It was a cold Thanksgiving day in St. Paul, Minn., but we persevered. We ignored all the deep frying scare-tactics broadcast by local television news, repeated clips of big fryers producing six-foot flames, engulfing patio furniture, decks, and inevitably the home. We are men. Men with alcohol and fire extinguishers. For the sake of this entry, we at the deep fryer will be referred to as the “barbarians,” those in the kitchen skillfully preparing their dishes the “civilized guests.”
The day began with me and the lady friend creating space to work in the still-in-progress kitchen remodeling project (the project began in June, folks). Once that was achieved, our contribution to the meal could be started. Nothing spectacular, just some garlic mashed potatoes, ubiquitous on the casual restaurant scene these days. Ours kicked ass, of course. A bag of organic red potatoes, (about two potatoes per person), some minced garlic (don’t run the garlic through a press, folks, the flavor will be overpowering) and butter. Lots and lots of butter. I like to crunch on some garlic, but you all can flavor yours to taste.
The executive barbarian chef for the day was my neighbor, Tim, who began heating the oil in the fryer in one of the gravel parking spots behind our building. Once the oil was heated to the appropriate temperature, and we all had downed at least a couple drinks in our defense against the cold, we started dropping stuff in the hot oil, beginning with breaded brie, which turned out fantastic. Guests began arriving, and more items appeared to be tossed into the fryer. Mystery concoctions folded into pastry dough—some contained stuffing, others some sort of cranberry marshmallow concoction I happily avoided.
Finally, time for the turkey. Tim brought out the bird, which he had injected with a maple syrup “marinade,” seasoned it, placed it into the basket and we lowered it into the oil. All good, except that there was not enough oil in the fryer. This is where the barbarians made their first bad decision: dumping more oil into the fryer. Worse, the oil was sitting outside in the frigid cold as long as we were.
Needless to say, the oil temperature dropped significantly. Checking it a short time later, it sat at about 270 degrees, a good 80 degrees from where it should be. We were boiling the turkey in oil, not frying it.
Still, we persevered. Did I mention we had alcohol?
Meanwhile, up in Tim’s place, the civilized guests either brought or were preparing the side dishes. A couple vegans arrived, who made the gravy, a lentil loaf, sautéed some green beans and made a pumpkin pie. Another couple made sushi (which the barbarians later tried to deep fry). A Turkish couple brought a pan of borek, a Turkish dish of pastry, spinach and feta cheese (delicious). Someone else brought a Maple smoked ham.
With some poking and prodding, the barbarians eventually declared the turkey cooked, but it wasn’t anything like Tim, a somewhat experienced deep fryer, had produced in the past. Moist? Yes. Crispy on the outside? Uh, no. The lesson? That oil gotta be hot. And it’s gotta stay hot. Tim tossed in some butternut squash ravioli into the oil—now up to the appropriate temperature—after we yanked the bird. They also turned out very nice.
But that’s part of what Thanksgiving is all about, isn’t it? Some part of the meal MUST fail. And the turkey wasn’t a total disaster. It still tasted fine. Not exactly tender, but not dry—like it was boiled. And everything else on the table was perfectly acceptable. And what could be better than a room full of people who weren’t related to each other (well, two of the guests were brothers. But they got along fine). This type of get-together, with wine flowing and people locked in various conversations tops any holiday family meltdown I’ve endured in the past.
Garlic mashed potatoes
2 lbs red skin potatoes (8)
¼ cup minced garlic
1 tablespoon oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup Romano cheese (grated)
1 cup butter
Boil potatoes until softened, mash, and add rest of ingredients. Top with more butter (if you wish) and serve.