On Sunday night Matt and I hosted an intimate dinner party with some good friends, good wine, and a turkey stuffed with a duck… stuffed with a chicken. It was a lovely little evening, and not that out of the ordinary given my love of stuffing foods inside each other (see below for a photo of the desert version of Turducken that I prepared for Matt’s birthday). I’ve made Turducken a few times before, so what really made this poultry party special was that I also butchered the birds myself. I’ve always made Turducken back home in Chicago and the wonderful folks at Zier’s Prime Meats have, year after year, honored my requests for a a de-boned duck, chicken and a partially de-boned turkey. I’m sure it wasn’t Mr. Zier’s favorite way to spend an afternoon, but given that he used to be my basketball coach, he would always happily oblige. This year I started toying with the idea of forgoing the butcher and deboning the birds myself. I was sure that with enough research I would obtain the culinary prowess to tackle all three creatures. Plus, I thought, it would make great material for the blog. I hemmed and hawed over it for about a week and eventually decided I would do this, and not only would I do it, I’d tape the whole thing. So, armed with a brand new boning knife and the delusional idea that thousands of people would log on to my blog for tips on butchering a Turducken (and that eventually it would get leaked to a Food Network producer and I’d have my own show by Christmas), I decided project debone was on.
Now they say that in Manhattan you can have anything in the world delivered to your door in less than twenty minutes. Well, I’m convinced that during the week of November 8, 2010 there was a serious duck shortage on this island. I looked everywhere; Whole Foods, Fresh Direct, Food Emporium, Zabar’s, D’Agostino’s, only to be met with the same response, “we usually carry them, hmm…try back next week.” “I can’t try back next week. I already sent out the Facebook invitation for this Sunday and next week is our Jersey Shore party and you know Turducken can’t compete with that!” Much to my surprise Eli the butcher didn’t really care about my social calendar. Finally, on Friday during my lunch break I decided to try Whole Foods again, and there in the poultry case, looking up at me in all of his quacking glory, was my little duckling. I snatched him up and by the time I got to the butcher case I realized I was cradling him like a child, which was a little alarming considering I was about to detach his rib cage from the rest of his body. Now I wanted to wait to purchase the duck until after work, so I asked the butcher if they had anymore in the back. They didn’t. I asked him if he would hold the duck for me until after work. He wouldn’t. So I grabbed some sushi for my lunch and then the duck, the sushi and myself headed to the dreaded, congested nightmare known as the Whole Foods checkout line. Paying for your groceries at Whole Foods makes merging on the Long Island expressway look like a walk in Central Park. Once we were out of the store the duck and I headed back to Lincoln Center where I nestled him discreetly in the communal fridge in the staff lounge. This was not an ideal situation. I was terrified someone would discover him and I would forever be know in my office as “that girl that brought a duck to work,” but I’m pretty sure I got away with it. After work, I picked up the rest of the gang (a.k.a. the turkey and the chicken) and we all got on the subway and headed home. I had every intention of staying in Friday and devoting the night and all of my attention to butchering. But Mexican food in the Village turned out to be a more desirable option than wielding bird carcasses all night, so I put it off until Saturday morning. I woke up bright and early and got to work on my birds. Here’s a video of what went down…
After the deboning saga I mustered up some energy to make the stuffing that would get sandwiched between the layers of birds. There was a cornbread stuffing, a spinach and onion stuffing, and finally (my favorite) a sausage stuffing. I whipped and chopped and sauteed and finished just in time to make it out to Brooklyn for a hibatchi and bocce birthday party (ok it wasn’t just in time we were a half hour late, but mostly due to the horrid weekend habits of the E train.) The next morning I woke up wishing I had drank a little less sake the night before, but I eventually pulled it together for my stuffing project. I must first credit the folks at Alpine Steakhouse in Sarasota, Florida for providing me with the basis of my recipe. While I’ve thrown in a few twists here and there, I mostly ripped off the recipe from a Diner’s Drive-Ins and Dives episode called “Talkin’ Turkey” (which ironically was on when I was writing this blog post…eerie). The first step is to season the chicken and the duck and sear them on each side. This gives the skin a nice crispy texture instead of a chewy, elasticy one when you bite into the Turducken. Then you start stacking. We laid the turkey down flat, hit it with the cornbread stuffing, spinach and onion mixture, and spicy italian sausage. Then you layer on some strips of roasted red peppers which gives the final product a lot of color. Next the duck goes down, followed by the three stuffings again, then the chicken, again with the stuffings, and then you sew it up like a football. It bakes low and slow in the oven for five hours under a tent of aluminum foil. When it reaches 130 degrees you crank the heat to 375 and roast it with out the foil to get it golden brown on the outside.
While our super bird cooked, we power cleaned the apartment, read an appellate brief (Matt), and made some yummy side dishes (me.) I took the Turducken out of the oven just as the guests started to arrive, and let me tell you they did not come empty handed. Natalie, fresh from her bread-making rotation in pastry school, brought us an unbelievable amout of her homework, including Kalamata olive bread, french baguettes, walnut loaves and hot crossed buns. I happily received many bottles of white wine (my fav) and Jeanette came toting a dessert in the form of this ungodly delicious pumpkin cheesecake. It was rich and creamy, with a pecan crust, and just the right amount of pumpkin flavor. It was like autumn on a plate. But before we could dig into that, we had a Turducken to eat. I like to let the Turducken rest for at least a half an hour after I take it out of the oven. Then I slice it in half lengthwise right down the middle and make slices moving from the inside out. Everyone loaded up their plates with slices of Turducken, garlic mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, string beans with pancetta, and of course the homemade bread. And even though my dining room only seats 4, we all some how found a place to sit and began consuming our coma-inducing plates of food.
