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Happy Thanksgiving 感恩节快乐 -- a turkey suggestion from Ming Tsai

The host of public television's Simply Ming shares a Thanksgiving option with the USC US-China Institute readers.
November 25, 2009

Last year, legendary Los Angeles restauranteur Sylvia Wu taught Talking Points readers how to make her signature toasted chicken salad and a Thanksgiving-leftover treasure, stir-fried turkey on spinach. This year, we’re pleased to introduce Ming Tsai and his “Deep Fried Tea-Spice-Rubbed Turkey.” Tsai grew up in Ohio working in his family’s Mandarin Kitchen restaurant. He earned a degree in mechanical engineering at Yale, but couldn’t escape the lure of the kitchen. He studied in Europe, Asia, and America before developing his own East-West fusion style and opening Blue Ginger in Boston. He’s won numerous awards and has been sharing his ideas via his Simply Ming public television show for the past seven years. Tsai’s turkey dish utilizes a five spice chile tea rub and a deep fryer.


The recipe, the deep fryer tips, and the photos are all copyrighted by Ming Tsai and are used here by permission.

Ming Tsai, photo by Anthony Tieuli for WGBH.

Deep Fried Tea-Spice-Rubbed Turkey

Serves 8-10

1 16-18 pound fresh turkey
Kosher salt

1/2 cup Five Spice Chile Tea Rub (see below)
Canola or peanut oil for frying

Special equipment:
large cooler
non-toxic gel packs, frozen (or ice cubes in zip-top bags)
turkey fryer (turkey fryers must always be used outside with extreme caution and away from children)


** Be sure to follow your manufacturer's instructions on the turkey fryer you have purchased, and also check out the helpful tips outlined below in Ming's Deep Fried Turkey Primer.

The day before cooking, make a brine by filling a clean cooler three-quarters of the way with cold water. Add enough kosher salt and sugar to achieve a “sweet sea water*” taste. Rinse the turkey in cold, running water and remove the giblets, found inside the cavity -- you can reserve everything but the liver and use it to make stock Add the turkey to the mixture and make sure it is fully submerged. Add the gel packs (or baggies of ice), shut the cooler, and allow turkey to brine overnight outside or in the garage for at least 8 hours. (If you live in a warmer climate, it is best to place the cooler in the basement overnight.) If you happen to be up in the middle of the night letting the dog out, feel free to turn the bird over in the brine.

The next day, remove the turkey from the brine, rinse well, and pat dry. Season inside and out with the spice rub- no extra salt is needed. Outdoors on level ground, fill the fryer with oil up to the calculated fill-line and heat the oil in the turkey fryer according to directions, until it reaches 325 degrees F. Using heavy duty oven mitts, slowly lower the turkey, open end up, taking care not to splash, and cook; it will take about 45 minutes. A general rule of thumb is to fry the bird for 3 1/2 minutes per pound. (If you prefer to use a meat thermometer, you're looking for an ideal temperature of 160 degrees in the thickest part of the thigh.) When finished, remove the turkey and allow to rest for 10 to 15 minutes before carving. Allow the oil to cool completely before attempting to store or dispose of it.

*Sweet sea water: 1/2 cup kosher salt, 1/2 cup sugar to 1 quart water. Multiply this as many times as needed to immerse your protein.

**if frying is not an option, this is also great roasted- the brine produces a very moist bird. Begin cooking at a high temperature until it becomes golden brown. Then cover with foil, reduce temp and continue cooking. Please note that brined turkeys cook about 40% faster than those that are not.

Five-Spice Chile Tea Rub

I've always been fascinated by the use of tea in cooking. Among tea dishes, teasmoked duck is probably the most ubiquitous, but there's also green tea-flavored ice cream and pound cake. As part of a seasoning rub, tea adds aromatic flavor to a range of dishes. To compose this example, I started with lapsang souchong tea, revered for its smoky, tobacco-like depths, then added spices, including three kinds of pepper, to complement it. The result is a standout rub you'll use often.

Makes about 6 cups
Lasts 3 weeks, refrigerated


3 cups lapsang souchong tea leaves
1/2 cup sea salt or kosher salt
1/2 cup red pepper flakes
1/2 cup chipotle chile powder
1/2 cup dehydrated garlic or regular garlic powder (not garlic salt)
1/4 cup cayenne pepper
1/4 cup dried chives or onions
1/4 cup five-spice powder


Combine all the ingredients in a medium bowl. Use or store.

Deep Fried Turkey Primer

This is quite possibly my favorite way to eat turkey -- the skin gets crispy, the meat stays moist, and it takes much less time than roasting. A little preparation and safety-awareness go a long way. Follow these tips, and you'll be well on your way to deep-frying your first bird.

What You'll Need:

Turkey Deep Fryer - Go online and check out the newest deep fryers on the market. Look for one with a sturdy base. If your deep fryer didn't come with a turkey hook, make sure you have a cooking basket for the turkey -- you need some way to lower and raise the bird in the hot oil.

Deep-Fry Thermometer - You'll need a thermometer that goes up to at least 400 degrees.

Good, dry weather - Because of the quantity of oil being used, you have to do this outdoors. Just be sure to stay away from any combustible or flammable materials, which means don't attempt this on your deck. I did just happen across a new indoor turkey deep-fryer online -- I haven't tried it, but it may be worth checking out.

Things to Remember:

Be extremely cautious - You're dealing with a large quantity of hot oil. You don't want to get this stuff on you in any way. Keep your children (and pets) indoors. Be sure to set up your fryer on level ground to keep it as sturdy as possible.

Oil temperature matters - If the oil is too cold, the bird won't cook properly -- you'll end up with oily, stringy meat. If the oil is too hot, you risk igniting the oil, as well as overcooking the outside and undercooking the inside.

Be prepared - Keep heavy-duty oven mitts, potholders and a fire extinguisher handy. Make sure you have everything you need before you start, because you cannot leave the oil unattended.

Read the Directions! Any good turkey fryer will tell you exactly how big a bird to buy, where to set up your fryer, and appropriate safety measures. The tips I offer here are just additional safeguards and cooking tips to make a delicious bird.

A Good Tip:

If your fryer doesn't have a gauge to calculate how much oil to use, use this method: before you brine the bird, grab your deep-fryer, put the turkey in the cooking basket (or, alternatively, attach the turkey hook), place the turkey inside, and add water to the top of the turkey. Remove the turkey and cooking basket and measure the water line with a ruler -- that's your fill-line for the oil. (Remember to dry your fryer -- you need everything as dry as possible for deep-frying.)

Ming Tsai --
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