Holiday Misadventures, Part I : The Turkey

December 09, 2005

it all ends badly

Myself and the little lady ventured out to Colorado for an extended Thanksgiving break this year, at the invitation of our good friends Tomas and Karen. The invitation was for a Fourth of July celebration, but, as ever, I can't help but be fashionably late. And my parents had already decided to have an early Thanksgiving so that they might head off to visit the great Northwest, so Siana and I had an extended weekend sans family obligations to kill anyhow.

More importantly, though, Tomas had uttered the magic words: deep-fry. As in, "We're gonna deep-fry the turkey this year."

I was in.

I could tell you all about how wonderful the trip was, on the idyllic ranch spread he has out there (a frozen lake! bounding deer outside our window! the charming, if slightly horrifying barn attached to the house we slept in! stars that actually twinkle in the night sky, and thousands of them, uninterrupted by the crazy light pollution of los angeles!), but I'll try and cut to the chase: the turkey-frying was a near-complete disaster.

I got my first notion that something might be wrong when I heard Tomas arguing with his mother about whether or not she actually agreed to pick up a second turkey, an errand which she did not run. She seemed to think Tomas was crazy - and I started to realize that when Tomas said "We're gonna deep-fry a turkey," he meant just us, as in him and I, and not as in him and his family. They, in fact, would already be eating their oven-baked turkey while Tomas and I sat shivering in the windy 30 degree weather watching over a roiling pot of five gallons of oil.

The night before Turkey day, we stopped by an Ace hardware store, where the employee cobbled together parts from two separate returned fryers to create a complete single fryer set for us, as they were otherwise sold out. If any employee offers to do this for you, politely decline. I say this as a seasoned veteran now - one who realizes that in deepfrying turkey, there's already enough that can go wrong without taking your chances on some "Well, it looks like it fits okay" nonsense.

The manufacturer of the fryer (Bayou Classic) sells a 3 gallon tank of peanut oil for frying. This was conveniently placed next to where the stack of fryers once sat, so that you presumably can purchase all of your frying needs at once. The more observant readers will also notice that 3 gallons is about two shy of the five I mentioned earlier. Thank you, Bayou Classic.

meat marinade injector
The Bayou Classic Meat Marinade Injector

The morning of Thanksgiving, we got a late start. Late enough that it was less morning - more afternoon, really - and the rest of the family had already had their turkey cooking for a couple of hours. But, hey, this was frying - the box says 3 minutes per pound, so we were looking at a 45 minute cooking time. That gave us about 30 minutes to set up, so we were good.

We thought. First, we took about 30 minutes just setting up the rig. It's not rocket science, but we were easily distracted, and then there was that whole "we wanna make sure we don't blow the house up" thing. And then, when we measured the level of oil we'd need (by putting the turkey in the fryer and filling it up with water until it fully immersed the turkey), we found that we were short by a little over a gallon and a half. Oops.

the setup
The Set-Up.

Did I mention Tomas and his family live up a windy road in the hills? About 30 minutes one way from any sort of store? No? Well, they do. And as such, there was no way we could get more oil and cook without eating an hour or so after everyone else.

We frantically ransacked the houses - there are five residences on their spread - grabbing everything: sunflower oil, olive oil, vegetable oil. We dumped a couple of $10 and $15 bottles of olive oil just to get another half inch towards the three or so missing. By the time we were done, we were still almost an inch short, and there was no oil of any sort left anywhere on that property.

empty oil jugs
That's a lot of oil.

And then we turned up the heat. Heating a five gallon tub of oil to 350 degrees in the cold also takes a little bit longer than expected. So, we waited. And then we broke out the broomstick.

90 to 120 seconds to lower the turkey, the manual said. Some people use chain winches and pulleys for this shit (an uncle of Tomas', for example, had seen this done before using just such a mechanism in someone's garage. He became our resident expert, an unspoken title we'd later regret conferring upon him). Tomas and I took opposite ends of the broomstick and began rehearsing our lowering technique.

