22 January, 2011

My Heinous Turducken

Not everything that I make is an unqualified success.  Last weekend, for example, I put together a turducken for a big family dinner.  A turducken, you may know, is a medieval-style feast of poultry - a chicken stuffed within a duck, stuffed within a turkey, each of the birds having been carefully boned and layered with bread dressings.  It was a lot of work, and required a lot of resources, and when it was all said and done, I was less than happy with the results.  Oh, the family and friends gathered around the table thought it was fine.  I just didn't think it measured up to my customary standards.

This turducken came about because of a marvelous alignment of events.  I had originally planned a simple turkey dinner featuring a bird I had purchased and frozen a few months ago.  A day or so into the thawing cycle, I was at Stop & Shop and found a plump duck on sale - a Manager's Special - for less than half the normal price.  I took that duck home with visions of Five Spice Crispy Duck dancing in my head.  Only after getting the duck home and placing it in the fridge next to the turkey did the thought of turducken cross my mind.

And so it was that on Saturday morning, I made up three large batches of stuffing: one of traditional sage-and-onion, one of cornbread, and a third with sausage.  On Saturday afternoon, I sat down at the kitchen table with a sharp boning knife and got to work on the poultry, removing all of the bones from the chicken and duck, and all but the wings and leg bones from the turkey.  I guess the idea is to have the finished turducken look like a regular stuffed turkey.  It doesn't quite work out like that, though - without a ribcage in there supporting the exterior, my turducken looked less like a stuffed turkey and more like a very pale obese midget had been beheaded, hogtied, and dropped into my roasting pan.  It weighed a bit more than 38 pounds.

The next morning, with all the stuffing and trussing done, I stabbed a couple of temperature probes into the frankenbird and slid it into a 300F oven, covering the roaster to prevent the meat from drying out during what I figured to be an eight-plus hour cooking time.

It did, indeed, take eight-plus hours.  Closer to nine.  And despite my best efforts - low heat, covering the roaster for most of the cooking time, frequent basting - the turkey still came out dry.  At a couple of places, the skin had burst and allowed stuffing to leak out and slowly harden in the heat of the oven.  The outside quarter-inch of turkey had been dessicated into turkey jerky, and the thin meat around the lower legs and cavity were mummified.

Luckily, my family was pretty understanding, especially my mother (the veteran of no few culinary disasters of her own) and still willing to give the final product a try. 

As I cut slices from the monster, it became clear that this turducken was really no worse than any of the others that people have photographed for the Web.  And, although the outermost bits of turkey were dry to the point of inedibility, it improved somewhat towards the duck layer.

While I thought of it as only a marginal success (if that) the other diners were pleased.  I attribute that not to the turducken, but to the deliciousness of the peripherals - the stuffings, helped along by fat and juices from the chicken and duck skins, were stellar and simmering the bones from the birds for so many hours yielded an awesome stock to make gravy.

I think if I ever make a turducken again, it will be a much less bothersome version.  I will use only the breasts of the various fowl and pound them out flat before layering them with the stuffings and rolling them up into the form of a normal rolled roast, tying it the same way.  The roasting time will be much shorter, the prep will be easier (much more like rolling and tying a pork belly for pancetta) and everyone will still get lovely slices of turkey, duck, chicken, and stuffings.


Amy Kundrat said...

The title on the post alone is terrific. I've often wanted to start a blog on culinary disasters because there are so many food blogs that make things appear seamless and perfect. Good luck on your next turducken!

Anonymous said...

300 degrees is way too hot with that massive amount of dense meat. 225. Turkey must be brined a bit. Think I'd even give the chicken a brine that included a bit of cure seeing a ten plus hour cooking time.
Give you a lot of credit for even attempting!

Leeanne said...

Hats off, Dave. that's quite the project.

anonymous Michael said...

I'm thinking much lower heat as well.
I figure 180 for an arbitrary length of time with a blast of heat at the end to crisp up.

Dave said...

I agree that I should have used a much lower heat, and I think even 225 would have been too warm - 180 or 200 probably would have been best, with a 14+ hour cooking time, and a bit of pink salt for a cure for the deepest meats that would have been just barely warm through much of the oven time.

But I was following published instructions fairly closely, and disregarded my instincts. And whenever I do that, the results are less than optimal. I should trust my experience and my gut feelings over some other guy's recipe.

curele industriale said...

I don’t care how “bad” you say it was, I would definitely give it a try. I mean it has to be good. Maybe not great, but definitely worth a try. Well done anyway. You’ll do better next time, I’m sure.

millie said...

Hola Dave; I'll be glad to try your "TURDUCKEN" next time. You're a great chef. I admired your dedication for everything you do.


Barabus said...

What... no dark meat, just breast meat the next time you make it?


Barabus said...

What... no dark meat, just breast meat the next time you make it?