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Fried Turkey

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Until the late 20th century, the very American holiday of Thanksgiving was not widely celebrated in Cajun country. Though it appeared in communities in and around Lafayette, it is argued this was because many of those residents were more closely exposed to this American tradition through their proximity to Baton Rouge and its stronger Anglo-Protestant connections. Besides eschewing this American tradition, it is further argued by historians, the Brasseaux brothers, that its centerpiece - the baked turkey - is “too dry and bland for Cajun tastes.” Enter deep fried turkey. Unlike roast turkey, a quickly cooked deep-fried turkey is rich in flavor, with a crispy golden brown skin and tender juicy interior.

There is no documentation of an exact year, restaurant or person who first fried a turkey. There is also no mention of fried turkey in Lafcadio Hearn’s La Cuisine Creole: A Collection of Culinary Recipes (1885) or The Picayune Creole Cook Book, (1901), but Cajun chef Justin Wilson recalled first seeing a turkey fry in Louisiana in the 1930s.

The practice spread outside of Cajun country in the 1970s. Dave Stephens, a New Orleanean who fries 8-12 turkeys a year for friends and family, first learned about the practice as a worker at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival or Jazz Fest. He recalled that Gus McIlhenny of the Tabasco empire was frying turkeys in the food tent designated for workers. Fried turkeys hit the national spotlight when Martha Stewart featured them in her magazine in 1996 and are now enjoyed throughout the USA. You're welcome, America.

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