I am thrilled that the celebrations of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah are converging this year for the first time since 1888. Finally, I have justification – perhaps a blessing, even – for my practice of deep frying the holiday turkey.
During the decade or so that The Hub and I have been using this deliciously crispy cooking method, we have endured much. Sidelong glances from the health conscious. Eye-rolls from those who quote statistics about how many frying fools burn down their garages. Shocked looks from foodies who expect a food writer to cider-brine, dry-rub or hoisin-glaze the bird.
But this year, we can say we’re celebrating Hanukkah. Hanukkah marks a military victory, rededication of a temple and a one-day supply of oil that miraculously lasted eight days. So frying things in oil is a major part of the observance.
And nothing says “fried” more than a big, old turkey in a vat of hot oil.
Latkes? They’re just grated potato patties in a little slick of grease. Sufganiyot? Mere jelly-filled doughnuts in a fryer on the stove.
While the tradition of deep-fried turkey likely doesn’t go as far back as 1888, it does possess an honorable history.
Like many other good things to eat, the idea originated in the Cajun country of Louisiana. According to the food history website Food Timeline, the practice goes back at least to the early 20th century. The late Cajun cook and TV personality Justin Wilson once recalled attending a turkey fry in the 1930s.
Charleston, S.C., author John Martin Taylor writes in his book “The Fearless Frying Cookbook” (Workman, 1997) that he first saw deep-fried turkey cooked in the 1960s.
When the Times-Picayune in New Orleans published a recipe in 1984, many people in the city had never heard of deep-fried turkey. By 1992, it was one of the food section’s most requested recipes, according to “Cooking Up a Storm: Recipes Lost and Found from The Times-Picayune of New Orleans,” by Marcelle Bienvenu and Judy Walker (Chronicle, 2008).
Then Martha Stewart got hold of the idea. In 1996, a recipe appeared in her magazine, providing deep-fried turkey a soft-focus, tastefully garnished veneer of social acceptability. The bird’s popularity spread far beyond the South, all the way to Canada.
In recent years, a fried-turkey backlash has developed. Because Thanksgiving is usually a slow news day, reporters find those few souls who manage to ignite a building or a backyard with their fryers. And that deep-voiced guy on the insurance commercials isn’t helping, either.
I’ll have you know that Hub and I have never so much as set a blade of grass afire during our frying process. This is because we follow a few simple guidelines:
• Never do anything involving a turkey fryer that is preceded by the statement “Hey, hold my beer.”
• If you can’t see the sky, then do not fry. Don’t use the fryer inside buildings, beneath overhanging trees or in carports, and absolutely not in garages.
• Don’t drop that turkey into the oil like a bowling ball. Ease it in gently.
• Remember that according to the science of fluid dynamics, an object immersed in fluid displaces that fluid and pushes it out of the way. No, I never made it to that science class in high school, either. But what it means is that if you put a turkey into a pot of hot oil that is already full, that oil must go somewhere – probably onto the flaming burner, which would attract bored TV news crews forced to work a holiday.
So, try it. Even if a little incident should occur, the family will forget about it by the time the next Hanukkah-Thanksgiving convergence occurs – more than 70,000 years from now. And you won’t even need that garage for your flying car.