The Turducken

The Turducken is not just an overstuffed, over-hyped heap of poultry. It’s more like a commencement of flavor! Though the originations of the Turducken are sometimes a heated point of debate, no one can dispute that the late great Chef Paul Prudhomme was most responsible for perfecting it. Therefore it is vital to treat each and every opportunity to craft a Turducken as if its a gathering of culinary royalty and nothing less!

-The Objective

In short, the objective for mashing up several birds at once is to climb the proverbial culinary hill of excellence. While it’s not the easiest of task it is somewhat a far cry from super complex. With the right amount of time, focus and patience just about any level chef has the capacity to pull it off. Even through challenges and time commitment, Turducken is the perfect lure for those of us willing to take on an uphill challenge.

-The Outline

Brine Time – 40 Hours
Prep Time – 2 Hours
Cook Time – 6 Hours
Rest Time – 1 Hour
Total Time – 50 Hours

Roasting Temperature – 350F
Internal Temperature – 165F

-The Challenges

Yes there are a few…

Dry Birds

One of the persistent challenges in roasting a Turducken is the variability of the internal temperature requirements between the three birds. The Chicken is the innermost bird and also the most difficult to cook to the appropriate temperature. On the other hand the Turkey, being the outermost bird naturally absorbs the bulk of the heat. This can often lead to an overly dry set of Turkey breast.

Overcooked Duck

Of course you have to cook the Turkey and the Chicken to a food safe temperature, but in doing so the likelihood of over cooked Duck becomes very real. As I’m sure you already know, Duck is most appropriate when roasted until it’s medium rare. Getting the Duck to this point is not advised when cooking the Turducken since it is better to be safe than sorry. In this scenario the only reasonable thing to do is cook both the Turkey and the Chicken just thoroughly enough to avoid making anyone sick but also not so much that the Turducken turns out overly dry and paltry.

Lack of Form

Since about 80% of the bones will be removed from the birds it will become incredibly challenging to maintain perfect form. The sides of the Turducken have a tendency to protrude, creating an oval like shape. One way to mitigate this issue is to properly proportion the weight balance between all three of the birds. The Turkey will need to weigh around 15 pound while the Duck and the Chicken will each weigh in around five pounds prior to deboning.

Rubbery Skin

A major point of contention within the Turducken is the final outcome of the skin from the Duck and the Chicken. The Duck skin contains a great deal of delicious fat so there’s a pretty intense debate about whether or not you should leave it be. Since the Duck is exposed to virtually no direct heat the fat will never render properly, resulting in rubbery and chewy skin. Though it’s not the worst thing in the world, it can be rather off-putting to those eating it.

Conflicting Flavors

Though the least daunting of the challenges, the three distinct flavor profiles of each bird presents a unique set of obstacles worthy of mention. One of the foremost objectives is to avoid creating an unappealing and mix-matched combination of those flavors. It’s best to allow each of the birds the opportunity to present their natural flavors without too much interference. By the end of it all the Turducken should be a homogenous blend of natural flavor along with a few carefully thought out ingredients.

-The Brine

In an effort to curb at least some of the challenges set forth by the Turducken we determined that brining each of the birds in the same solution would be most ideal. Not only will brining each bird add about 15% more water weight, it’ll also offer the opportunity to unify the flavor profiles of each bird. Without some uniformity within the flavor spectrum each bird will be most desirable only by itself. By tying the flavors together you get the consistency of one flavor along with each bird’s most unique qualities.

Brine Ingredients:

Ground Orange Peel
Dried Rosemary
Dried Thyme
Minced Garlic
Black Peppercorns
Kosher Salt

-The Stuffing

Chef Paul Prudhomme’s recipe calls for three different types of stuffing for the Turducken. We however, felt that using only one style of stuffing would help in our overall objective of creating a more uniform flavor composition. Since traditional Italian stuffing compliments each of the birds individually it was a no brainer that the same thing would happen once they were combined.

Stuffing Ingredients:

Unsalted Butter
Italian Bread
Yellow Onion
Celery
Parsley
Fresh Sage
Fresh Rosemary
Fresh Thyme
Kosher Salt
Cracked Black Pepper
Chicken Broth
Eggs

Stuffing Directions:

  1. Purchase one full loaf of day old Italian bread. Non-sliced bread is most ideal but pre-sliced will work just as well.
  2. Using a bread knife, cube the loaf into 1 inch squares then place them into a large mixing bowl.
  3. Next, pour one cup of Chicken broth into the large mixing bowl along with the bread cubes.
  4. Add a half cup of butter to the mixing bowl.
  5. Add two tablespoons of kosher salt and one tablespoon of fresh cracked black pepper to the mixing bowl.
  6. Chop the fresh herbs along with half a bunch of parsley then add all of the fresh chopped ingredients to the mixing bowl with the other ingredients.
  7. Dice about half of a fresh yellow onion then add it to the mixing bowl with the rest of the ingredients.
  8. Lastly, crack two whole eggs and add them to the mixing bowl with the other ingredients then proceed to hand mix the stuffing until all of the ingredients are evenly distributed.
  9. Set the stuffing aside then move on to deboning each of the birds.

