Last Sunday, my friends Anna and Naf deep-fried a turkey in their Brooklyn backyard. I’ll admit that I balked when the invite came – with Thanksgiving and its parade of leftovers still fresh in my digestive memory, I really wasn’t craving more turkey. But my friends had chosen this particular Sunday because it was the fifth night of Hanukkah – and by the fifth night of a holiday culinarily dedicated to fried foods, it seemed only fitting to graduate beyond the world of fried potato pancakes and doughnuts to something larger. Or as Naf put it, “latkes are for kids.” Deep fried turkey, on the other hand, is serious business.
Naf and Anna own a kosher, pastured meat business called Grow and Behold, which explained the bird: the 14-pound gobbler in question was in great condition, except for a bum right leg that had rendered it unsellable to the perfection-seeking Thanksgiving crowds the week before. What good fortune for us! Naf had already injected it with a brine of dark McSorley’s beer spiked with cayenne and chili powders, Cajun spices, garlic and black pepper, and we all bundled up and headed out into the bare trees and waning afternoon light of a Brooklyn winter to watch it fry. Outside, a 6-gallon stockpot filled with a blend of peanut and corn oils sat atop a propane-fueled burner that kept it at a steady 370 degrees. The oil bubbled and hissed wildly as Naf lowered the turkey into the pot, sending a waft of savory steam into the frigid air. Some 50 minutes and two mugs of hot cider later it emerged, crisp and gloriously brown.
Back inside, we lit the holiday candles and tucked in to our fried meal, clinking glasses of beer (more McSorley’s) and filling our plates with cranberry sauce simmered with cinnamon and orange zest, roasted purple potatoes and garlic, salad greens tossed with a sesame oil vinaigrette, piles of warm rye bread and, of course, the turkey, moist and flavorful from its bath in hot oil. It tasted like Thanksgiving but not quite – like Hanukkah, with just a touch more sophistication. I went back for thirds.