Dusting Off the
Ol' Turkey Fryer
by Kate Heyhoe
My husband gave me a turkey fryer last year. You know the kind: a propane-fueled burner mounted on an iron stand, with a deep (really deep) pot for deep-frying a whole turkey. I've used it often over the summer, but never for frying a turkey.
Call me chicken, but loading a big raw bird into an enormous, boiling vat of hot fat scares the heck out of me. I know that Emeril, cowboy chef Grady Spears, and Cajun cook Justin Wilson gare-on-tee it can be done safely, and I've even witnessed the process in person. About ten years ago in Santa Monica, our friend Greg Lazzaro hosted a party with deep fried turkey as the main event. I'm sorry to say that while the turkey tasted fine, crisp and moist, it didn't grab me enough to want to make it at home. Just the process of emptying out my 2.5 quart electric deep fryer is enough of a hassle, saving old jars and jugs for disposing of the oil, so I have no idea what I'd do with six-plus gallons of grease.
Anyway, despite being all the rage, a deep fried turkey is not the reason why my husband gave me a turkey fryer. (He, too, could care less about frying a turkey.) I use the burner and stand not for deep frying, but for stir-frying in a wok.
Woks make excellent vessels for flash-cooking all types of food—from Asian stir fries to taco fillings to any type of diced or ground meat, poultry, shrimp, or vegetables. Cooking with a wok though is only as good as the heat of the flame. Most stovetop burners don't get hot enough to sear food quickly and create those singed edges that taste so divine. But a propane tank and a turkey fryer belt out beaucoups of BTU's. In seconds, meats come out beautifully browned, and vegetables stay crisply tender, plus you get the added joy of cooking outdoors. Think of it as your own personal street food—cooked hot and fresh on the patio, in the yard, or at poolside. Even in winter, sun-belt residents can cook this way, though cold climate cooks may have to wait until Punxsutawney Phil pops up.
Here's how to turn your turkey fryer into a fired-up wok cooker:
Forget the deep fryer pot and lid that came with the turkey cooker. Instead, use a well-seasoned steel or iron wok (or even a big cast-iron skillet). Warning: Don't try this technique with nonstick cookware or anything that can't take ultra-high heat, including utensils.
Set up the propane tank and the iron stand outdoors, away from anything flammable, according to the manufacturer's instructions. (I set mine on a large piece of sheet metal from the hardware store, which helps protect the patio from spills and drips. Some folks set it in their driveway, a particularly good idea when deep-frying a whole turkey.)
Fire up the propane burner. Be careful when lighting the flame; turn it on low for igniting, then raise the heat after it's fired up.
Rest the pan securely on the stand (I use a metal wok collar to stabilize the wok). Heat the pan until very hot. Turn the gas valve to adjust the flame and degree of heat as needed.
Then add a small amount of cooking oil and swirl it around in the pan. Very carefully pour in the chicken, pork, beef, vegetables or whatever filling you're cooking. Stir-fry a few seconds or minutes, just until done. Then remove the pan from the heat, and set it down on a nonflammable surface. That's it. Get set to gobble.
One last piece of advice: It helps to have a stool or chair to sit on while cooking, so you don't have to bend over. I use a plastic kitchen step stool. It has only two steps, the top one of which puts me at the perfect height for stir-frying.
So if you're the proud owner of a turkey fryer kit, one that stands idle most of the year, take my advice: Turn it into a wok burner. You can still use it for deep-frying a turkey whenever you like, if so inclined. But this Thanksgiving, while my cider-brined turkey roasts warm and cozy inside the oven, I'll be outdoors: deep-frying skinny little sweet potatoes in a wok. I gare-on-tee.
The recipes below could be cooked in another type of vessel, but they lend themselves particularly well to cooking in a wok, even at Thanksgiving (or, as in the turkey and broccoli stir-fry, as a tasty twist on turkey leftovers).
Mediterranean Vegetable Medley with Capers
Sweet Potato Fries with Ketchup
Wok-Braised Savory Duck
Steam-Sautéed Green Beans with Bacon, Vinegar, and Thyme
Mushrooms and Baby Bok Choy with Fried Garlic
Mongolian Turkey and Broccoli Stir-Fry
Copyright © 2003, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page created November 2003