning their houses down and possibly their neighbors as well. never had it, seems tasty enough.
    • It is delicious. Any poultry we’ve tried works. Whole chickens. Whole turkey breasts. Of course you can do traditional friend chicken too. Dredge the chicken parts in seasoned flour and in they go. When they’re golden brown, they’re ready.

      When I realized it was just a nearly industrial version of what my mother used to serve, I tried a whole beef roast. It worked, but nothing was added; if anything the beef roast was less tasty than if we had oven roasted it.

      • I have had deep-fried turkey and it is delicious. Meat crack.

        I bought & used one of these last year – while it is not quite as fast as using oil, and I don’t know if it could be used as a seafood steamer, the bird was damn good (I have also done dry-rubbed beef roasts in it, also great), and it is a lot safer/easier than working with gallons of oil (uses propane, no oil purchase or disposal required).

      • Now that looks interesting, I’ve been avoiding the fryers because I didn’t want to deal with the oil remains.
  2. It does seem that, regardless of the taste merits of the deep-fried turkey (I’ve not had one. I’ve been to places where it’s been done but have been a vegetarian well over a decade now.), it’s an _odd_ choice for _Thanksgiving._ I mean, you have to cook it outside, and then it’s actually sort of a fast process, relatively speaking. I mean, that and the occasional screwup torching his garage, but frankly I’m OK with that and even think maybe we should traditionally fry turkeys on Independence day or somethin’.

    I typically have a lot of folks over and grill a turkey for the others — which, yeah, you have to do outside, but once it’s up and going you basically are still inside having wine and olives with the guests and then you pop out every half hour or so, and it’s cooking, and there’s a big production. I guess you could do something similar. It’s just harder to get the same festive thing, no? A couple times it’s turned out the prepondeance of guests have been vegetarian and then there’s been a lot of struggle to come up with something similar, where you pop it in the oven as the guests are arriving, and you all relax while its smell fills the place, then a couple hours later (at least) you pull it and it’s a big presentation and you continue to sit with wine and appetizers and chatter as it cools/finishes cooking and you all sort of drift in to the table. I’m sure you _could_ do that well with a fryer — maybe even better since there’s less absolute variance in the cooking time. But I’ve not seen it done well. Maybe just best to save the fried turkey for those informal party-in-my-garage occasions, like a pig roast for a smaller crowd.

  3. Siva was onto something in his “have to tell you about it” comment. But what he was onto is just the same.old.thing. People get excited about stuff other people aren’t doing, and they like to talk. Which leads me to this …

    The only reason I can see to get a turkey frier is to can pour manygallons of water into the boiling oil after bird-reclamation. I’ve done that on a small scale out in the wilds, on river trips, with bacon grease in a beer can. I’m really drawn to the pyrotechnic potential a turkey fryer offers.

    I’ll be sure to tell you about it if I manage to do this. It’s like climbing a mountain!

    • The combination of superheated steam, boiling oil, and fat-fueled flame that would erupt within seconds would be not merely visually spectacular but also an excellent way to flash-fry yourself into third-degree burns over a significant percentage of your body.

      For a preview, find the videos of firefighters demonstrating why the turkey has to be totally thawed, and notice how far away from the fryer they stand when they lower the thing in.

      Stay safe out there, dude. The difference between a beer can with some grease in it and five gallons of oil in a wide-mouthed pot is the same as the difference between a playful tabby cat and a hungry Bengal tiger.

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