The Prick is just going to put it right out there: Thanksgiving is the greatest holiday on the calendar, and everyone – not just Americans – should celebrate it.
Falling in between Halloween and Christmas on the calendar (traditionally, for Americans, on the last Thursday of the last full week in November), Thanksgiving has it all over the other end-of-year holidays.
Christmas is great (Halloween less so), but either way Thanksgiving does not require much in the way of expensive disposable crap to celebrate, nor does it teach the children to beg their neighbours for candy or their parents for toys.
No warbling R&B singer has ever released an album of autotuned Thanksgiving carols to be played on an endless loop in the supermarkets.
And getting in the spirit of the day requires little more than an ecumenical gratefulness and a willingness to have a big meal and a good time. Thanksgiving in the US falls this coming Thursday, but because Parliament has not yet granted Australians a four-day weekend to recognise the day – though strictly on the QT the Prick understands fixing this is on the government’s legislative agenda for its next term – we had to have our celebration this past Saturday.
Thanksgiving has been a tradition around Stately Prick Manor for years, even back in the days when it was just Stately Prick Shotgun Shack. But always the star of the show has been turkeys, deep-fried Southern-style, an admittedly incongruous hero for a Sydneysider who grew up in Manhattan and his Australian partner.
Yet the method’s advantages, once one gets over the health and safety concerns – most of the oil stays in the pot, it’s reasonably safe so long as one knows what one is doing, and anyway do you want to let Simon Chapman tell you what to do? – are both two-fold and huge.
Because of the intense heat and conductivity of the oil, the birds cook in about 45 minutes, meaning one can fry them quickly in sequence to feed a crowd.
And again because of the oil they stay ridiculously moist, unlike a turkey that has sat in an oven for four hours under a scirocco of hot, dry air. Yet at the same time, the skin that results is something to behold, goassamer-thin, golden, and crispy.
Deep-frying is less complex than it sounds. All one needs is a big – really big – pot, one of those wonderful gas rings from an Asian cooking shop that goes like the afterburners on an F-111, a turkey or three, and about fifteen or twenty litres of oil heated to around 175 degrees C. About forty-five minutes later plus resting time, voila: Turkey a la Prick.
(Some good sense does not go astray should you choose to do this: Use water to check how high the liquid will rise when you insert the bird into the hot oil, slowly. If it goes over, you’ve got a fireball. Likewise, turn off the burner when inserting and removing the turkey, wear long pants, keep the kids away, and have a mate holding the pot when you take the bird out to reduce the chances of blowing yourself up. You are planning on doing this outside, right? Because there is no alternative.)
Meanwhile with about fifty people coming through the door this year we did another protein to keep from having to do the last fry around midnight. To avoid drunken brawls over the last scrap of each bird we did a big load of pulled pork – 10 kilos worth – which sounds terribly hipster, but really, when they’re right, they’re right.
Four 2.5 kilo pork shoulders spent the night, 12 hours, in a brine of water and salt (1:8 ratio) and a good whack of golden syrup. The brine penetrates the meat and seasons it from the inside, and the golden syrup turns on the pig’s natural sweetness. Then, dried off and rubbed with ground cumin, coriander, paprika, and onion powder, it was into the smoker at 5am for another 12 hours at about 95 degrees C, where after a rest they would be pulled by hand to go into rolls from a Marrickville Vietnamese bakery (one of the more positive legacies of France’s exploits in south-east Asia).
Some coleslaw on the rolls brought a bit of sharpness, acid, and crunch to the picture. To do this shred up some cabbage, finely, and toss in a spaghetti strainer with a dressing of white wine vinegar, salt, and sugar (in a 3:1:1 ratio, and you don’t need a lot). Then let sit for an hour in the sink, squeeze out the excess liquid – you’re giving the leaves a very quick picking, essentially – and toss through with a dressing of good mayo and horseradish. Add some shredded carrots and spring onions if you’re feeling really fancy.
Oh, and of course there was barbeque sauce, homemade and mixed through the meat and spread on the rolls. This is best made several days before to let the flavours mature out of the hot, spicy, and overbearing phase of their early relationship and into an agreeable, warm, companionate marriage that’s a pleasure to be around. There are endless iterations of barbeque sauce but we kept it simple. Ketchup, about 500 ml worth, on a low heat, stirring, for about twenty minutes or so with a couple of small tins of tomato paste, 100 grams of white wine vinegar and half again of sherry vinegar, about 80 grams of brown sugar, 5 (or more depending on the crowd, but be careful) grams chili powder, 10 grams of mustard powder and the same again of smoked paprika, and a little bit of onion and garlic powders to round things out, with salt and a good whack of pepper.
There were other sides, too: salads, a mac-and-cheese straight out of the Thomas Keller playbook (the more gruyere in your mornay, the better), and this bit of genius from Louisiana which has featured every single year, with chorizo in place of Andouille.
So that’s all you need to have a down-home southern-style Thanksgiving Prick-style by way of Sydney and New York. An Asian ring burner, a giant pot, a lot of oil, a smoker, plenty of meat, a good Vietnamese bakery, fifty or so friends, a big back yard, a couple hundred bucks worth of groceries, and a few other bits and bobs.
Or, failing that, you can just be thankful.