Turducken madness

Will it fly?

Will it fly?

Topsham, Devon December, 2009 Definitely the craziest goddam thing I’ve ever made. Tony the butcher boned the turkey. I hacked the duck. Guy boned the chicken (quite expertly considering it was his first go). Three boneless birds; three stuffings. The first, to go between turkey and duck, Arthur’s sausage meat, garlic, panko breadcrumbs, fresh and dried chillies (sorry Claire, lots), pistachio and pine nuts, lots of flat leaved parsley, a dash of red wine. The second, to go between duck and chicken, spinach, ricotta, parmigiano reggiano, breadcrumbs, nutmeg. The third, to go in the chicken and to be cooked separately outside the bird, our usual bread stuffing, stale Town Mill Bakery sourdough torn into pieces, chopped onions, celery, fresh herbs, chopped cashews, chopped walnuts, chopped dried apricots, a bit of this, a bit of that, and butter, lots and lots of butter. ‘Can’t have too much butter in a good stuffing’, that’s my motto, should probably be tattooed across my butt (I’ve been thinking of getting a tattoo lately, and a turducken would most certainly be a suitable subject).

So, down to business: we spread the stuffing over the splayed out turkey. Next, we place the duck on top of this (the duck, in truth is not in a single piece - I kind of part-skinned it first because I’d lost a night’s sleep, worrying about flabby duck skin, and then, once skinned, the meat all fell apart). Not to worry: I spread the lovely green spinach and ricotta stuffing over the duck with my hands, it’s gorgeous but I resist licking my hands. Next comes the chicken, boned beautifully, and finally, the final stuffing. Believe me, by this point, we are talking about a serious amount of meat and a serious amount of stuffing. My god, the turducken weighs a ton and can hardly be picked up by a single normal human being (I can see it now, one of the challenges for ‘The Strongest Man in the World’ – the champion, he lifted not one, not two, but three turduckens...). But I digress. Somehow we manage to wrestle the whole thing together, folding it over on itself, just about keeping things together. But the stuffing, the stuffings, they are trying to escape, oozing out from just about everywhere they can. What to do? Claire, who is nothing if not determined, steps in to save the day. Using all her black belt karate skills (and believe me, she needs them), she gets out a needle and thread, pulls at flaps of skins, curses the turducken roundly, slaps it into shape (literally), tucks stuffing back, yanks here, yanks there, spends a good hour, maybe two, carefully sewing the beast up. The result? A perfectly sealed, legless turducken. Large but beautifully formed. Yes, it has wings. But will it fly? That’s the question. The million dollar question.

The next day we’re up early. I get the wood-fired oven lit by 8am. But it’s been so cold and damp and miserable for the past month or so that it takes a good two or three hours for the oven to get up to speed. The trick with the wood oven is to make it as hot as possible, then allow the heat to drop to the desired temperature. At that point, to keep it more or less constant, you simply add another log or two. That’s the idea, anyway. Sometimes it can be a little hit and miss.

The turducken goes in (temperature around 175 C give or take 20 degrees or so). For the next 7 or 8 hours, I’m on turducken watch. Believe me, it’s a full-time task. I am diligent. I rarely wander away for more than 10-15 minutes at most. The fire is the best-tended fire ever, the temperature pretty constant, all things considered. The skin of the turducken goes brown, then dark mahogany, verging towards the, well, verging towards black. The damn thing’s burning! So I cover it with foil. Juices, delicious, fatty juices are oozing out of the bird(s). I ladle some into the tray of stuffing that I’ve set aside to be cooked separately (me, I’ve always been an out-of-the-bird sort of guy).

