Weird Crap I Cook: Turducken

I had Turducken for the first time 4 years ago after ordering it frozen from Hebert’s Specialty Meats, the originators of the concept.  It was good though painfully salty even for a salt lover, so I decided if I was going to have it again I would have to make it myself from scratch.  It just took awhile for the perfect opportunity to come again.

With plans to host a Christmas party for a few friends in Boston, I knew the time had come to attempt the prep-heavy and slightly difficult turducken.  For those unfamiliar with turducken, it’s traditionally a deboned chicken, inside a deboned duck, inside a deboned turkey, with layers of cajun stuffing in between each layer and at the center.  Pretty crazy concept.  Basically, you are fitting all of this…

Not sure if it will be noticeable, but we got a new camera and I'm hoping it helps us take better pictures

Into this…

Only the second time laying down newspaper in a kitchen after the tuna head. I knew this was going to get extremely bloody and messy, just hoped none of it would be my blood

I’d never deboned poultry before and definitely had some concerns.  At the same time, it seemed like the type of thing that just required a sharp boning knife and the patience of making lots of small cuts.  The only planned difference between the traditional version and mine was that the middle layer would be chicken instead of duck since the duck I had in my freezer was very small.

Since the turducken should look like a regular turkey when it’s fully assembled, you want to keep each outer layer intact except for the initial cut on the backbone. Aside from navigating around the shoulder blade, the early going is (relatively) easy.

This took maybe five minutes. I went with the chicken first since the duck was small and would be tough to navigate and the turkey needed to have minimal flaws since it's the outer layer. To make my turducken feel better, Pete Ryan's outer layer has a lot of flaws

The chicken and duck layers are completely deboned, including the thigh and wing bones, but the first step is to remove the rib and back area.

Kristi deserves credit for the awse photos in this post and my equally awse apron (with "Weird Crap I Cook" and a picture of the hogs head barbacoa on it). That bad boy got dirty quick

Once you get around to the keel bone (the bone that separates the chicken breasts) you start on the other side from the backbone again.

This felt like switching to the other side of the bed after a year of sleeping on the same side; there was no way to mimic the muscle memory of the first side. Cutting away from me was easier than spinning it and approaching it from the opposite direction

After 10-15 more minutes, I’d arrived back at the keel bone and had to cut the cartilage away from the skin to keep the deboned chicken intact as one piece.  Leaving me with this:

I'll try not to go into this kind of self indulgent detail with each bird. I just thought the whole process was interesting and showed off that I'm good with a blade. Comes from growing up on the tough streets of the 07924, yo

After popping the thigh and wing bones out (easily the most annoying/difficult/messy part of the whole process) I rolled it back up before putting it in the fridge and starting on the turkey.

I think that deboning a single bird, stuffing and roasting it has a lot of potential. Stuffed chicken breasts are always disappointing because the breasts get so dried out, but this thing with crispy skin and stuffed with prosciutto, garlic and spinach would be absurd

Next up was the turkey, which I found to be the easiest bird to debone since it is the largest and the leg and wing bones stay in.

I know, I know, I can't believe I still have fingers to type with either

By the overall standards of the day, I pretty much flew through this thing (in 20 minutes).  The owner at Hebert’s can debone all three birds in something like 17 minutes.  While impressive, the work it took to gain that proficiency is about as enviable as being married to someone who makes you spend your Saturday taking 200 photos of him butchering poultry.

Don't worry, I hate wasting food and I certainly was leaving a little meat on the bones, so I saved the carcasses and other parts for future soup/stock making. Really sorry I made you worry

Onto the duck, the bird I knew was going to be a pain in the ass from the second I saw how small it was.

No, I don't have a cartoonishly ingrown fingernail on my middle finger, I was just squeezing extremely hard to maintain a grip on the tiniest piece of this mangy bird

I love duck, but deboning it didn’t really blow my hair back.  This was a roasting duck, so there just wasn’t much meat to work with.  I had hoped to use a full sized duck, since the local Stop and Shop had them recently, but I had to go with the subpar one in my freezer.

On to the final shot of the duck (prior to considering intentionally stabbing myself to end the annoyance of removing the thigh and wing bones)

Duck looks and smells like raw beef. Weird stuff

With the deboning finished in just under an hour and fifteen minutes, the poultry was unceremoniously dumped into a giant bowl for an overnight stay in the fridge.

I laughed like a psychotic thinking about the babysitter we had Saturday night looking for food in the fridge and stumbling across this

From there I got the bones all bagged up and labeled for the freezer.

