The Turducken Blog: Yummy With a Side of Ouch

Just as many Americans learned this week that Mongolia is an actual country with an actual military, I have come away from my Turducken quest knowing a few things I did not know before.

1. I mix like a girl. I work out regularly and consider myself a fairly fit person. But two and a half days of chopping, peeling, slicing, carving and stirring have left me with stiffness in the shoulders and a right hand that feels broken. I hate to say this, but now I get why men dominate the world of chefs — they've got the stamina and upper-arm strength that many women don't. That stinks, as the truth often does. Ow. I hurt all over.

2. Those Music Choice channels on cable that everyone ignores rock. You know, the ones that are high up in the spectrum, like in the 900s, and all they do is play music, with no videos or anything special to look at? In just one hour I heard The Clash, Concrete Blonde, Nena and Howard Jones. Bye, MTV.

3. It is possible for turkey to be juicy and flavorful without gravy. No offense to my aunt who hosts Thanksgiving every year, but I have never liked roast turkey until the Turducken. From now on, pairing it with something fatty is a must.

4. Next time, pay a butcher to do it. I deboned the birds myself for the experience. That said, I have had enough of this deboning business. I am never doing it again. Never.

(Don't know what a Turducken is? Click here, here and here for previous entries.)

I began preparing for the Turducken feast on Friday. I baked cornbread for dressing, and for a salad I reduced pear nectar and toasted almonds soaked in soy sauce, molasses and cayenne. After the cornbread baked and cooled, I cut it into dice-size cubes and left them out to dry.

On Saturday, I prepared the dressings. I never follow recipes to the letter, and this was no exception. If you're confident enough in the kitchen, you should customize the Turducken to your liking. For me, that meant deviating from chef Paul Prudhomme's recipe.

First, I skipped the shrimp dressing entirely and just went for a cheesy cornbread dressing and Prudhomme's Andouille sausage dressing. Both were fantastic.

While Chef Paul's recipe cleverly calls for several bottles of his Magic Seasoning Blends, I do not do pre-packaged seasoning blends, thank you very much. For the Andouille dressing, I used sea salt, ground pepper, fresh thyme, onion powder, cayenne pepper powder and a few dashes of Uncle Brutha's Hot Sauce.

Stirring the stuffings was wicked hard. I kept having to stop and shake my arm out. I then stored the stuffing in pans, knowing I would bake and serve as sides whatever didn't make it into the Turducken.

Next it was time to debone. I started with the turkey. That was dumb.

Having prepared the Chick-Hen, I felt fairly confident of my deboning skills. But the turkey was a whole other monster. Midway through my wrestling match with the slippery 14-pounder I sliced my thumb and middle finger, but — and I admit that in hindsight this is gross — I was too obsessed with prying the bones off to tend to the bleeding.

(Yes, friends: That little somethin'-somethin' you tasted Sunday night was Essence of Jane. BAM!!)

The turkey took me about an hour. The duck went a little faster, about 30 minutes. But when it was the chicken's turn, I discovered to my horror that its entire right side was frozen. Damn you, cold back part of the fridge! It was 11 p.m., nine hours before the Turducken was slated to go into the oven.

After hoping in vain the chicken would defrost in half and hour, I put it back in the fridge and turned the temperature slightly below the halfway point on the dial — cold enough for the deboned turkey and duck but hopefully warm enough to soften up the chicken.

Sunday morning I woke up at 6:30 a.m. with the intention of getting the bird in the oven by 7.

I deboned the chicken, which was still partially frozen. I had to pause periodically to run my numb fingers under warm water. Eventually I could not tell the thin rib bones from the frozen meat, and just kind of hacked away at it. But I must have gotten the job done, as there were no reports later on of bone bits.

By the time I was done it was well past 7. I hurriedly rubbed the birds with a mixture of salt (not too much! the dressings have salt, too), pepper, cayenne and onion powder. Then I lay the turkey skin-side down, spread a layer of Andouille stuffing over it, lay the duck down and covered the left side with Andouille stuffing and the right side with cornbread stuffing, and finally lay the chicken down, packing it with cornbread stuffing.

Even though I used pretty thin layers of stuffing, I could not get the Turducken to close all the way. By now in a sweaty panic, I tied twine around the Turducken in three places to bind it together, then managed to sew much of it closed. The grease made handling a threaded carpet needle difficult, and I found the twine's thickness added to my woes. Next time I will try using dental floss, a suggestion tossed out by master butcher Rudi Weid at the Institute of Culinary Education.

I then rubbed the spice mixture along with some rosemary butter all over the Turducken, before flipping it onto its back and squeezing it into a roasting pan. It went into the oven at 8 a.m., one hour behind schedule.

I initially kept the oven at 275 degrees, checking on the foil-covered Turducken every so often. After about five hours, I removed the foil and turned the heat up to 375 degrees. Juices began forming after hour six, whereupon I basted the thing every 15 minutes or so. I took it out at 5 p.m. when its internal temperature reached 170 degrees.

It was beautiful. There wasn't a dry eye in the kitchen.

We carved the Turducken after it rested an hour, and were all impressed by its layered cross-sections. Every friend and fellow dot-commie in attendance agreed the Turducken was delicious. reporter Catherine Donaldson-Evans described the Turducken as "deliciously moist and flavorful and, surprisingly, not as filling as I expected."

Reporter Liza Porteus said all the meat layers were "very tender" and the stuffing "added great flavor."

But Catherine did not like the "crunch" of the casings in the sausage stuffing. I used pre-cooked Andouille; remove the casings if you're using raw sausage.

Instead of gravy, I recommend straining the drippings and spooning off the fat, then pouring it back into the roaster on the stove and reducing with wine. A teensy bit of salt and pepper and you're done.

The Turducken was not too greasy or dense, but was heavier than just a plain roasted bird. Since I was serving the Turducken plus two stuffings plus mashed-potato cakes, I decided to counterbalance them with an Asian pear salad and green bean salad (see Recipes sidebar). No pie for dessert, just ginger and eggnog ice cream from Ronnybrook Farm.

While the Turducken was delightfully savory and delicious, it may be months before I am able to even look at a piece of poultry again. So, like President Bush, I too will pardon a turkey for Thanksgiving. I'm having sushi Thursday night.

Speaking of setting turkeys free, remember the one that attacked those Ohio troopers earlier this year? Poor thing had to be put down. You were just too much turkey for this earth, little bird!

Thankfully, Columbus' NBC affiliate still has video of the attack on its Web site. Watch as a trooper runs from that turkey faster than a White House aide fleeing Patrick Fitzgerald!

I kid the administration. For those of you who plan on making a Turducken this Thanksgiving, it is well worth the effort. Just watch those fingers, don't pull the Turducken out until you get a green light from a thermometer, and support your local butchers and farmers.

And at the risk of grandstanding, I'd like to take advantage of having a blogger's instead of a reporter's hat on. The Turducken was challenging and fun but at the end of the day is an obscene use of food in many parts of the world and this very nation. If you have the means, please remember the victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita who are still without homes, and the great many Kashmiris, Indians and Pakistanis who have yet to see any government aid well over a month after the earthquake.

For a list of aid organizations, click here. And, of course, Happy Thanksgiving!

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