Mark A. Mandel mamandel at UNAGI.CIS.UPENN.EDU
Wed Nov 20 14:39:31 UTC 2002

My wife passed this on to me in the spirit of the season, unaware (I
believe) of our recent discussions on the turducken, the churkendoose,
and similar polyavians.

-- Mark A. Mandel

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Wed, 20 Nov 2002 08:11:04 -0500

>>From today's NY Times:


November 20, 2002

Turkey Finds Its Inner Duck (and Chicken)


ONCE upon a time, possibly at a lodge in Wyoming, possibly at a butcher
shop in Maurice, La., or maybe even at a plantation in South Carolina, an
enterprising cook decided to take a boned chicken, a boned duck and a
boned turkey, stuff them one inside the other like Russian dolls, and
roast them. He called his masterpiece turducken.

In the years that followed its mysterious birth, turducken has become
something of a Southern specialty, a holiday feast with a beguiling
allure. There are some Cajun butchers, like Hebert's Specialty Meats, who
have made it their signature, stuffing dozens of turduckens each week, and
shipping them frozen around the nation. At Thanksgiving time, Hebert's
production leaps to nearly 5,000 a week.

"I think it's like the deep-fried turkey that came to the fore a few years
back," said John T. Edge, the director of the Southern Foodways Alliance
in Oxford, Miss. "It's a fairly exotic meal that has gone mainstream."

"When I visited my father in Macon, Ga.," Mr. Edge added, "he had a
turducken that he bought cut rate from Sam's Club in his freezer."

But since many people don't seem to mind dunking an entire turkey in
boiling oil, it doesn't seem so ambitious to try stuffing a duck stuffed
with a chicken into a turkey, rather than buying it prepared. It seemed
straightforward from a cooking point of view, and the results were
tantalizing.  A well-prepared turducken is a marvelous treat, a free-form
poultry terrine layered with flavorful stuffing and moistened with duck
fat. When it's assembled, it looks like a turkey and it roasts like a
turkey, but when you go to carve it, you can slice through it like a loaf
of bread. In each slice you get a little bit of everything: white meat
from the breast, dark meat from the legs, duck, carrots, bits of sausage,
bread, herbs, juices and chicken, too.

I called Paul Prudhomme, the Louisiana chef who has long proclaimed
himself the inventor of the turducken. He insisted that to truly
understand turducken, you need to bone all of the birds and prepare three
stuffings, one for each layer of meat, and cook the whole for 12 hours.
(And yet, purist though he is, Mr.  Prudhomme would not reveal the name of
the lodge in Wyoming where he says he came up with the dish, when exactly
he created it, or even his age.)

Leaving aside the mystery of its birth, perhaps the more interesting
question is why turducken hasn't caught on more north of the Mason-Dixon
line, especially at Thanksgiving, when even the most rigid cooks toss
aside restraint.

There are a few diehard fans, like John Madden, the colorful N.F.L.
football analyst, who usually buys three to last him and his broadcast
crew through the Thanksgiving Day game. "The first one I ever had I was
doing a game in New Orleans," Mr. Madden said. "The P.R. guy for the
Saints brought me one.  And he brought it to the booth. It smelled and
looked so good. I didn't have any plates or silverware or anything, and I
just started eating it with my hands."

Mr. Madden gets his turduckens from the Gourmet Butcher Block in New
Orleans.  Between each layer of bird is a different dressing. "And when
you get the whole combination the oyster dressing, the spicy dressing and
the rest it's pretty doggone good," he said.

I thought about ordering a turducken, but had heard the mail-order ones
were something like mail-order fruitcakes inconsistent at best. Or I could
make one and see for myself what Mr. Madden was talking about.

At Hebert's (pronounced ay-BEARS), which has locations in Louisiana, Texas
and Oklahoma, the butchers can bone a turkey in two and a half minutes and
a chicken in a minute and five seconds. Still, Mr. Prudhomme's words
notwithstanding, I am not a masochist. I have boned birds before. It's
about as much fun as stripping paint. I called Staubitz, a butcher shop
that's been in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, since 1917.

"I'd like to know if you can bone a turkey, duck and chicken for me," I

"Say that again, nice and easy," John McFadden, the owner, said. So I did.

"I know we're a butcher but that's artwork."

I pressed my case. I offered to pay extra.

"Nope," Mr. McFadden said. "Can't do it. They do it in Louisiana. They
don't do it here in New York."

I called another butcher, who said you need special equipment to bone
poultry. A sharp knife? Another said he wouldn't do it because it was "a
royal pain in the neck."

Several more calls, though, yielded a handful of butchers who were happy
to do the work (mostly for a price, about $10 extra), and I ordered the
birds a 3-pound chicken, 4- to 5-pound duck and 10- to 12-pound turkey.
These proportions would allow each bird to fit snugly into the next
without over-stretching the turkey.

A few days later at Lobel's Prime Meats, on Madison Avenue in Manhattan,
Stanley Lobel began slicing into a duck, carefully removing the backbone,
and then shaving the meat from the rib cage. It was beautiful to watch as
the bones emerged and all that was left was a floppy duck "suit." Mr.
Lobel has been a butcher for 55 years. It took him 15 minutes to bone the
duck. Get a butcher to bone the birds.

Mr. Lobel, who has made turducken, and even a capon in a capon, suggested
cutting the duck and chicken into four pieces, so you can spread them out
over the turkey, allowing the meat to be dispersed more evenly. He kept
the wings of the turkey intact, and butterflied the drumsticks in the duck
and chicken.