The most laborious task in the process is the deboning of the three birds. Having access to a high quality boning knife will certainly make life easier. Of course the knife should be extremely sharp but keep in mind that when you’re deboning each of the birds the objective is to only use the boning knife when necessary. Whenever possible make sure to use your hands and fingers to perform tasks such as removing flesh from the carcass or breaking joints. Ideally the boning knife should be reserved for the initial cuts and those that present a little more challenge.

-The Turkey

To make things as simple as possible it is highly advised that you start with the Turkey. While it’s most important to keep the Turkey skin intact there remains a high level of flexibility when dealing with the Turkey that you won’t be afforded with the Chicken and the Duck. One, the bones in a Turkey are much larger than those in the Duck and the Chicken. This affords the intermediate chef the opportunity to gather a general understanding of bone displacement prior to moving on the Duck and the Chicken.

Turkey Deboning Directions:

  1. Using the tip of a boning knife begin by removing the wish bone from the Turkey.
  2. Cut around the wish bone on both sides, then use your finger to reach in and pull the wish bone out.
  3. Flip the Turkey over and make a long cut along both sides of the back bone.
  4. Maneuver the wings in order to get a feel for where the joints connect.
  5. Using the boning knife carefully separate the wing bones at each joint and cut through any remaining cartilage.
  6. With the wings disconnected use your hands and fingers to carefully remove the skin and flesh from the carcass of the Turkey.
  7. Alternate sides as you move from the top to the bottom of the Turkey.
  8. Flip the Turkey over and place two fingers on either side of the breast plate and pull the meat away from the bone. You may need to use the boning knife to remove some areas of flesh from the breast plate.
  9. Flip the Turkey back over and maneuver the thigh in order to locate the hip joint.
  10. Once you locate the joint that connects the thigh bone to the spine disconnect the two leaving the thigh bone intact.
  11. Once the thigh bone is disconnected cut around the rest of the area and scrape away any remaining tendons and ligaments.
  12. Carefully remove the last portion of connected flesh without damaging the skin then set the deboned Turkey aside.

-The Duck

The Duck requires quite a bit more attention to detail than does the Turkey. This is mainly because the joints are deeper and there’s significantly less meat. This just means that you must take extra precaution when deboning the Duck not to leave behind too much flavor and opportunity.

The Duck also contains a considerably higher number of bones. Unlike the other two birds the Duck actually has a rib cage which presents a specific set of challenges unto itself. The bones are much smaller and much more brittle than those in the Turkey and the Chicken, therefore extra care must be given in order to avoid leaving behind any sharp bone fragments.

Duck Deboning Directions:

  1. Begin by removing the wings and the legs from the Duck. Set them aside for a different recipe of your liking.
  2. Next, make one long incision down the spine of the Duck.
  3. Using the tip of the boning knife carefully cut the flesh away from the carcass. This is best applied by removing about a half inch of flesh per cut until you are well away from the skin of the Duck.
  4. Continue to remove the skin and meat until you make your way towards the thigh joint of the Duck.
  5. Pry the joint out of the socket then cut away any remaining tendons.
  6. Make an incision along the thigh bone of then carefully remove the bone from the meat.
  7. Once you’re removed the thigh bone begin the same process on the other side of the Duck.
  8. Flip the Duck over so that the skin is facing up. Trim about 2/3 of fat from Duck, leaving most of the remaining fat over the breast sections.
  9. Use the tip of the boning knife to poke several holes in the remaining Duck skin. This will allow some of the fat to render out lending additional flavor to the Turducken.
  10. Set the deboned Duck aside and move on to the Chicken.

-The Chicken

Since the Chicken is the most common bird of the bunch it would make perfect sense that it would be the easiest to work with. Nothing is further from the truth and though its not impossible there are still a handful of challenges to deal with when deboning the Chicken. For starters, tendons and ligaments are abundant inside of the Chicken. It is best practice to remove not only the bones but also as many of the tendons and cartilage as possible. Since the Chicken is the innermost bird there should be little to no expectation that the ligaments and tendons will liquify.

