Welcome to the Turducken Blog.
Over the next week, I'll be chronicling my adventures as I prepare for the very first time to make an unholy concoction — a Turducken.
While I know my way around a kitchen, I have never had formal training and am pretty much self-taught. Think of me as Rocky training for the big fight. The Turducken would be Clubber Lang. It pities the fool who won't eat it.
Oh, and what's a Turducken?
For those of you who aren't from Louisiana or versed in the new yuppie sport I have dubbed Extreme Eating*, a Turducken is Old MacDonald's farm on your plate: a chicken ... stuffed inside a duck ... stuffed inside a turkey ... with three sausage and shellfish dressings packed between the layers.
(*Thanks to chefs like Mario Batali, icky body parts like chicken feet and cockscomb and tripe are popping up in fine restaurants all over New York. No one I know grew up eating this stuff. But there is an allure to trying it, if only to say that you once ate it. Hence: Extreme Eating.)
Clearly, Turducken is not for the faint of belly or the religiously observant. But unless it is some kind of elaborate hoax perpetuated by the good people of Louisiana and John Madden, it sounds absolutely delicious in a naughty kind of way. Like Southern chicken-fried steak or the deep-fried Mars bar.
And for the amateur chef, Turducken is the culinary equivalent of climbing Mount Everest. Doing it will be expensive, time-consuming, ego-gratifying and somewhat frivolous. But it's there, and it must be conquered.
I do admit to being a teensy bit terrified. For one thing, I am not confident I have the chops or upper-arm strength to pull this thing off. Also, if any of my friends or colleagues gets food poisoning on account of me, I will totally feel bad.
But my biggest hurdle in this is Knife Fear: All three birds must be deboned, and I have never filleted anything in my life. While technology and "The Piano" have proved that losing a finger or three is not the end of the world, I happen to possess a very special digit. My father came to America with two precious things: me, and the Roh Crooked Pinky. As I grew out of babyhood, it became clear that I, too, possessed the Pinky. The Pinky must be protected.
When I started planning the Turducken about a week ago, I decided to ask my friend Rik, a chef in Philadelphia, for tips. This is how that went.
Me: I'm going to make a Turducken.
Rik: You are nuts.
Me: Just give me tips on how to make it.
Rik: Here's a tip: Don't make it.
To Rik's credit, he dug out an enormous book on techniques from his culinary school days. As he predicted, there was nothing in it about deboning a bird, because — and this part he yelled — NO ONE DOES IT.
Maybe the French don't, but a simple Google search indicates quite a few people have swapped their overdry Butterballs for a moist, fatty Turducken on Thanksgiving.
And then there's the man credited with creating the infernal thing: New Orleans chef Paul Prudhomme.
I spoke with Chef Paul on Wednesday, and he would like ya'll to know that the Turducken is NOT Cajun. The Turducken is actually the result of a trial-and-error quest to create a perfectly moist bird.
Chef Paul said the dry poultry problem struck him when he was a young cook working buffets in Wyoming. After enough time sitting under a heat lamp, the meat would turn stringy like hair. (His words, not mine. And ewww.) Chef Paul figured removing the bones and stuffing the birds with something juicy would help. A few years later, the Turducken was born.
The key to Turducken is apparently the duck — a very rich, fatty bird. Not a frequent visitor to American tables — we each consume on average only a third of a pound yearly, the USDA says. Duck is all dark meat. Americans don't seem to like dark meat much, which is silly. That's where all the flavor is.
And then there are the three stuffings. Chef Paul recommends an andouille stuffing, a cornbread stuffing and a shrimp stuffing. Is it me, or does the shrimp and poultry combo not sound very appetizing? I may skip that one.
The actual prepping and roasting is at least a two-day ordeal, which is why a number of pre-prepared Turduckens are available, even on the Internet. But Chef Paul cautions against using prefab birds.
"People make them wrong, freeze them, charge a lot of money," he said.
There are butchers who will debone the birds for you, for a small fee. But for an authentic Turducken experience, Chef Paul says, do it yourself.
While even Chef Paul admits he would not make Turducken on a "very regular basis," he says all the sweat and tears are worth it.
"Making it is the joy of the experience. Get four or five friends together to help and you have the best party you can ever have," he says.
Next week: Project Chick-Hen. E-mail me at email@example.com.