Problem, and it’s a real serious one: it’s hard to tell when the turducken is done. The bird, with its unusual shape and girth, is inscrutable. My god, the last thing I want to do is overcook it. No, make that the second-to-the-last. The last is to undercook it. Imagine, with all that raw poultry, plus the stuffing, the potential for fatal (or at the very least massively unpleasant) food poisoning is immense! Fortunately I have a meat thermometer. I poke it into the turducken’s mythical butt, plunging the probe deep into the thickest part. It’s been, what, 5 hours. The thermometer hardly registers. Must be duff, I reckon. I take it out, give it a shake, plunge it in again. After a moment, there are signs of movement. However the bloody thing still appears to be almost stone cold in the middle. Well, it is (almost) a cubic foot so I guess it’s going to take some time for the heat to penetrate right to the center. But hey, we’ve got time, what’s the rush? I open a bottle of O’Hanlons Yellowhammer. Damn good beer. After a while, I open another. Keep feeding the fire, keep fighting off dehydration (proximity to wood ovens makes you very thirsty).

Meanwhile, the timing of everything else is out the window. Our plan was to eat at between 4 and 5 and this is certainly not going to happen. But the sides are now almost all ready: the extra stuffing(s); the carrots with dill; the broad beans with pancetta, balsamic vinegar and spring onions; the mashed potatoes; the sweet potatoes with, yes, marshmallows; the homemade cranberry and apple sauces; and more.

But the turducken, it just isn’t going to rush itself. It will be ready, well, when it’s damn well ready. The needle of the probe thermometer is moving now, but hardly at the speed of light. Hardly at the speed of snail. Oh well, the Yellowhammer is slipping down a treat. And then afterwards so is the white wine. And oh why not, a glass of red, always a great pre-prandial aperitif to get the digestive juices flowing.

Finally, the turducken reaches 165 F on the thermometer. To be perfectly honest, as we must be, it only ever reached about 162 - but we reckon that if the FSIS – the Food and Safety Inspection Service - recommends 165 as ‘safe for poultry’ then it must be erring at least a degree or two on the side of safety and that 162 should probably be just about OK, and it would be bad luck if we killed anyone.

I reach into the bowels of the wood oven, wearing huge oven guantlets, pull out the industrial size roasting tray, stagger into the house with the great beast, somehow manage, with Guy’s help (believe me, this is a two-man job) to transfer it to an immense wooden platter. We leave the turducken to rest, while the sides are all put out. By now it’s nearly 7 (2 or 3 hours later than planned) and everyone is absolutely starving . . . or drunk.

Guy and the turducken

Proud or what?

Guy proudly carries the turducken to the table. True, the skin is most definitely ‘high baked’, but whoever likes turkey skin anyway? Everyone clusters around as I slice into the strange, curious and dark creature. Beautiful! An absolute triumph, if I do say so myself. A massive slice with the layers of meat clearly visible, separated by the three stuffings.

Everyone piles on the sides, the gravy, more stuffing(s), the sweet potatoes with marshmallows, the usual Thanksgiving bun fight. The turducken, it is agreed by one and all, is a rare and marvellous treat. Bravo bravo to the wonderful cooks! Um. Excuse me if I voice a note of dissent. To be perfectly honest, I’m not entirely 100% convinced. Given the immense amount of work, and the extra time that it took to cook, not to mention the huge stress and worry that I might food poison everyone, I’m not absolutely sure that beauty of the turducken hasn’t somehow got lost under all the other mush on everyone's plates. I’m not sure, at this exact exhausted moment (after all the tending - and the case of Yellowhammer) that it is something I'd rush to do again.

But oh, then the next day, it all becomes clear. The cold turducken sandwiches are simply sensational. After a night in the fridge, the meat firms up yet remains moist (forgot to say, we brined the turkey for 12 hours), and the layers of colorful stuffings and different meats, white and dark turkey, deeper dark duck, and even whiter chicken, studded with pistachios and toasted pinenuts, are patterned like a Roman mosaic. The result is a wonderful galantine of many flavours and textures that slices beautifully. Good wholemeal batch bread from Town Mill Bakery, a slice of turducken, a dollop of Kim’s homemade cranberry sauce. Sandwich nirvana.

Is turducken the best sandwich in the world? Guy and I certainly think so.

slice of heaven

Turducken tudiefor

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