What shall we have for Thanksgiving this year?
How about a turducken?
A turducken is a trio of birds – turkey (tur), duck (duck) and chicken (en) – all nestled together.
It sounds like the beginning of a tall tale: There once was turkey that lost all its bones and was stuffed with a duck that swallowed a chicken. They were all separated by a spicy, flavorful stuffing and then seamed back together in one meaty package.
All that meat comes at a price – it’s at least three times more expensive than a traditional turkey. And that’s without the shipping fees.
Reader John Smeekens of Clinton Township, Mich., called the Detroit Free Press Test Kitchen looking for a local source for turducken.
“I read an article about it in the Michigan United Conservation Clubs magazine and Googled it and I couldn’t believe the number of hits on it,” says Smeekens. “It really sounded interesting, and who would have ever thought to take a duck, stuff it with a chicken and stuff that inside a turkey?”
But instead of for Thanksgiving or Christmas, Smeekens ordered it for New Year’s Day from Tony Chachere’s in Louisiana. He got a holiday pack that came with a 12-pound turducken, 1 pound of shrimp, 2 pounds cornbread dressing, 2 pounds rice dressing, 8 ounces of Tony Chachere’s seasoning and a Creole cookbook. Without shipping, it was $59.95.
This year, the Free Press ordered a turducken to see what all the fuss is about. After all, John Madden, the NFL commentator, is a huge fan. Southern sweetie Paula Deen has featured her own on the Food Network and is including one in upcoming episodes.
Folks from French Market Foods in Louisiana, from which we ordered the Free Press turducken, say their expert meat cutter can debone a turkey in two minutes and a chicken in one minute. French Market Foods produces turduckens (and other meats) for private labels and is the retail operation for Tony Chachere’s products.
“We sell 65,000 to 70,000 a year,” says Scott Arrant, an owner of French Market Foods. “It’s almost 100 percent yield on it. It’s a great product; people who order from us order over and over again.”
With its solid meat and huge portion of breast meat, turduckens need a long, slow cooking method so that the meat doesn’t dry out.
The instruction to our turducken said it should be cooked at 350 degrees covered for 4 hours; then cooked 1 hour uncovered so the skin browns. It took every bit of that, and did turn out moist. We were advised to cook the turducken in a tight roasting pan. (Turduckens are held together only by the skin of the turkey. If it’s allowed to expand, there’s a chance it will split during roasting.)
When it was all done and ready to eat, tasters raved about the aroma and the look of the golden brown turducken. The flavor was moist and delicious and fans of duck loved the flavor combination.
Turduckens have been around since the 1980s, mainly in the South. They are very popular in Louisiana. Some sources say it all started with the famous Cajun chef Paul Prudhomme.
A recipe for turducken can be found in “The Prudhomme Family Cookbook: Old-time Louisiana Recipes,” by the 11 Prudhomme brothers and sisters (the book is out of print but may be found used).
An Internet search also listed a 2005 National Geographic article pointing to Hebert’s Specialty Meats as another early source of turducken publicity. Hebert’s Web site (www.hebertsmeats.com) says the turducken was invented 25 years ago.
In Louisiana, turduckens are available year-round; they are popular not only for Thanksgiving, but for New Year’s Day and Super Bowl parties.
At family-owned Peacock’s Poultry Farm in Troy, Mich., manager Lora Preston has been making her version of a turducken for several years, after seeing one on television.
“I started doing them for me and my family,” says Preston. “Customers started watching me do it and now I do them on a preorder basis.”
Preston makes hers using a boneless turkey breast with the skin on, along with boneless and skinless duck and chicken breasts and stuffing in between.
“I do mine boneless because I didn’t want the waste,” says Preston. “I like that you have three different meats when you slice it and you have no bones to deal with.”
How to improvise a turducken
If a turducken seems like too much bird for too much trouble, here’s a downsized idea: a stuffed turkey breast with cranberry chutney that feeds 10.
Stuffed Turkey Breast with Cranberry Chutney
Note: It’s best to have your meat cutter debone the turkey breast for you.
1 turkey breast with bone (about 7 pounds) and skin on
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Morton’s Nature Seasons Seasoning Blend or favorite all-purpose seasoning
4 cups favorite stuffing (see recipe below)
3 ounces (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened, divided
1 cup water or chicken broth, plus more if needed
Cranberry-Golden Raisin Chutney, recipe follows
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Rinse turkey breast and pat dry. Carefully debone it, keeping the entire breast intact. Trim any excess fat and form to an even shape. Place it on a flat surface, skin side up. Gently separate and remove the skin from breast meat, being careful not to tear the skin.