This would be a ridiculous thing to do if we didn't make so much soup in the Ryan household

It was time to get started on the most important part of the turducken; the stuffing.  That change from bloody, messy butchering also meant that Janet could return to the kitchen with her magic, gravity-defying chair.

"Yeah, so, daddy, I know you've slowed down with the Purell use recently but I'm going to have to go ahead and ask you to start using it before anytime you come near me. Great, thanks"

Since I don’t have andouille readily available, I decided to start out the stuffing the same way Tim and I start our (regionally) famous “Stuffing of the Gods”.  I sauteed chopped onion, garlic and celery in a little butter for a few minutes before adding a pound of sausage meat.

That's right ladies and gentleman, a fourth animal has entered the meal. Possibly a 5th and 6th too; that tube of sausage looked like it was purchased on the resale market or something

After the sausage had browned, I added a half pound of cubed brown mushroom, 10-15 fresh chopped sage leaves, salt, black pepper, cayenne, and lots of paprika.

"Half pound of mushrooms" has become about as common an ingredient on this blog as salt and pepper

So, finally, it was time to add in the bread from the original ingredient picture that I had been letting get stale for a couple days.  It was really just the 6 slices of wheat bread that needed it; the cornbread was about a week old at that point.  I cubed the slices, let the cornbread break apart on it’s own, added more spices and a little chicken broth, leaving me with this.

This stuff was freaking delicious and had a great spicy heat. I was a little overly concerned about saltiness at this point, meaning that the stuffing could have used a little more seasoning, but it was still pretty diesel

And with that I was ready to throw in the towel for the day; I let the stuffing cool down then added it to the fridge with the birds.  That’s right folks, we’re not even halfway done with this post!  You still got a lot more partial reading, rapid scrolling, and deep exhales at jokes that fall flat left to do!  It’s my Christmas gift to all of you, even those that don’t celebrate Christmas; like one gift to unify everyone.  I don’t think people are making a big enough deal out of this.

The next day I was up and at ’em and handling poultry far earlier in the day than I wanted to.  It was time to put this baby together like an edible Lego airplane stuffed with passengers.  Started with the turkey, pressing the stuffing into every nook and cranny.

Just in case you were wondering, I still have grotesquely long fingers that bend the wrong way. I also know how to stuff the living sh*t out of a turkey

Then the chicken and another generous layer of stuffing.

Not sure if you noticed the two strings laid under the birds in advance which proved crucial. Really I am just trying to distract you from the hands that look like a Karloff-era Dracula

And finally, the duck with a central pile of stuffing.  Looking down at this pile of poultry and stuffing, I started to realize that the hardest part may still be ahead.  I hadn’t really processed that I would need to eventually tie this all back together to look like a regular turkey.

I'm thinking this apron will need to be retired in 4-5 years when Janet starts bringing friends over. Except when the WCIC apron is in the wash, then an exception needs to be made

Bringing this thing together was a process that would be difficult to describe.  Basically, it was a lot of pulling outwards, pressing together, and tightening of the two strings I had laid underneath the birds.  So here are three photos to explain part of the process:

Seemed impossible at this point

Starting to see hope with one string tied

Getting it to this point was 75% of the battle. This whole process is exhausting to review

Now come the poultry lacers, something I’d never used before and always thought were tiny fondue skewers or something when I had seen them in people’s kitchens.   When pressed into the turkey (and the layers below) they would give me anchor points to pull the whole shebang together.

Brilliant concept, but totally unclear to me what these are used for aside from turducken

Like lacing up a pair of sneakers, I wound some kitchen twine through the holes and pulled tightly to bring the center together.  Ended up looking very manageable.

That's a pretty dece looking sneaker

With that, the turducken got flipped right side up in a roasting rack, received an ample sprinkling of salt, pepper, and cajun seasoning, plus a few pats of butter to keep the skin moist.

Would have gone with my usual method for keeping turkey skin moist by putting a couple slices of bacon on top, but decided it would be a little excessive. In reality we finished the bacon with breakfast and I was pretty bummed

After covering with tin foil, the turducken went into the oven at 250F for what figured to be 6-7 hours of roasting.  I planned to remove the foil halfway through cooking once there were enough juices in the base of the roasting pan to baste the skin.

With the ‘ducken cooking, the only remaining item was making stock for the gravy.  So, the turkey and chicken necks headed into a pot with onion, garlic, celery, and carrots before being completely covered with water.

