Friday, November 18, 2005
Let's be honest. A roasted turkey sports a fine figure while sitting in the middle of a holiday table, but if you take away the warm oven heat, the family camaraderie, the smell of dessert and all the little side items that bring out the flavor, you're basically left with white protein matter that gets caught easily between the teeth. Freshly baked turkey meat, despite names like "Butterball," has about the same dry consistency it will have coming out of the refrigerator tomorrow afternoon. It isn't easy keeping the moisture in, no matter how many times you baste it or how tightly you wrap it in its silly-looking oven bag. The meat just doesn't hold water.
More and more people are coming to grips with this sad reality and admitting to themselves that Grandma's roasted turkey wasn't really all that much to shout about without Grandma standing behind it. This is one of the many reasons that other cooking options are catching on across the nation. Frying is one appealing method that's catching on particularly in the South, where we even fry pickles. And, hey, why not? We've been frying turkey's little cousin the chicken for eons—and the best part about it is it really makes a difference.
Take Jackson resident and turkey fryer extraordinaire Rhenolda Baker. Baker, contrary to his name, has been deep-frying God's little feathered creations for almost a decade and he's gotten marvelously good at it. He's been developing a recipe using a gorgeous blend of Cajun spices, injected directly into the meat, that's so good a turkey would probably eat its own mother if she were fried in it. Don't bother trying to cajole the recipe out of him, though.
"It's called a secret recipe for a reason," Baker says guardedly. "Everybody's cooking turkeys, but the crowning difference in ours is the recipe. It came from a childhood friend in New Orleans, and we've been building on it ever since."
For $25, Baker and his partners at 3R's Cajun Fried Turkeys can cook whatever bird you bring them, or for $35 he can supply the turkey for you and have it ready in about a day. For $5 more, he'll slice and prepare the dish in a ready-to-serve container sure to impress your family and friends.
If you're independent-minded, you're welcome to invest in your own $100 deep fryer and take a chance with your own untried recipe, but Baker warns that there are certain considerations that really need to be taken into account before you get down to business.
First of all, the kind of deep fryer that can accommodate something as big as a full-grown turkey is not a tiny device that belongs on your countertop. The fryer will contain almost enough frying grease to fully cook a small child, so you can imagine what it can cook on you if it somehow gets upended. Keep the thing outside—no matter how pleasantly the picture on the box depicts the fryer in a kitchen. And keep it at least 20 feet away from any nearby building.
Another very serious word of warning: Do not drop a dripping wet bird into 350-degree grease. The resulting explosion could potentially deep-fry any neighbors diligently raking leaves in their yards many feet away. Beyond gasoline and sparks, nothing blows like hot grease and cold water—and, again, that's a lot of grease you're working with.
Now that you're past the downside of frying, let's get to the cooking method. Optimum frying temperature, according to Baker and other professionals, is 350 degrees. Any hotter and you get a blackened husk with raw insides, fit only for terriers. Too low and the thing will take all day cooking, soaking up enough oil to be designated a petroleum reserve. Once the temperature's right, however, the turkey should be allowed about three to four minutes of frying time per every pound.
"The best way to know it's done is by using a cooking thermometer," Baker says. "Get one, or don't bother frying. There's really no way to tell if the bird is done by just looking at it. The insides should be 160 degrees."
Call Baker for advice or great food at 601-362-6248 or visit him at 1248 Forest Ave. in Jackson.