The hot peanut oil bubbled raucously as Ide Ehigiato lowered in the turkey. Then he screwed the heavy lid shut, quieting the din enough for him to explain some basic turkey physics.
“When you first put the bird in, there’s a little bit of moisture that escapes from the bird,” he said. “That’s what makes the pressure rise. Once that pressure rises, no more moisture can come out of that bird, and no oil is going in.”
This, he explained, is the key to the pressure frying technique behind Inspired Turkey, the new restaurant he owns with his wife at 82 Crown St.
Ehigiato (pictured), an aerospace engineer originally from Nigeria, got into the fowl business last year when he decided to try deep-frying a turkey for Thanksgiving as a change of pace.
“Quite honestly, I wasn’t even a big turkey fan,” he said. “It’s usually dry, you know what I mean?”
The first results were delicious, Ehigiato said, but unhealthful. So he started applying his engineer’s mentality to the question of how to get a juicier turkey without the oiliness of deep frying. The answer: pressure frying.
“When the bird is intact and under pressure, the juices from inside don’t come out, so oil doesn’t come in,” he explained. “So when you see the bird, it’s not oily. Now, there’s oil on the skin, but when you cut right through it the oil does not penetrate the bird. So it’s a healthier way, it traps in the flavor, and it’s moist.” (The restaurant’s website has detailed information about the nutritional value of its turkeys.)
Friends and family approved of the results. Soon the Ehigiatos started selling their turkeys to gourmet grocery stores like Elm City Market before opening the restaurant and catering business in October.
Ehigiato, who by day designs planes and helicopters, is the chief turkey engineer. His wife, Melaka (pictured), a former cell biologist, manages the restaurant.
Ehigiato starts by injecting each bird with a marinade, the ingredients of which he guards closely. (“This is the secret to our recipe,” he said with a laugh.) Then, after applying a spice rub, he puts the bird in a sealed plastic bag and into a refrigerator, where it marinates for three days before being cooked.
Thanks to the pressure, the 15-pound bird Ehigiato made the other day took only 35 minutes to cook—shockingly fast to anyone who has spent a Thanksgiving morning anxiously checking a meat thermometer.
When cooking time was up, Ehigiato released the pressure, causing a plume of steam to shoot out of a pipe like an old train whistle. The bird he lifted from the oil bath was a glorious golden brown.
To the taste, Ehigiato’s turkey seemed less like fried food than like a juicier variant on traditional roast turkey. The breast meat was as moist as advertised, and the skin, thanks to its contact with the oil, was crispy and fatty. Ehigiato took evident pride in his creation.
“I’ve been an automotive engineer, then an aerospace engineer, and now a turkey engineer,” he said. “Turkey engineering is definitely the most fun.”