Turkey delight for Father’s Day

Paul Smith
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I ate way too much last weekend. Although I took two long bicycle rides and a walk with a heavy backpack, I know there’s no way I could possible have burned off all those calories.

But they were good calories, with the exception maybe of the chocolate cheesecake and the homemade french fries. I will, however, survive. I had a full week to eat more sensibly and exercise to my heart’s content. Then there will surely come another weekend of outdoor cooking and overeating.

Was it Garfield that said, “ A little overeating never hurt anyone”? He’s a smart cat, makes a fool out of the family dog and appreciates fine lasagna.

As I write, it’s Sunday night, a great time to do a little writing in the peace and quiet that settles over my house once all the kids have fluttered off to their own nests.

Today was Father’s Day and they were all here. I certainly wouldn’t want it any other way. My youngest daughter Alley came home from MUN Friday evening, and Megan and Andy, along with my 17-month-old granddaughter Rory, showed up today around noon.

When there’s a special day on our family calendar, whether it’s a birthday or whatever, food is a crucial element of the celebration.

We all love the culinary arts. I suppose you could say we are genuine foodies. We watch the Food Network and never miss an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s TV series “Parts Unknown,” aired on CNN. You can’t beat travel and food mixed together.

On occasions like Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter and the like, we generally get together and cook up a storm.

When there’s a birthday, the honoree gets to decide whether a nice restaurant or home cooking is in order. Father’s Day is at the beginning of summer and the start of another outdoor cooking season. I almost invariably opt for a backyard barbecue, usually steak and lobster. But this year I decided to try something a little different.

I’ve been hearing rave reviews about deep fried turkey. I’ve wanted to give it a try for some time now. Goldie discouraged me, telling me about folks who burnt their houses down playing around with several gallons of flammable liquid atop a high output propane burner. It does sound pretty ominous.

But the prospect of moist turkey cooked to perfection and wearing a crispy golden brown skin got the better of me. And I’m not the timid sort when it comes to new experiences. I did fly to outback Russia in search of big salmon. I drove a car on the wrong bloody side of the road in Galway to fish a river for seatrout in Connemara.

I dropped by Canadian Tire and picked up a turkey fryer.

I’m writing at my computer in my house, so I didn’t burn it down. There was no fat fire. I didn’t even bother the Spaniard’s Bay Volunteer Fire Department. They give plenty of time to their community and the last thing I would want is to bother them on Father’s Day. Hopefully they all enjoyed their special day with their own families.

I did keep a fire extinguisher handy just in case. And I set up my deep fryer well clear of my house, deck, or any other wooden structures. A concrete patio is ideal and I have one in the backyard.

Otherwise, you need to use a single concrete slab or a similar hard flat surface. A paved driveway would do. Just make sure if you hanker a deep fry to set up the kit on a level hard surface.

Bad stuff happens when a pot containing 25 plus litres of 350-degree cooking oil topples over. If you don’t get severely burned by the hot oil, the fire that follows when the oil ignites from contact with the propane flame will certainly put life and limb in peril.

But don’t let this dire warning scare you. Burner stands are very stable, as long as they are set on a firm, level surface. However, don’t ever let kids play around the turkey frying area.

I love beer while I’m backyard cooking. Turkey frying is an absolute exception. You will want to have 100 per cent of your wits about you. Have a drink while the cooked turkey is resting and the oil is cooling. Beer goes nicely with the turkey as well, or wine, if that’s your speed.

It is very important to read all the instructions thoroughly before deep frying a turkey. Infernos happen when the oil in the pot overflows onto the flame. Watch a video on this. It is very nasty.

William Shatner and State Farm Insurance have a bunch of videos posted on YouTube. If the captain of a starship can almost burn his house down, so can you. Be cautious and take all precautions.

It is absolutely critical not to have too much oil in the cooker. You have to heat the oil to around 325 Fahrenheit before dropping the bird.

If you use too much oil the cooker will flow over, and boom! Up you go in a not-so-glorious blaze.

The best and most certain way to get the correct measure on the oil is to place the turkey in the empty cooker and pour in water until the turkey is just covered; an inch over the bird’s rear end is plenty.

Then pull out the turkey, let it drain in the cooker and mark the water level on the side of the cooker with a light pencil mark. That’s the level to which you fill the oil.

The next step is to heat the oil to 325 F. Some instructions say 350, but they all agree that you should never, ever let the oil reach 400. That is the point at which cooking oil could combust and you’d have a serious fire on your hands.

While the oil is heating up, you can apply whatever rub you prefer to the bird and dry it off. Water and oil do not mix. Moisture is what makes the oil bubble up.

So when it’s time to drop the bird, do so very slowly. Allow a minute before the turkey is fully immersed.

Once the bird is settled away in the cooker, maintain the oil temperature at 325 by turning the flame up or down. Your oil temperature will drop first when you drop in the bird.

Oh, and one more thing — an important safety precaution: turn off the flame while you are immersing the turkey into the oil. If some oil does spill over, at least it won’t ignite. And wear long sleeves, gloves and a pair of safety goggles.

Deep-fried turkey is a backyard culinary delight, moist and juicy inside and crisp on the outside. It’s the best turkey I’ve ever eaten.

I might try one at the cabin next fall or winter. If you have any favourite outdoor recipes, please share. Drop me a line.

 Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay, fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity. He can be contacted at flyfishtherock@hotmail.com.

Organizations: Food Network, Canadian Tire, William Shatner and State Farm Insurance

Geographic location: MUN, Russia, Galway

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