CHICAGO — It’s that special time of year when Chicagoans start turning just about everything green — the river, the beer and now … the turkey.
That’s right, green turkey. A deep-fried bird slathered in a lemony fresh-herb pesto that clings to the skin like a bright-green sweater of rosemary, thyme, sage and parsley.
It’s the culinary handiwork of Aricka Westbrooks, owner of Jive Turkey — a deep-fried turkey joint that got national acclaim on the Food Network — featured on the menu just in time for the South Side Irish Parade on Sunday.
Last year, Westbrooks moved her restaurant from the hipster-populated streets of Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, back to the old neighborhood, a block east of Longwood Drive on 111th Street.
“I’m not Irish, but growing up in Beverly, a lot of my teachers at Kellogg School were Irish. They taught us Irish songs and gave us Irish soda bread. St. Patrick’s Day was always a big deal,” Westbrooks said. “Now that I’m back, and particularly this year when the parade focuses on being a family event more than a bar crawl as a way to celebrate Irish heritage and the legacy of the Irish in Chicago, I thought it would be great to be part of it.”
So, she’s hoping revelers will find a spot for her green turkey next to traditional Irish grub on the buffet table at St. Paddy’s Day parties.
The green bird is deep-fried, then dry-rubbed with salt, pepper and garlic under and over the skin, then fried again in a pressure cooker for about 20 minutes and finally coated in a signature kelly green pesto rub.
A 10-pound turkey will cost you about $75, but you can get a couple of legs or a carved portion and a couple of sides for about 10 bucks.
Usually, Jive Turkey is closed on Sunday, but Westbrooks says she plans to open on parade day so neighborhood folks — and even suburbanites and North Siders arriving on Metra — can grab themselves a green turkey leg to go for the walk up the hill to the parade route.
“You know, go to the parade. Eat a green turkey leg,” she said. “We’re getting a lot of interest.”
That’s probably because despite her stint living on the East Coast, Westbrooks knows how Chicago works.
She made sure to get the herb-butter deep-fried delicacy in the mouths of South Side Irish folks with clout by making a few well-placed donations — most notably a dozen Irish turkeys to the parade committee fundraiser.
She sent a 12-pound green bird to a taping of the “Skinny and Houli Show” in hopes of winning the endorsement of the man who last year led the charge to resurrect the South Side Irish parade, James “Skinny” Sheahan, and his all-things-Irish sidekick, Mike "Houli" Houlihan.
“Hey, it was good stuff. Delicious. I grabbed a leg right away. I gotta tell ya, most people eat corned beef and cabbage, but this is an option. I really hope it takes off,” Houlihan said. “It’s great to have the African-American community reach out to the Irish community. And you know what’s pretty cool? She knows the Chicago way.”
So far, Westbrooks says her campaign to get green turkey on St. Paddy’s party menus has generated a bigger buzz here than it did in New York.
She figured it would.
“In New York, they celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, but it doesn’t compare. No one celebrates it like Chicago,” Westbrooks said. “And no one celebrates St. Patrick’s Day like the South Side Irish. Nobody.”