Recipes other than Mr. Prudhomme's for what follows are scarce. But it is
not difficult to find in the annals of culinary history examples of birds
stuffed into birds. There is a reference in the diaries of John B.
Grimball from 1832 for a Charleston preserve of fowl. It consisted of a
dove stuffed into a quail, a quail into a guinea hen, a hen into a duck, a
duck into a capon, a capon into a goose, and the goose into a peacock or a
turkey. The whole thing was then roasted and cut into "transverse
sections." It makes turducken seem like the lazy way out.

Barbara Wheaton, a food historian, said that in the 14th century, peacocks
were boned and roasted and re-stuffed into their feathered skin. In his
Encyclopedia of Practical Gastronomy, published at the turn of the last
century, Henri Babinski, who used the pseudonym Ali-Bab, gives
instructions for stuffing boned ortolans into truffles.

"In the Republic of Georgia," Darra Goldstein, a professor of Russian at
Williams College and the editor of Gastronomica, a journal of food and
culture, wrote in "The Georgian Feast" (University of California Press),
"there's a very old feast dish that calls for a huge ox roasted on a spit,
stuffed successively with a calf, a lamb, a turkey, a goose, a duck, and
finally a young chicken, and seasoned throughout with spices. The art lay
in ensuring that each type of meat was perfectly roasted."

Mr. Edge said, "If this was going on in Charleston in the 19th century, it
is likely that some other enterprising cooks in places around the South
were preparing this dish previous to Paul Prudhomme's so-called invention
of the turducken."

"It strikes me as a dish invented by men in a hunt camp," he added, "men
who have a snootful, who say, `What would happen if we took this bird and
put it in this bird?' "

But then again, the Cajuns like to make chaudin, the stomach of a pig
stuffed with sausage and peppers, stuffed calves tongue and stuffed pork
chops.  "Witness the Hebert stuffed fowl list," Calvin Trillin, the New
Yorker writer, who has a turducken in his freezer, wrote via e-mail, "and
the fact that Cajuns get needles from veterinarians to inject the secret
spices into turkeys that are about to be deep fried."

Nevertheless, the codified definition of a turducken, and the name itself,
is most likely 20th century in origin. But with no details available, its
creator remains elusive. "Of course, now everyone's on the bandwagon,"
said Conrad Comeaux, a tax assessor and home cook in Lafayette, La.

Mr. Comeaux once smoked turducken for an hour or so on the grill before
roasting it. It turned out well. "Good enough to make you go home and slap
your mama,"  Mr. Comeaux added, using a local expression.

Although smoking turducken on my deck in Brooklyn was unlikely to happen,
I would roast it in my oven. Turducken, it turns out, is not unlike
preparing a turkey with stuffing, and not unlike cooking a rolled and tied
butterflied leg of lamb. So that is just how I approached preparing it. I
wanted the flavors of the meats to be clear and distinguished, so I
developed a stuffing that would complement them, rather than three
stuffings muddling the mass. You want the stuffing to be full flavored and
sturdy; it should fill the dips and cavities where the bones once were,
without making the bird bulky. And if you fill the turkey too full, it
will split open when cooking.

I sauted cubed pancetta and sausage. With the duck and chicken giblets, I
cooked onion, celery, carrot, garlic and aniseed, deglazed the pan with
brandy and added tarragon and thyme. Then I folded this together with
cubes of dry country bread.

Assembling a turducken is simple. You lay the turkey skin side down (if
your butcher hasn't butterflied the bird, slice through the skin where the
backbone was and open up the bird so it lays flat), season it with salt
and pepper and spread it with some of the stuffing. Make sure to tuck some
stuffing into the drumsticks. Then lay the duck in the same manner on top
of the turkey and repeat. The same goes for the chicken. Then you have a
choice: you can sew up the bird using a carpet or upholstery needle and
butchers' twine, or thread through each side of the bird with thin skewers
and then lace the skewers with twine. I recommend sewing, and enlisting
someone to help. Begin at the tail end, folding up the tail skin and
pulling the sides of the bird, close to the wings, back together. Stitch
the bird from side to side about an inch from each edge, pulling to
tighten. Continue sewing up to the neck end, then tie off the string.

Flip the bird. You could roast the turducken as is, but its amoebic shape
might frighten your guests. I recommend trussing the turducken, as you
would a chicken, which will help outline the drumsticks and reform the
birds into one plump turducken.

Then it's smooth sailing. You put it in a roasting pan, cover it with foil
and bake it at 250 degrees.  Turducken needs to be roasted at a low
temperature so the outer layer of turkey doesn't dry out before the
chicken in the middle is cooked. The best method I found was to cook it
until cooking juices formed in the pan, then baste it every half hour. You
will need a cooking thermometer, because that is the only way to know
what's going on inside the turducken.

When it reaches 130 degrees, you remove the foil and increase the oven
heat. The outside will get brown, and basting will allow the mix of juices
to moisten the entire turducken.

When the turducken is done, you set it on the platter, collect the cooking
juices which are rich and concentrated, like a demiglace in a gravy boat
and march both to the table. Give someone who's never encountered a
turducken the honor of taking a long thin knife and slicing.

"It's about as formidable as a meatloaf," Mr. Trillin said. "It makes
everyone into a grand holiday carver. It gives them tremendous confidence.
You just slice it."

Mr. Edge said, "I wonder how far away we are from turducken being
available in Dubuque?" I think you will agree, after you taste it, that we
are getting closer and closer.

Copyright The New York Times Company

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