Not to toot my own horn but it was amazing. The concept of Turducken sounds crazy, until you eat it. Every time I make it I’m always amazed when I take it out of the oven and see the finished product. I whisper quietly to myself in a tone of awe and relief, “it worked.” Then I’m even more amazed when I take a bite. I started making this because of the “culinary feat” factor and I kept making this because it’s just so damn delicious. There are so many flavors going on in one bite; so many textures, so many animals. You can’t help but fall in love. It’s absolutely worth the two days it takes to make it. And I’d make it again tomorrow.
After dinner (and before cheesecake) my friend Bill (who campaigned for two years to get me to make Turducken in this time zone) shared with everyone that he had recently seen a Barefoot Contessa episode where Ina makes dinner for the cast of a Broadway show and afterwards they all gather around a piano and sing to her. My eyes lit up as I admitted that this might indeed be my life long dream. Then some of my friends attempted to make it a reality by singing an abreviated rendition of “The Violins Singing” a la the Thanksgiving scene in “You’ve Got Mail.” If none of that made sense to anyone I apologize. I guess you had to be there, but it was my favorite part of the evening. It was a great little party and it reminded again how lucky I am to have so many of my favorite people living in the same city. After everyone left Matt and I basked in the glow of a successful party and celebrated the fact that Jen had decreed us “real grown-ups” since we offered everyone coffee with dessert. I ate another slice of the pumpkin cheese cake and went to bed with visions of next year’s Turducken dancing in my head.
I have quite the busy week ahead, with the Villanova game tonight, a trip to Philly on Wednesday, a law school formal on Thursday, and then another trip back down to Philly on Friday. But don’t worry I’ll squeeze in as much cooking as possible because I don’t want to leave everyone stranded and wondering…What’s Elizabeth Cooking Now? Thanks for reading! Enjoy the recipes and rest of my how-to videos below!
10-12 lb. turkey
4-5 lb. duck
3-4 lb. chicken
1 package cornbread stuffing (I usually make my stuffing from scratch, but in this case it’s ok to cheat)
10 oz. cut leaf spinach
1 large onion
3 cloves of garlic minced
3 tbsp. butter
1 lb. hot Italian sausage
3 roasted red peppers cut into strips
Blackening (or Cajun) spices
Debone the chicken and the duck according to the instructional video. Partially debone the turkey in the same manner leaving the drumsticks and the wings attached. Coat both sides of the duck and chicken with olive oil and blackening spices and sear on both sides.
Prepare the corn bread stuffing according to package instructions and set aside. Next, saute the spinach, onion, and garlic in butter until the onion is soft and translucent, set aside. Finally, remove the sausage from casing, crumble and saute until browned.
Coat the inner meat of the turkey with olive oil and spices, begin layering the stuffing with the cornbread, followed by the spinach, and then the sausage, patting down after each layer. Next, place the roasted red pepper strips and top with the duck. Repeat the process and layer on the chicken. Add the final layer of stuffing and get a friend to help you sew up the bird.
While someone else holds the sides of the turkey together, begin stitching up the body beginning at the bottom and working your way to the top. Truss the turkey in three places to keep the body cavity intact. Transfer to a roasting pan, add one 28oz can of chicken broth to the bottom and tent with aluminum foil. Place the Turducken in a 250 degree oven and roast for 4 to 5 hours, basting every half hour. When the internal temperature has reached 130 degrees remove the foil and adjust the heat to 375 degrees. Roast until the meat is 165 degrees in the thickest part of the bird. Let stand for a half hour. To serve slice the bird in half lengthwise and make 1/2 inch slices starting from the inside and working out.
A few thanksgivings ago I asked my mom to teach me how to make her delicious homemade cranberry sauce. She took out an Ocean Spray bag of cranberries, pointed to the recipe on the bag and smiled. It’s that easy and that delicious. It blows canned cranberries out of the water and its a very simple side.
Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes
5 lb. bag of Yukon Gold potatoes – cleaned and quartered
3 heads of garlic
1 pint heavy cream
1 stick of butter
Salt and pepper
In a large stock pot add the potatoes, cover with water and 3 tablespoons of salt, let sit for at least four hours or overnight. Cut the heads of the garlic and remove outer skin, drizzle with olive oil. Roast in a 400 degree oven for 30-40 minutes until cloves are golden brown. Pop the cloves out of the skin and mash with a fork to form a paste.
Bring the stock pot of potatoes to a boil and cook until fork tender (about 25 minutes.) Mash the potatoes with the garlic paste, heavy cream, butter, salt, and pepper.
Sting Beans and Pancetta
2 lbs. string beans – cleaned, ends trimmed
1/4 lb. Pancetta – diced
In a large pan saute the pancetta until crispy, add the string beans and saute on medium heat for 25 minutes until beans are tender but still have a little crunch.