You may have heard stories of houses burning down, from turkey-fry attempts gone horribly awry. Let me say: doing this is probably incredibly easy (burning a house down, I mean).

As we held the turkey over the fryer, it began to pop and sizzle like mad as a few drops of turkey juice spilled over into the vat. This was disconcerting, but not nearly as much as when the oil boiled over, hitting the flame, and causing a small fire to creep up the side of the vat. Our response was for me to mumble "Uh, there's a fire" and Tomas to respond with "Where?," and then, well, nothing, as it didn't seem to be getting much higher. But it did start dripping flames down on the rocks, which was kind of cool looking, if not particularly safe.

lowering the turkey
Lowering the turkey. Slowly.

So, we drop the turkey in. And then we watch, worried, as the thermometer drops to about 200 degrees. It's still boiling, so we can't see in to eyeball the turkey's cooking progress. We figure maybe the turkey cooled the oil down real quick, and we just needed to wait.

Ten minutes later, we're still waiting for the temperature to go back up. So we start cranking the heat. Five minutes, no change. I suggest that maybe the thermometer is somehow stuck in the turkey and giving us a false reading. Sure, it's a straw, but I'm still gonna grasp at it. So we pull it up a bit. We notice, now that enough oil has boiled out/burnt off/been absorbed by the turkey, that the tiny bit of leg sticking out appears to be almost black. We bring out our resident expert who assures us, "No, that looks right. Some of that stuff flakes right off. It's delicious."

waiting for the temperature to rise
That thermometer is not moving.

Five minutes or so later, some one notices that the temperature now reads 50 degrees. Full bore panic mode, Tomas cranks the propane all the way up. We're giving it all we've got, and it's still not moving. We're worried.

Five more minutes - we're up to about twenty-five minutes now - and the gauge still hasn't moved. And there's no way, I realize, that the temperature could be 50 degrees for boiling oil. Frustrated, I grab the thermometer, and then I note with horror:

The needle is not moving, even as the dial spins.

I crank it to the right, and suddenly it's reading subzero temperatures. I crank it to the left, and we're in the 600 degree red range. I alert Tomas of our suddenly terminal condition - "We've been in the red the whole time!", and we all laugh hysterically at the demonstration of the screwed thermometer. Tomas cranks the heat down, knocks five minutes off of the timer, and then heads in the house for some of the Thanksgiving dinner the rest of the family has been eating for the last twenty minutes or so.

After a moment of introspection - and another look at the black turkey leg - it occurs to me that we should probably pull the thing out. I run back in and grab Tomas, who seems remarkably nonplussed. I, on the other hand, am gravely concerned.

We lift the thing out, and it is a golden . . . black. Yeah, pretty much black. And a good third of it appeared to evaporate entirely - there was webbing where once there was skin and meat.

This turkey is cooked.

Our Judas wives are quick to alert the family of the disastrous consequences of our venture. They all stream out of the house and have their laughs as Tomas and I hold each other, sobbing, robbed of our delicious deep-fried goodness. I grab the turkey leg and barely push down, snapping it in half in the process. Pictures are taken. Trying to be good sports, I pop a bit of skin in my mouth, and am overcome by the taste of pure char, as Tomas immediately spits out his bite. The family laughs some more. We cry some more.

the bite
About to be spit out.

And then the family returns to their holiday, and it's just the two of us again, cleaning up, sadly gathering our tools and worthless turkey. Momentarily and simultaneously, we pause, quietly reflecting on the experience.

And then, swear to god, the egg timer went off.

Epilogue: About an hour and a half later, someone carved deep into one of the breasts to salvage about a handful of meat. And it was, no exaggeration, the best turkey I've ever tasted. I'm not sure if that's a happy ending, or an even sadder one, as we got only a tantalizing single bite from the fruits of our labor.

Posted by starlen at December 9, 2005 01:00 AM



Posted by: test at December 10, 2005 11:42 AM

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