You're probably wondering how we celebrated being in the States for Thanksgiving this year. Or not, but you're going to find out anyway.
The Turducken is a pinnacle of turkey preparation, one Husbear's been wanting to scale since well before we read Jeffery Steingarten's recounting of his Turducken experience in It Must've Been Something I Ate.
So, we're here, we're in Louisiana just around the corner from actual real Cajun country, and we're NOT going to make a turducken this year?
For those of you that don't know, a turducken is a chicken stuffed into a duck stuffed into a turkey. Between each layer is an entirely different dressing, and the whole is topped with a sweet potato-eggplant gravy. It's not to be undertaken lightly.
It was a bit of a do, tracking down the recipe in Paul Prudhomme's out of print Prudhomme Family Cookbook, but the Austin Library came to our rescue. Then, we had only to put together a spreadsheet organizing the six separate recipes that go into making one turducken, and we were off!
First, you have to chop like forty-something cups of the Cajun Trinity - that is, onion, green bell pepper, and celery. 22.5 cups of onion alone, to be precise. My eyes are still burning.
Then you make the three dressings (stuffings, if you were up in the North) that, along with the chicken, the duck, and the turkey, make up the finished Turducken. These have to be prepared, baked, and then chilled completely before assembling the turducken. Unless you want a 10-hour day of cooking (which is what we ended up with), you may want to prepare these the day before final assembly, which is the day before you want to eat the turducken, since it roasts for at least 13 hours.
Yes, this is a three-day recipe.
The three dressings are oyster, cornbread (for which you of course have to make the sweet cornbread!) and andouille. Here's the andouille and cornbread, being watched over by a suspicious ceramic rooster. I think he may have foreseen the forthcoming poultry carnage.
While we waited for the dressings to cool, Husbear got to the deboning. Mr. Prudhomme recommends you start with the turkey and work your way down (presumably because it's easiest to see the structure of the biggest bird), but Husbear started with the chicken. He's a bit of an old hand at deboning chickens and ducks.
This duck is a "head on feet on style" from the giant Asian market in Austin. I think this sounds like a particularly obscure type of kung-fu.
Last bird, turkey. I should mention that Husbear brined this turkey for a good 24 hours before getting it ready for turducken prep.
Deboning a turkey turns out to be a serious undertaking, especially if you're working with a 26-pounder! (That's just under 12 kilos, for our non-US friends.)
My sister-in-law walked into the kitchen with Husbear elbow-deep in splayed-open turkey flesh and yelped "Oh, dear G-d."
The carnage was extensive.
Please note, you have to have the proper apron to prepare a turducken.
So. If you've done everything correctly here, you should now have three pans of dressing and three deboned birds. Lay out the turkey, season it lots and lots, and spread on a large amount of the andouille dressing.
Good, there you go. You're doing great. Now lay out that boneless balloon of duck on top of the turkey. Season it, too, and then spread on a liberal amount of the sweet cornbread and giblet dressing.
There you go. Now, grab your chicken... no dirty bizness, here!
Cover it with your oyster dressing, which is like half butter, by the way.
You can't help but giggle at that. The variegated meat strata... the chicken leg just poking out, there...
Here's where things get a little delicate. I was reminded of all those Food Network shows where people try to move their soaring chocolate towers or spindly sugar showpieces the six feet from their worktables to the display area. The Turducken has to be folded in on itself and moved to a deep baking pan. Then it has to be sewn together (with a curved carpet needle, KTHXBAI).
Then, there's a further delicate procedure - jam your hands under the by now almost 40 pound extradense fowl singularity and flip it over. Again, you probably want two people for this. If you've poked any holes in the breast when deboning (and hope you haven't, because that would make for a seriously fugly turducken) sew them up. Then, coat the sea of turkey in more seasonings.
While you've been doing this, your family has been chowing down on a 110-pound sack of oysters. Obviously.
Now, this huge layered extravaganza has to roast at 190 F for 13 hours. Or more. The USDA says this is a great way to poison all of your guests (according to them, roasting poultry below 325 F is unsafe... our opinion is that the USDA likes to scare people), but we're all still standing, so... huh.
We had to put the pan in the oven at midnight. Yeah.
Husbear got up a few times during the night to make sure the oven was at the proper temperature and that the turducken hadn't exploded or started to give off large amounts of liquid. "Just like having a newborn!" chortled the rest of the family.
Things actually got started pretty late Thanksgiving morning. The turducken looked good, with the internal temperature up around 130. A run was made to the local Cafe du Monde outpost for bags of beignets, and Husbear fixed everyone bracing mugs of cafe au lait.
(Do I need to mention that it was almost 80 on Thursday? Good thing global warming doesn't exist, she says, quoting further anecdotal evidence...)
I can't see why people who live near Cafe du Monde would ever need to buy powdered sugar - there must have been three pounds sitting in there with the beignets.
I'm sure it goes without saying that Thanksgiving dinner was not limited to the turducken and its three separate pans of dressings. And its sweet potato-eggplant gravy.
No, there were yams. And two pans of the always necessary broccoli-rice casserole. And yeast rolls. And giblet gravy for those who were unsure of the sweet potato-eggplant gravy, and to use up all the yummy giblets we had from the birds.
Preparations took over the stove and spilled from the kitchen to cover most available surfaces.
Several hours later (after turning the oven up a couple of times) the turducken was done. Here it is with its Dr. Frankenstein.
We all looked at it askance. Would the turkey breast be dry? Would the dressings inside the bird be soggy? Would the duck skin be fatty?
The stuffed bird took its place on the buffet line. Though this looks like food for thirty or so, we were only 9. Oops. Hey, the best thing about Thanksgiving is the leftovers, right?
Husbear stepped up to carve the bird. What would it look like on the inside? The suspense...
Everyone got a slice including all three birds and all three dressings. And here they are!
And here, again, but accompanied by all the sides and dressings and casseroles and berries and gravies. This is what happened when you tried to get a small spoonful of everything.
Final verdict? Delicious. Very, very moist turkey breast (likely thanks to the brining). The duck skin didn't add anything, but wasn't bad - it would probably be a good idea to remove it and render it for duck cracklins. The dressings were all outstanding; everyone had a different favorite, which is probably a good sign. And I don't even know how to begin to tell you how good that sweet potato-eggplant gravy is. We were all surprised.
And that's not even mentioning how good the accompaniments prepared by auntie Jodi and Mama Bear were. Wow.
Thanks to Husbear's clan for being willing to experiment this Thanksgiving and letting us try to pull this off, and for all the help they gave us. Now we just don't know what to do for Christmas.
The moral here is go ahead and make you a turducken. Don't be scared.