Chicken Deboning Directions:

  1. Begin by removing the wings from the Chicken carcass at each of the joints. Set the Chicken wings aside for a different recipe of your preference.
  2. Using a boning knife start at the top of the breast plate and break the wish bone.
  3. Place the knife on one side of the breast bone and make one succinct slice from the top of the breast to the bottom.
  4. Repeat the same step on the other side of the breast plate.
  5. Going back to the first side remove all of the meat from the carcass down to the shoulder area.
  6. Repeat the same process on the other side of the Chicken before moving on to the thighs.
  7. Make an incision along the leg of the Chicken and remove the leg bone from each leg. Cut away any excess tendons from the joints.
  8. Make a similar incision along the thigh bone then remove the bone with your hand. Repeat the process for each of the thigh bones.
  9. Hold the Chicken down and remove the skin from the carcass.
  10. Lastly, remove the wish bone from each of the breast. This may require use of the boning knife if the broken wish bone doesn’t easily slide out.

-The Assembly

While there are a couple of flavor profiles that are traditionally associated with Turducken we wanted to go with something that was strictly poultry based. This meant that we would not be incorporating the likes of pork or seafood like Chef Paul. Instead we relied on the techniques and flavors that would allow each of the birds to do what they do best. We settled on a simple brine recipe that elaborated on some of the citrus notes contained within our Shao-Kao Rub. It’s absolutely no secret that Asian chefs are some of the most regarded whenever poultry is the meat of choice. That factor allowed us to rely on a fairly simple blend of dry ingredients to achieve the highest level of depth with each layer of poultry.

Shao Kao Rub Ingredients:

Star Anise
Ground Cloves
Ground Cinnamon
Sichuan Pepper
Ground Fennel Seed
Ground Cumin
Ground Orange Peel

  1. Arrange the Turkey on a large surface with the skin down.
  2. Apply a moderate amount of Shao-Kao Rub to the exposed meat.
  3. Apply a layer of stuffing to the same side of the Turkey. Make sure to leave the edges of the Turkey free from stuffing.
  4. Spread the stuffing as evenly as possible and leave various areas free from stuffing so that there are several points where meat can touch meat. This will help the Turducken hold form better after it’s trussed.
  5. Next, place the Duck on top of the Turkey. Make sure to align the two birds as evenly as possible. This just means that the Duck breast should sit directly atop the Turkey breast.
  6. Follow the exact same steps as before with the Shao-Kao Rub and the stuffing.
  7. Place the Chicken on top of the Duck making sure to align the breast with the breast, again.
  8. Repeat the same steps as before with the Shao-Kao Rub and the stuffing.
  9. Feel free to apply a bit more stuffing since the Chicken will be the final layer of the Turducken.

Trussing the Turducken typically takes a good amount of effort from at least two people. Keeping the Turducken intact is the most pertinent objective that you must work towards. It’s best to utilize either an upholstery needle or a bamboo skewer to probe holes down the backside of the Turkey. Also consider utilizing either butcher’s twine or natural sausage casing to hold the Turducken together. The advantage in using sausage casing is that it is completely edible which alleviates the necessity to remove once it’s cooked. Butcher’s twine on the other hand is a little stronger, less costly and more readily available. It is however necessary to remove the butcher’s twine once the Turducken is cooked.

Trussing Directions:

  1. Tie a small portion of butcher’s twine or sausage casing through the opening of the upholstery needle. It’s best to refrain from tying a large knot as the needle will need to easily pass through the skin.
  2. Cut at least three feet of butcher’s twine or sausage casing away from the spool.
  3. Begin trussing the Turducken at the bottom portion.
  4. With one person holding the Turducken in place begin maneuvering the upholstery needle and butcher’s twine through the skin at half inch intervals.
  5. The goal is to create a uniform cross stitch pattern, however it is not imperative that the trussing look great since no one will see it.
  6. Once you’ve reached the top end of the Turducken tie a nurses knot in the butcher’s twine in order to secure it.
  7. Repeat the process in the opposite direction if additional stability is necessary.
  8. Once the Turducken is assembled apply a generous amount of Shao-Kao Rub to the exterior.
  9. Carefully maneuver the Turducken to a roasting rack.

-The Roast

The final and most rewarding part of the whole process is the roast. A moderate roast on the Big Green Egg is the perfect solution for cultivating all of the previous effort. The concentrated heat will work in conjunction with the added moisture from the brine to create the ideal balance of flavor, texture and moisture.

  1. Start the Big Green Egg with the roasting configuration, placing the feet of the platesetter down.
  2. Once the Big Green Egg reaches a steady dome temperature of 350F place the roasting rack holding the Turducken in the center most point of the cooker.
  3. Allow the Turducken to roast for 4-8 hours depending on the weight.
  4. As the Turducken is roasting it is best practice to rotate it each hour to promote efficient roasting and even browning.
  5. Once the Turducken reaches an internal temperature of 165F remove it from the Big Green Egg and allow it to rest for at least one hour.
  6. Upon carving the Turducken remove the legs and the wings first then make slices across the breast area.
  7. Use a long metal spatula to most effectively serve the large slices of Turducken to guests.
  8. Enjoy

Photography Credits:

Maurice Williams 
Greg Mosley

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