Tweaking the Turkey

Fry me to the Moon



I learned a thing or two the year I misfired and overshot Thanksgiving.

My father was well into his long battle with cancer when autumn gently rolled in and brushed Port Oliver with blistering color. Not long after we welcomed the crisp chill and settled into the season, my father announced that we were hosting the entire family on his rural western Kentucky farm for what was to become his last Thanksgiving.  

I was shooting for the moon, cooking everything from scratch, and putting my spin on the traditional feast. Over the course of a few gorgeous mid-November days, I brined and rubbed an enormous 18 pound fresh turkey, shucked a few dozen oysters, procured a fine brie for the creamed fresh pearl onions, compiled buckets of chopped mirepoix, dried various types of bread for stuffing, snapped fresh green beans, peeled pound of potatoes, made cranberry sauce, and poached more pears than anyone should ever poach.  

Oh sure, it was a fine feast.

The burnished turkey glistened. The creamed onions floated in the sticky melted brie, moist dressing sported perfectly crisp edges, buttery whipped potatoes, laden with cream, were unexpectedly light, oysters Rockefeller (in lieu of scalloped oysters) perched on rock salt, and poached pears filled with dollops of whole berry cranberry sauce sparkled like jewels. I outdid myself.

Coyly basking in the glow of  ‘nothing was a bit of trouble,’ I knew from the get-go that I had overshot the familiarity of Thanksgiving. I also realized that while it’s ok to buck tradition and tweak a few things, it’s a whole other ball game to change everything. The biggest success from my Thanksgiving folly? No doubt, the poached pears with cranberry sauce. Surprisingly fresh and somewhat familiar, the humble pears struck a happy balance that felt right at home. They still do.

Nowadays, I hold fast to simpler things. And while most folks hold onto strong turkey traditions, I believe there’s wiggle room.


Deep Fried Turkey With Whole Berry Cranberry-Pear Sauce

For years, I could never wrap my head around fried turkey. How can you make giblet gravy without the pan juices? What about the sticky bits ( flavor bombs) stuck to the bottom of the roasting pan? Where do you stuff the stuffing?

As it turns out, you can have it all. The relative quick fry and hot oil seals the meat under shockingly crisp skin, locking in moisture and flavor without being a bit greasy. Better yet, fried turkey frees up the ovens for the important stuff. You can have your moist turkey, scratch gravy (made from giblets and extra turkey parts), stuffing (dressing baked on the side), sides, crispy fried turkey butt, pumpkin pie, and eat it too. Everything is possible.

I traded my turkey baster for an injector, and threw caution to the wind.



I rinsed and thoroughly dried a 10 1/2 pound fresh turkey. I combined 1 cup warm melted unsalted butter, 1 cup dry white wine, 1 cup honey, 2 tablespoons kosher salt, and 2 teaspoons ground white pepper. After whisking everything, I used a meat injector to carefully inject the marinade under the skin of each breast, thigh, and leg.



After mixing 2 tablespoons light brown sugar, 1 tablespoon Bourbon Barrel Bourbon Smoked Paprika, 1 teaspoon ground dried sage, 1 teaspoon ground dried rosemary, 1 teaspoon ground white pepper, 1 teaspoon onion powder, 1 teaspoon ground dried thyme, and 1 teaspoon garlic powder, I rubbed the turkey under and over the skin before sliding it into the refrigerator to rest overnight.



I brought equal parts water and sugar (2 cups each for a basic simple syrup) to a rolling simmer before adding 1/2 white wine, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, and 1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns. After peeling 8 fresh pears, red and bosc for textural/flavor variation, I halved them without coring, and tumbled them into the simmering spiced simple syrup. When they were knife tender, I pulled them from the heat, let them cool completely in their bath, and used a small scoop to easily core before sliding them into the refrigerator to chill.


Cranberry-Pear Sauce.

After bringing 4 cups fresh cranberries, 1 cup sugar, and 1 cup water to a boil, I reduced the heat and let it rip until the cranberries popped and melted into the sauce. When the sauce thickened, I pulled it from the heat before adding 1 tablespoon lemon zest, 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, and 1 1/2 cups of diced fresh peeled pears. Into the fridge to chill and set up.



A deep fried turkey cooks fast. 3 1/2 minutes per pound. Set the table and set the timer.

After filling an 11 quart indoor electric turkey fryer with 2 3/4 gallons (yes, gallons) peanut oil, I cranked the heat to 375 degrees, closed the lid, and let the oil preheat. Knowing it would take about 45 minutes to an hour for the oil to come to the right temperature, I pulled the turkey from the refrigerator to take the chill off.

When the oil hit 375, I positioned the turkey, breast side up, in the frying basket, and very carefully lowered it into the shimmering hot oil. Once submerged and on full fry throttle, I released the basket, lowered the lid, set the timer for exactly 39 minutes, and poured myself a glass of wine.

At the 39 minute mark, I lifted the turkey from the oil, hooked it onto the side of the fryer, used an instant read thermometer to make sure the internal temp hit 165 degrees, and let it rest for 20 minutes before nestling the fried bird onto a bed of  greenery topped with aromatic fresh herbs and tucking the cranberry sauce poached pears to the side.

Fry me to the moon.


This article also appears on page 10 of the November 2018 print edition of Hamburg Journal.

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