Flip turkey over, and lay flat. If the turkey breast is not an even thickness, cover with plastic wrap and gently pound with a mallet or a rolling pin to make it even. Season all over with salt and pepper and seasoning blend. Spread stuffing evenly on turkey almost to the edges.
Starting on 1 short side, tightly roll up turkey. Season again with salt and pepper and seasoning blend. Place reserved skin back on and all around the turkey roll. Secure with kitchen string in 4 places along with one piece lengthwise. Rub the skin with 3 tablespoons of butter. Melt the remaining 3 tablespoons butter in a saucepan and set aside.
Place turkey roll on a rack on a rimmed baking sheet. Transfer to oven, and pour water or broth in baking sheet. Roast about 1 hour and brush with melted butter. Continue roasting and basting with butter and pan juices until cooked through and the stuffing registers 165 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, about 2 hours and 20 minutes. Add more water or broth if the pan juices evaporate.
When done, remove from the oven and let turkey roll rest on baking sheet for 30 minutes.
To carve the turkey roll: Transfer turkey roll to a cutting board. Carefully cut roll into slices at least 1/2 inch thick, keeping stuffing intact. Transfer slices to a serving platter, and serve immediately with chutney on the side. Serves 10.
Source: Adapted from Martha Stewart Living Magazine, November 2008 issue
Sausage and Apple Stuffing
Note: You can set bread out overnight to dry or dry it in a 300-degree oven for 30 minutes. Also, you can substitute fresh sage to taste for the dried sage.
1/2 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
1 1/2 pounds ground hot or sweet Italian sausage
6 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, peeled, diced
1 1/2 cups sliced celery with leaves (about 4 ribs)
8 ounces mini portabella or cremini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
2 apples (such as Honeycrisp), peeled, cored, cut into 1-inch cubes
14 to 16 cups dried baguette cubes (set out overnight to dry)
salt and pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon rubbed sage (or more to taste)
1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
your favorite all-purpose seasoning, to taste
2 eggs, beaten
2 to 3 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Place the dried porcini mushrooms in a glass measuring cup or bowl. Pour hot water over them and let stand to rehydrate while you prepare the other ingredients. Once rehydrated, remove the mushrooms and coarsely chop. Strain and reserve the soaking liquid.
In a large skillet over medium heat, brown and crumble the sausage; drain any fat. Wipe the skillet with paper towels and add the butter to the skillet and melt. Add the onions and sauté about 3 minutes. Add the celery and both kinds of mushrooms and sauté until soft. In a large mixing bowl, place the apples and bread cubes. Add the drained sausage and sautéed vegetables. Season the mixture well with salt, pepper, sage, poultry and all-purpose seasoning. Stir in the eggs and enough broth and reserved mushroom soaking liquid to completely moisten the mixture. (Save any remaining mushroom soaking liquid to add to gravy.)
Transfer to a large buttered baking dish (use two small ones if you need to). Cover with foil and bake 45 minutes or until heated through. Remove from oven and serve. Serves 24 (three-fourths cup per serving).
Use 4 cups of this stuffing for the stuffed turkey breast recipe and serve the remaining on the side.
Source: Susan Selasky, Detroit Free Press
Cranberry-Golden Raisin Chutney
1 ounce (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1/4 cup (1 medium) finely chopped shallot
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 cup golden raisins
12 ounces fresh cranberries
2 springs fresh thyme
2 (2-inch) strips lemon zest
1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add shallot and cook, stirring often, until translucent, 3 to 4 minutes. Add apple and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes. Stir in raisins, cranberries, thyme, lemon zest, water and sugar. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until cranberries have burst, apples are tender and mixture has thickened, about 20 minutes.
Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice. Let cool to room temperature. Discard thyme and lemon zest. Serve chilled or at room temperature. Makes 3 1/2 cups. Serves 10 to 12.
Note: Chutney can be made up to 1 week in advance and chilled. Chutney will keep, covered and refrigerated, for up to 1 week.
Source: Martha Stewart Living Magazine, November 2008 issue
Where to buy turducken
If you’re interested in serving turducken for Thanksgiving, here are several suppliers. When ordering, be sure to allow enough time (at least several days) for shipping and thawing.
Some of these places listed here also offer a turducken roll. It’s a smaller product without the legs and wings of the turkey.
• www.samsclub.com: Sells the Tony Chachere’s brand online only. A 12-pound turducken with Creole cornbread and pork rice dressing is $48.37.
• www.cajungrocer.com: A 15-pound turducken with Creole pork sausage and cornbread stuffing is $64.95.
• www.tonychacheres.com: A 15-pound turducken that will feed about 20 people is about $70. It’s stuffed with cornbread stuffing and pork rice dressing.
• www.hebertsmeats.com: An 8- to 10-pound turducken with cornbread dressing and pork sausage stuffing is $62.95.