Warm yourself at the frier

Henri deep fries a turkey for the holiday

Photo Illustration by Carey Wilson

They came just in time. The “ber months,” I call them. September through December. Especially November, when change is literally in the air, when winter approaches. And, Dieu sait, Henri needed a change. He was in a rut. Grande temps. He’d grown weary of the sameness of the weather and the sky, the dusty, sweaty late afternoons. His little life.

I even found myself snapping at Miss Marilyn, for no reason.

But now, the days are growing short, the nights cool and crisp. Smoke wisps from chimneys, and the leaves on the Esplanade’s gorgeous ginkgo trees are turning golden, then, on swirling gusts of wind, raining down like confetti onto the street and sidewalk.

And it’s almost Thanksgiving. Henri’s favorite holiday.

I thought about Thanksgiving dinner. My traditional turkey in the oven with stuffing. Quelle ennuyeux. Like they say, the only difference between a rut and a grave is the depth. I needed to do something different.

So this year, instead of cooking my traditional oven-roasted bird, I’m deep-frying that mauvais garcon.

I’ve already done a test run.

Last Friday afternoon I bought a 12-pound frozen turkey, put it in the refrigerator to thaw, and then Saturday morning put on my L.L Bean lined denim jeans and my new work boots by Timberland and headed over to Home Depot, where, of course, I almost immediately got lost, this time over by some boards. Thankfully, a tall man in a yellow apron was nice enough to notice my panic and helped me find the turkey fryers. I bought the 30-quart Bayou Classic, which he said contained everything I would need except the cooking oil, which I bought at Costco on the way home.

Sunday morning, I called Jonathan, who came over to help me assemble it—he always has the perfect tool—and hook it up to the propane tank I use for my grill. Unfortunately, I couldn’t talk him into staying for dinner, even after a couple gin-and-tonics.

I’m sure he would have enjoyed the turkey as much as I did, though, which was about the most tender and delicious I’ve ever eaten, the quickly cooked skin sealing the juices in and the cooking oil out. In fact, it was so good that I don’t know if I’ll ever go back to an oven-roasted bird. Unless I find myself in another rut, which, like they also say, is far easier to crawl out of than a grave.

What you’ll need for deep-frying a turkey
• A deep-fat frying kit, which includes a 24- to 36-quart stainless-steel or aluminum pot, burner/stand, hose for propane hook-up, a rack (with grab-hook), thermometer, seasoning injector, and instruction booklet ($80-150). Electric deep-fat fryers are also available.

• At least three gallons of peanut oil (though other oils—corn, safflower, and canola oil, for example—with smoking/burning points above 400 F will also work). A three-gallon jug of peanut oil at Costco is $27.99.

• One completely thawed turkey, nine to 18 pounds—the smaller, obviously, the easier to handle. Note: allow about three minutes per pound for 9-12-pound turkeys to cook, about three and half minutes for birds 13 pounds and larger. This week, local markets will be selling fresh turkeys, which won’t need thawing.

• Poultry rub. Use a commercial rub or make your own by mixing any or all of the following: celery salt, paprika, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, ground sage, dried thyme, dried rosemary, cumin, salt and pepper.

• Injection marinade. Again, use a commercial marinade, or make your own (try soy sauce, orange juice and ginger). You can also inject the turkey with wine, beer, sherry or other potables.

1) Make sure your outdoor cooking area is appropriate for deep-fat frying (no overhang), and keep in mind that the oil splatters-you can protect your patio or deck with a 4’x4’ or so piece of plywood or thick cardboard. You’ll also want to use an oven mitt.

2) Make sure your propane tank is compatible with the fryer’s hose well before you start preparing your turkey. Collier Hardware in downtown Chico sells propane tanks and various adapters.