Looking to get that holiday turkey on the table in an hour without sacrificing taste, texture, or appearance? The science of deep frying might be your solution.
In our imaginations, holiday turkeys emerge Norman Rockwell style, nestled in serving platters alongside tastefully placed garnishes. Dinner guests gaze in awe as the perfect slices fall onto their plates, and then sigh with pleasure when the turkey tastes as good as it looks. Unfortunately, reality often has us tossing a bird onto a plate and then rushing a great-looking entrée with the texture of sawdust to the table—an hour after the scheduled dinner time. However, with a little scientific knowledge and some advance preparation, we can solve these problems and prepare a succulent turkey within an hour.
In the past, we have conquered the traditional roast turkey, used tissue culture equipment to make the perfect turkey, and even moved the process outdoors for smoking. Each of these methods takes hours for the perfect results. To speed things up, this year we borrowed from a cooking method popular in the Southeastern US: deep frying.
For some, deep frying immediately conjures fears of heavy, greasy food that leads to obesity and all of its related health ills. For others, it brings to mind painful oil burns and vows to never go near a vat of hot oil again. So why bother with frying at all?
In deep frying, foods are submerged entirely in hot oils, which transfers heat from the pot directly into the food via convection currents. This is less efficient than placing the meat directly on the pan, but far more efficient than roasting it in the oven, where a turkey will take about three times as long to cook and lose far more of its moisture. Since oil heats to well above the temperatures of boiling water while gradually cooking the interior of the food, it simultaneously dries, crisps, and browns the surface.
How oil conditions the surface of the meat is probably the biggest selling point for deep frying a turkey. Turkey skin is composed mainly of water, fat, and collagen. To turn this rubbery, slippery, and entirely unappetizing coat into something edible, a cook must first dissolve the collagen in the skin’s water, converting it to gelatin, and then evaporate the water out of the skin. Relatively lower oven temperatures often dry the skin before the collagen dissolves, leaving behind a rubbery texture. Crisp, crunchy, fried skin simply can’t be beat.
Deep frying a turkey requires special equipment and must be done outdoors (with a fire extinguisher nearby). Turkey frying kits often come with a propane burner, a large, heavy pot, and a few hooks and poles for lowering the turkey into the oil. Even when using these poles correctly, it’s easy to get burned if the oil overflows, so the first step in frying a turkey is to measure the correct amount of oil. To do so, simply place the brined and rinsed turkey onto the frying hook and lower it into the empty pot. Then pour in water one gallon at a time, keeping track of how much water goes in until the turkey is covered. Remove the bird and water, wipe out the pot, and then (outdoors) pour in the correct amount of oil.
While the oil begins to heat, dry off the turkey inside and out. Water and oil don’t mix, so the less water introduced to the pot, the more likely the oil is to stay in the pot. Also keep in mind that most turkeys (even those marked fresh) are somewhat frozen, and any ice remaining in the turkey will disagree—explosively—with the hot oil, so be sure the turkey is thoroughly defrosted and dried before introducing it to the pot. Following these steps should prevent burns, but what about greasy fried food?
Greasy flavors and mouth feels most often result from foods fried at incorrect temperatures. Frying is a balancing act between the hot oil pushing into the meat and the water within the meat turning to steam and pushing out. Properly maintaining this balance can avoid over drying the meat and allowing it to take in too much oil. Watching the oil temperature closely is one way to monitor this. Another is to listen for the hiss and sizzle of steam colliding with the hot oil.
In addition to bringing the oil to the correct temperature, adding a warm or room temperature turkey to the oil will help buffer the temperature drop that occurs when the turkey enters the pot. The turkey can safely rest uncovered at room temperature for an hour or so to take off the chill without inviting too many microbes to dinner; a warmer turkey will keep the oil temperature more stable and prevent too much oil from weighing down the finished meat.
With the oil at 350oF and a warm dry turkey waiting in the wings, the only thing left to do is take the plunge. The turkey should fry in the oil for 3-3.5 minutes per pound. Then raise the bird and take its temperature. The thighs needs to reach 180oF, but the temperature will continue to climb for a while after it leaves the oil, so remove the turkey to rest on a carving board when the thigh reaches 170oF. After that, slice, serve, and enjoy.
Written ByKristie Nybo
Updated 13 December, 2018