Friday, January 9, 2009

Turducken Considered

When the folks at sent me a turducken a few months back, I’m sure they hoped I’d try it and write it up before the holidays. I have to imagine that 75% or so of annual turducken sales are concentrated around the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. Be that as it may, the right opportunity – namely, a house full of people – didn’t present itself until just after New Year’s.

Until that day, I’d been a turducken virgin. The idea of the dish – as CajunGrocer describes, “a semi-boneless turkey stuffed with a deboned chicken and deboned duck breast [with] creole pork sausage & cornbread stuffing between each bird” – had always struck me as odd. Why the heck would someone go to all that trouble and who the hell thought it up in the first place? Is it really a Louisiana specialty or just a marketing gimmick? On the rare occasion – maybe once or twice a year – that someone would walk into the wine shop and ask for a suggested pairing for the turducken they were planning to cook, it always made me kind of laugh. Silently, of course. Or maybe it was out loud…. When chortle came to shove, though, I was more than happy to give the turducken a wing.

Before and after roasting.

Given that the turducken ships frozen, the only time or labor intensive part of its preparation is thawing, which took about three days in my refrigerator. As it arrives fully prepared, cooking is as simple as preheating the oven, putting the bird(s) in a roasting pan, tenting it with foil, putting it in the oven and shutting the door. CajunGrocer’s instructions suggest about five hours cooking time. Mine took closer to six but that extra time is a typical side effect, in my experience, of the heavyweight All Clad roasting pan I use. There are actually a couple of sets of cooking directions on the CG site: one that recommends water in the roasting pan combined with occasional basting, another that goes for straight-up dry roasting. I went with the latter, preferring to keep the heat in the oven and the process as rudimentary as possible. You could, of course, get creative with basting methods or pan sauces but I wanted to keep it simple, to see how the turducken would turn out with as little doctoring as possible.

I removed the foil at around the four-hour point to allow the turkey’s skin to crisp and ran periodic temperature checks after another half-hour. When my not-so-insta-read thermometer hit160°F when inserted in the center of the roast (CG’s directions suggest 165, no doubt for litigation’s sake), I removed the turducken from the oven, tented it and allowed it to rest while cooking our side dishes. Not much to it, really.

The end result? In the simplest sense, the turducken turned out quite nicely. Its skin was perfectly golden, the meat tender, flavorful and moist.

Our turducken at two different stages of the carving process.

Slicing and dicing a little more deeply, the best came first. Carving from the neck end of the turkey we quickly hit the duck/chicken mother lode, both smaller birds delivering greater richness and depth of flavor than the white meat of the turkey alone. By the halfway point of the roast, the duck was long gone, leaving a crosshatched pattern of turkey and chicken, still moist and well flavored by the meat’s rub of creole seasonings. As the butt end of the bird approached things turned less favorable, as the chicken went the way of the duck and the stuffing took over. That stuffing, an unattractively brown mixture of cornmeal and seasoned pork, was the weakest point of the turducken, bland and dense, acting more as filler than flavor enhancer.

On the table and leftovers.... We served our turducken with cornbread, roasted yams with coriander-citrus butter and sauteed brussels sprouts with a balsamic glaze. The leftovers, at the butt-end of the roast, illustrate one of my main issues with the construction of the dish: uneven distribution of the creole stuffing.

At about $85, the average price after shipping, CajunGrocer’s turducken might seem like a rather hefty investment for what many might consider a novelty act. Take into account the amount of work – not to mention trial and error – that would go into making one from scratch though, along with the fact that it’s easily enough food to feed twenty people, and you might just consider it an investment worth risking.

Finally, yes, I do recommend wine pairings for turducken when asked. I suppose beers such as Blackened Voodoo or Abita Amber would have been more appropriate to turducken's Louisiana roots. For my own purposes, though, I opted for a couple of Loire Valley Cabernet Francs. Catherine & Pierre Breton's 2005 Bourgueil "Clos Sénéchal" stole the show. It's painfully young but still delicious, brimming with black and blue fruits and a brooding, sauvage aromatic profile. The 2003 St. Nicolas de Bourgueil "Vieilles Vignes" from Joël Taluau, which was pleasantly plump and quite tasty on release, has now shut down and gone into a completely dumb phase. We still managed to drink it... but forget about it for a while if you're holding any.

