This all began Oct. 31 , 2010, when a group of friends met at Port Aransas’s Back Porch Bar for the annual Turkey Bowling competition. While we were sitting around waiting for the contest to begin, of course we got to talking about our individual plans for the upcoming Thanksgiving Day feast. I mentioned that sadly, I had never had fried turkey. Randy mentioned that he had a boiling pot and before you know it, he had volunteered to dust it off and fry a turkey for anyone in attendance who wanted one.
Emails followed as the details of the Great Turkey Fry began to coalesce. First, the date: Wednesday, Nov. 24th. Then, the specs for the turkey: maximum size, 15 to 18 pounds, due to the size of the pot. Cooking time: 3 minutes per pound. Minimum number of turkeys that Randy was willing to cook: 4. Maximum number of turkeys that Randy was willing to cook: 8. Maximum number of beers he was willing to drink while cooking: undetermined.
Mother Nature would have to cooperate. Winds greater than 15 knots or a greater than 30 percent chance of rain would be grounds for cancellation.
As the fateful day approached, the Great Turkey Fry took on marathon proportions. Critical mass was attained; there would be 8 turkeys to cook, so Randy pleaded for birds no bigger than 15 pounds as he was already looking at 6 hours of cooking time and he didn’t think that he could drink beer that long. Turkey owners were told to have their birds thoroughly thawed and already seasoned to taste. He offered to fry an initial Quality Assurance bird to cut up and taste test and requested that we guests bring complimentary sides and beverages. While this was not intended to be a party in the usual sense, some degree of partying seemed to be appropriate, for as Randy asked, “what else are you going to do around a bunch of turkeys…..bowl with ’em?”
With great anticipation, on Sunday the 21st I took my frozen turkey out of the freezer and put it in the refrigerator to thaw.
The night before the Great Turkey Fry found me wrestling to pry the giblets from a bird that was still a little icy. After many rinsings, I got it thawed enough to season. No Cajun spices for me, thank you. I stuck with a more traditional sprinkling of seasoned salt and pepper. Now, to butter or not to butter the skin, that was the question. I buttered it, which Randy pointed out later was superfluous, since the turkey was being fried in oil. Duh. I then baked up my certainly-famous-by-now spiced pumpkin bread to bring along for snacking.
Wednesday’s weather was warm and dry with light winds. I reported at noon to the Great Turkey Fry with bird, pumpkin bread and a couple of bottles of wine. I had queried an oenophile friend as to what made a good wine-and-fried-turkey pairing and he suggested a dry rosé, which I had failed to find, so I picked up the second-best recommendations: Riesling and an Old Vine Zinfandel.
Randy sent out a last minute plea for newspaper on which to drain the turkeys. (Past issues of the Island Moon work out very well for this.) When I arrived slightly after noon, hosts Lu Ann and Randy had been busy for hours, watering down the deck, setting up a windbreak, putting a fire extinguisher within easy reach and corralling curious pets inside the house. Randy had already fried the QA turkey and had carvings out to sample. Oh, my word, was that ever good!
My turkey was next in line for frying but it was still too damp, so many paper towels were pressed into service (and into the turkey). Randy showed me a neat trick: cut a slit in the skin and tuck the wings into it so they don’t flap around and get overdone. He then positioned the turkey on the rack, snagged the loop on top of the rack with his custom turkey-frying hook and lowered the turkey into the hot oil, very slowly so the oil wouldn’t splatter. He inserted the cooking thermometer, relit the propane (always turn off the propane before inserting the turkey and before removing it) and cooking commenced.
More turkeys arrived, along with people, crackers and cheese, chips and dips, fruit and beer. One after the other, turkeys went into the hot oil, each one coming out more goldenly-brown and beautiful than the one before. While folks in other parts of the country were bundled up against freezing and near-freezing temperatures, we were all sitting around on Randy’s deck wearing shorts and getting sunburned, except for Randy who was dressed appropriately for turkey frying safety: cotton clothing, long sleeves, long pants, secure and sturdy footwear, safety goggles and heavy gauntlets.
Now you would think that by Thursday I would be so eager to eat my very own first fried turkey that I’d have it for breakfast. Actually, I ended up eating a traditional roasted turkey dinner with some other friends at Trout Street Bar and Grill at 104 West Cotter Street. The folks at Trout Street put on one mean feast and I had so many leftovers, I didn’t get to my fried turkey until Sunday. Essentially, the entire turkey was a leftover, but it was nevertheless delicious. Toasts to my hosts! Randy and LuAnn are in real danger of having me show up on their doorstep next Thanksgiving Eve, dry rosé and raw turkey in hand.