Broth the way my mommy taught me, to make gravy the way she taught me. I don't even know if it's the right way, but it's the way I like my gravy to taste

With the bird(s) in the oven, I realized why roasts, ham and turkeys are such great entertaining food; you don’t have to do anything until carving time.  Over the next six hours I overheated in my tacky Christmas sweater, listened to Now That’s What I Call Christmas four times, and toasted the surprise engagement of Buschy and Annie.  Mostly, I thought about the Turducken.

Finally, the internal temperature had reached 165F, and the ‘ducken was ready to be pulled.

I had a feeling I couldn't avoid burning the skin in the center and by the legs. It was stretched pretty thin in those spots

While the meat rested for 30 minutes, I pulled the roasting rack out of the pan, cut off a couple of the outer strings, and drained off some fat to get started on the gravy.

I know I've said this before, but it really looked just like a regular turkey. Janet agreed with me too

Gravy is pretty easy to make (as outlined previously on this blog), basically you whisk flour, salt and pepper into the pan drippings until it’s well mixed and there isn’t any excess liquid.  Let that cook in the pan for 10 minutes or so, whisking regularly, then stir in broth until the gravy is the consistency you are looking for, heating as you go.  Only wrinkle for this one was that I added a splash of Southern Comfort for sweetness, flavor, and because it’s been in the damned liquor cabinet for 3 years untouched.

I over-floured this one just a little bit. It showed when the gravy sat for fifteen minutes and poured like an extra-thick milk shake

It even had a little bit of a Cajun look to it. You could see the paprika in the color

Now for a quick photo series I like to call, “Anatomy of a Near Christmas Disaster”, as documented by Nathan McConarty, Esquire. (I promise this post is almost over, this is just a brief sidebar before the final two fotos and descriptions).

The stupidity just oozes out of this one. "Let's put a towel under the cutting board so it doesn't get the other easy-to-clean cutting board underneath dirty. Just wait one moment while I lift this slick plastic cutting board supporting a precariously balanced roasting rack holding 15 pounds of meat."

Annnnnd the only rationale outcome from the previous statement has been realized. I love the looks on Kristi's face and my face, pure "OHHHHH NOOOOO!!!". Luckily, the Shaws Cupcake tray brought by Sarah Busch stopped the turducken before it rolled off the table and exploded on the floor. Christmas disaster averted

With that scare done, it was time to get eating.  The coolest part of carving a turducken is the realization that what you’re looking at isn’t a normal roast turkey.  Instead of carving thin slices parallel to the body, you cut straight across the body in thick slices.

You can clearly see the layers from this shot; duck at the bottom, then chicken, then turkey, with the sweet sausage stuffing in between each layer

Although not my most often used utensil, the electric carving knife is crucial for turducken (thanks Ken and Carolyn!) since the meat would be pulled apart by anything less than the sharpest traditional carving knife.  The goal was to cut it into 1/2″ slices that could be transferred to the platter whole so all guests could “oohhh” and “aahhhh” at the layers.  I said that was the goal.  My guests got a scrambled version for the most part, accentuated by cursing and holiday surliness.

Each slice looked a little different and featured a different amount of each bird and stuffing. Interesting food

Not much to be said about the turducken (which must seem like BS after wasting an hour of your life reading this post).  The process and unveiling of the finished product is almost as important as the actual eating, just very cool to see it all come together.

Taste-wise, the stuffing was moist from cooking inside the three birds and the sausage, cornbread, and cayenne helped distribute salty/sweet/spicy flavors throughout the meat.  With each bite you never knew exactly what bird you were eating since they were all very tender, though the turkey ended up a little dry.  Nothing a little pour (read: slice) of the far too thick gravy couldn’t alleviate, though, and all in all it was pretty delicious.  Well accompanied by Nate and Emyo’s cheesy taters, Con and Trish’s broccoli raab and shallot, and the future Buschy’s roasted vegetable soup.  Bawmb.

In the end we ate a lot more of it than I’d expected; Kristi and I had one night of leftovers and then we made an awesome stew with the remaining turkey from the ends.  Not sure what I will be posting next but we are looking forward to 5 days of over-the-top eating in Michigan for Christmas.  Merry Christmas to some, Happy Holidays to others, but mostly just enjoy the day off and cook something good.  Cheers!

7 thoughts on “Weird Crap I Cook: Turducken

  1. what is that snorkel coming out of the duck? ick.
    I think the photo of that near miss will inspire a blog about near misses in the kitchen. so funny.
    we missed you dudes!

  2. Pingback: The Cassoulet: Day One | The Pete Is On

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