* * *
The roasting pan:


Anonymous said...

is it okay to be completely honest about a meal when the gracious host is also one of you best friends?

David McDuff said...

Miss Manners might say otherwise in general but for these purposes it's most definitely OK. Fire away.

Andrew said...

I don't know how I feel about that whole motherlode business... Eating dinner shouldn't make you feel like a coal miner, you know?

Edward said...


There's a butcher where I live, who has been making similar creations, often with 5 different birds in one.
The url is here
. I think the trick is to try to get a cross section of each bird, in each slice, which is not easy.

Anonymous said...

i was pretty underwhelmed by the turducken. there wasn't enough duck and what was there wasn't all that flavorful.
i don't think the chicken adds anything to the equation. the turkey kind of overwhelms the chicken.
i thought the turkey was okay on its own. i'm with you on the stuffing too.
i don't think i'd go out of my way to order one of these.

Carl Malone said...

Hello, David
Since I've been tempted for years to cook a Turducken, I'm somewhat torn on the meager results you encountered. Shame that it didn't taste as good as it looked in the photos!!!
I could forgive the fact that the smaller birds were only present in the first portion of the bird, and the stuffing was pushed all the way to the back...I'm sure it's no easy task to construct a Turducken from irregular sized building blocks. But, the part that I can't necessarily ignore was the bland stuffing.
I recently talked to a friend who also ordered The Seafood Stuffing version, and thought it was a little too much on the fishy side for his tastes (please take that comment with a grain of salt...because crawfish ARE slightly fishy, and it is a crawfish stuffing!!!).
Perhaps my next foray will be learning how to debone a turkey, a chicken, and a duck (I figure by the 3rd one, I'll be a pro!) and make my own - because my standards are high, and if it isn't up to par, I have only myself to blame!
Thank you very much for this post, well written, honest, and the pictures were excellent.

David McDuff said...

Hey Andrew,
That's not quite the image I was trying to paint, more one of striking the riches straight off and then panning for slim pickings thereafter. It's not that far off, though, as I did feel like I was digging around in hopes of finding more duck once we got beyond the first third of the roast.

That does indeed seem to be the biggest part of the challenge, and I can't imaging it's easy. Given that the turducken is a specialty of this purveyor, though, I don't think it's unfair to expect a more even distribution of birds and stuffing. If the photo from your local purveyor is accurate, it looks as though they've come much closer to the mark.

Sounds as though I liked it a bit more than you. Perhaps that's because I went into it with fairly low expectations and ended up finding more to like than I would have guessed. I must agree with you that the chicken, aside from the dark meat portions, did tend to get lost in the mix.

Hey Carl,
Thanks for the great comment. It would be a ton of work and, as we've both noted, would take a decent amount of trial and error, but I think a DIY turducken could definitely prove tastier than this one. Be sure to let me know how it goes should you decide to give it a try.

Unknown said...

This dish sounds too clever by half. What's next, hummingbird's tongues?

OTOH, the wines, esp. the Breton, sound terrific.

Anonymous said...

a '96 from taluau friday night with grilled sirlion steak and green salad was delicious.

David McDuff said...

Why not, Terence? Hummingbird tongues are particularly tasty deep fried.... The Breton was delicious. I only wish I had more stashed away. The Taluau may get tasty again with a few years of rest. I actually took its closed state as a good sign as some other '03s I've checked in on of late have seemed to be maturing pretty quickly (which is actually more along the lines of what I'd expect from the vintage).

Glad to hear about the '96 Taluau VV, Bill. The last bottle I had was damn good -- very fine and elegant.

Unknown said...

I've always wanted to try a serving, but am not willing to put in the money to buy it or the time to put it all together. I'll live vicariously through this post.

David McDuff said...

Howdy e,
We could always have everyone pitch in on one for the next Philly bloggers potluck....

Anonymous said...

Hilarious. I can only imagine what putting one of these together must be like.

And paired with Breton? Now there's a fun idea...

- wolfgang

David McDuff said...

Hey Wolfgang,
There was something about Breton (the vine, that is) that just called out to me when I considered pairings for the turducken. The fact that Breton's Breton found its way into the mix and worked so well was definitely good fun.

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