After one mostly successful attempt at a mini-Turducken and with just four days left until the big day, I decided to see how a pro does it. On Thursday, I attended a Turducken demonstration class at New York's Institute of Culinary Education.
While ICE is a respected culinary school that has turned out prominent chefs, it's a safe bet that the classes offered to attorneys-by-day/aspiring-Emerils-by-night are what bring in the big bucks. Subjects range from Knife Skills to Wine Essentials to Single Girls Cooking for Themselves (just typing that makes me giggle!).
The class I attended seemed to comprise mostly middle-aged non-students who were there out of scorching curiosity to see a Turducken in the flesh. Instructor Rudi Weid — a "master butcher," according to ICE — explained what a Turducken is, said it was not invented by chef Paul Prudhomme and that it should not be deep fried. Then my pen ran out of ink.
I'll just list the important stuff he said.
Seriously, do not deep-fry the Turducken. The inner birds — the chicken and the duck — will shoot out of the turkey and it'll be like that really gross scene in "Alien," except instead of extraterrestrial fetus blood you'll be covered in boiling hot oil, which is probably less fun.
Do not use a Butterball. Or any supermarket poultry for that matter, if you want my two cents. Butterballs are loaded with preservatives and other unnatural stuff meant to keep the bird artificially juicy. A rule of eating meat is that a happy animal makes a delicious animal. Critters raised in large industrial complexes and forced to live in cramped quarters and sleep in their own feces are not happy and therefore not delicious. Chickens raised with care on smaller farms have more depth of flavor than supermarket poultry, which tastes like compacted sawdust in comparison.
Use a very sharp knife. I already knew that one, but it's worth repeating. A sharp knife not only gets the job done faster, it's safer.
Most of the deboning work is done with the tip of the knife. As I've already learned, the key is time and patience. Watching Weid deftly scrape away at the bones until they could be snapped at the joints and pulled out was something to see. I did not videotape my first attempt at deboning last weekend, but I'm sure I looked like a total spaz.
Another trick Weid showed the class was that instead of working the breast bones free of meat with a knife, snapping them in half allows you to pull them away from the flesh with your fingers. It produces a sickening sound that made even me gasp, but it's a time-saver.
Weid finished deboning the birds in about 40 minutes, with the help of a volunteer. It was sad to see him dump the large bowl of carcasses; I'd save them to make stock. If you don't have time that day, bones that have been frozen also produce good stock.
Weid skipped the stuffings, which was disappointing since I think they're the reason it's so difficult to sew up the finished product. He also had the benefit of a handy butcher's implement, which made sewing the Turducken shut a snap. I asked him where I could buy one, and he directed me to a butcher's supply store in Queens. Unless the store is next to Shea Stadium, a visit from me is unlikely.
After he was done, Weid showed us how to produce another unnatural concoction: Quaducant. Naturally, a Quaducant is a quail stuffed inside a duck stuffed inside a pheasant. Duh!
Since deboning a quail is like playing Operation on Tweety Bird, I think this is one notch my cutting board can do without. Weid deboned the thing in under five minutes. Then he propped it up and made it do a little dance and I almost cried.
After the demonstrations it was time to eat. To my disappointment, we were not offered Turduckens made at ICE. Rather, they were purchased online from a purveyor (who will not be named), defrosted and cooked by ICE's staff.
Remember when Chef Paul cautioned against trying the frozen, pre-assembled variety? He was right. The ones I sampled, which included a Turducken filled with cornbread stuffing and a Quaducant filled with crawfish rice dressing, were dry and oversalted. The crawfish dressing also lent the poultry an unpleasant fishiness, sealing my decision to skip a seafood stuffing in my Turducken.
Speaking of my Turducken, I am probably as ready as a novice can be. But just in case, I phoned Junior Hebert, of the famous Hebert's Specialty Meats in Maurice, La.
For sides, he suggested serving rice or cornbread dressing and a green bean casserole. Maybe I'm just a fancy Northeasterner, but I plan to serve a salad as well, because all that meat and starch can't be good for the tummy.
Hebert also assured me that the Turducken would come out OK, since I've got some deboning and roasting skills down. But when I asked him what wines would go with Turducken, he just laughed.
"Over here everybody drinks beer. Get a six-pack of Coors Light and we're ready for it."
Since I generally do not take wine with my football, I am loving that suggestion.
I also talked to Sonya "Black Widow" Thomas, who at 5-foot-5 and 100 pounds is the Allen Iverson of competitive eating. She downed nearly 8 pounds of Turducken in 12 minutes two years ago, earning her the crown of that eating contest but not, she says, a tummyache.
"It was really good. A lot of people, they don't know about Turducken. I couldn't taste it at first but after that I could tell the flavor," Thomas said.
Thomas also said that she still had room for more Turducken, but that what stopped her was a tired jaw. Wuss.
Many thanks to the readers who have conquered Turducken and offered me tips. Tiffany W., who is apparently a Georgia Bulldogs fan, smoked (!!!) a Turducken for some sort of tailgating event. Find out how she did it here.
Thanks to the wonders of Gmail, some interesting ads come up in e-mails from readers alarmed by (read: totally jealous of) the Roh Crooked Pinky. According to the Celebs Missing Fingers page of Who2.com, losing two fingers in a childhood accident did not stop Boris Yeltsin from "juggling foreign and domestic policy from 1989-99 at a critical junction in Russian history!"
Still, quite a few readers continue to urge against attempting the Turducken, offering hurtful links to online grocers who make them.
Writes Scott R. of Littleton, Colo.: "What you are doing is dangerous and unnatural. I acknowledge your pluck but urge you to reconsider. Don't let the Turducken become a quest that consumes you and those you love."
Scott, I am a devoted Philadelphia sports fan. Do I seem like someone who can be reasoned with???
Tomorrow: The Turducken Blog's grand finale. E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.