Flight of the Noble Turducken
(For the full discussion, check out Episode 14 of the Hungry Dads podcast)
When it comes to cooking, I’ve embraced the words of my high school Driver’s Ed teacher, Mr. Woods who preached that people who claim they can’t cook are likely lazy and/or stupid. Any idiot can follow directions. Recipes are just directions. Taking Mr. Woods’ philosophy into adulthood, I’ve boldly undertaken many culinary ventures with unwarranted confidence – yielding more than a few disasters. And when I naively committed to preparing a Turducken for Thanksgiving, I didn’t expect it to be the greatest undertaking of my adult life.
For the uninitiated, a Turducken is a turkey, stuffed with a duck, stuffed with a chicken. Arrogant and uninformed, I assumed I would just need to shove a small bird into the cavity of a larger bird, repeat, cook, and eat. It turns out the Turducken is a true Frankenstein’s monster of poultry. After 3-5 hours of web research, I began to regret my fowl hubris, but ultimately ended up with a solid strategy by combining a few different recipes. Unexpected challenges included:
De-boning all three birds. I guess I could have gotten my birds from a butcher already de-boned, but I am not a lazy or stupid, Mr. Woods. The internet provided some good instructions with photos, which I promptly ignored and instead just hacked away at the poor things like I was Dexter blindfolded.
Flavor vs. poison. When you have this much raw meat, and it comes from three separate animals, there is a lot of opportunity for nasty little bacterial microbes to fester. You gotta cook those buggers out, but not at the expense of your juicy meat. If you layer up that much raw meat and put it in the oven, the exterior turkey will dry out before the inner “ducken” is cooked. The website, www.seriouseats.com (The Food Lab) had a great solution – poach the chicken and duck portions before putting it together. They also recommended browning the duck skin over the stove to add some nice fried fatty flavor.
Structural integrity of stuffing. Bread stuffing is controversial in a normal turkey scenario (under-cooking risks and such) – but in a Turducken, stuffing is important to fill in the gaps like spackle. But web research revealed that traditional stuffing might buckle under the weight of so much bird flesh, resulting in a lop-sided or bulged Turducken. One of the goals of the Turducken is to make it look like a regular turkey on the outside, but with pure un-boned meatiness on the inside. Once again it was www.seriouseats.com‘s Food Lab with a solution – stuff with sausage instead of bread stuffing. More meat = better anyway.
Duck is mushier than snot. Trying to layer and form everything was a real pain. It was the only point in the process I considered bailing out. But by then I was up to my elbows in soft, fleshy bird tissue – so I crammed raw meat to and fro until everything fit and the outside looked like any other unassuming turkey.
The process is better shown than described, hence my two minute Turducken documentary: http://youtu.be/g0WCCmF-6RE.
The verdict? Well, I am confident that I created a successful Turducken. It probably wasn’t perfect, but it looked like a real turkey on the outside. Cutting into it revealed a lovely mosaic swirl of dark/light meat on the inside. And wasn’t dry. So I’m calling it a success.
That said, in a final anti-climactic taste review, I must say that the flavor was just so-so. I didn’t think the three birds’ flavors melded particularly well. The chicken and duck skin on the inside didn’t stay very crispy and was a little rubbery. I’d have to say each bird would have probably tasted better on its own.
Nonetheless, a Turducken is about the journey more than the destination. I took pleasure in telling friends and family about the project and enjoyed merely having the opportunity to say “Turducken” on a regular basis. Regardless of flavor, the legend and legacy of my noble Turducken will soar like an eagle for many family Thanksgivings to come.
Hugh Gallon is a dad. A hungry dad. He can be heard on the podcast Hungry Dads, available in iTunes and at www.hungrydads.com.