Turducken Promises a Fun, Tasty Twist on Thanksgiving
The smell of poultry is evident even in the parking lot outside The Kitchen Studio Cooking School. The heavenly aroma is wafting from the oven of Chef and Owner Christine Van Bloem. But instead of a traditional Thanksgiving turkey, this one has been turned into a turducken, with a duck and chicken nestled inside. She calls the behemoth bird-within-a-bird-within-a-bird combination a fun way to put a twist on the traditional holiday.
“You do a turducken, you are sentencing yourself to a Thanksgiving of fun and awesome,” Van Bloem says. “You can’t even say turducken without giggling a little. I think it’s super fun. It tastes great.”
Van Bloem first heard about turducken from NFL commentator John Madden, who used to wax rhapsodic about it on his annual Thanksgiving telecasts. While she was confident she had the ability to make the bird, she didn’t try one until a friend shipped her a mail-order bird.
“He and I had been having some drinks outside on the patio and then one day there was a white Styrofoam container on the patio and when I opened it there was a turducken,” she says. “I was so excited. I got all kinds of thrilled.” Her first impression of the turducken was how flat the final product was without the bones to give it structure
She says the preparation for turducken calls for removing the skin and bones from the duck and chicken and interior bones from the turkey, which creates the unusual appearance for the bird. “The only bones left in the entire thing are the turkey wings and the turkey legs. It’s really flat because there’s no interior structure to hold it together.” Van Bloem says the skin is removed from the duck and chicken because it would develop a rubbery texture from being inside the turkey during cooking.
For those ambitious to make turducken from scratch, Van Bloem suggests starting small, with a three to four pound chicken, an average sized duck and a small turkey. Removing the bones is a delicate process. “You can’t be brutish taking the bones out,” she says. “You kind of slip your knife in between the bones and the meat. … You can’t see so you’re working blind.”
Van Bloem urges cooks not to throw away the fat, wings and legs trimmed from the duck, and to render the fat to cook other food. She says the fat adds a rich flavor to other foods, like vegetables or even the duck itself, like the classic French dish duck confit. “If you are looking for a project … it’s really fun to give it a whirl,” she says. “But I’ll also say you’re going to spend a fortune. Ducks are not inexpensive.”
All of this might be overwhelming for the novice home cook, so Van Bloem recommends a mail-order turducken from a company such as Cajun Specialty Meats, who supplied the bird she cooked. If choosing a mail-order bird, she says the most important part is to properly thaw before cooking; the 10-pound bird she cooked took almost four days to completely thaw.
“If you are looking for a project … it’s really fun to give it a whirl,” she says. “But I’ll also say you’re going to spend a fortune. Ducks are not inexpensive.”
Instead of traditional turkey carving methods of removing the legs and wings, and then removing the breast from the breastbone, a turducken is sliced across after the legs and wings are removed. “What you’re going to get when you cut it is sort of this odd biological cross section because it will be light, dark, light, stuffing,” she says. “The duck is fatty, awesomely fatty. It helps keep everything pretty moist in there.”
In addition to providing moisture, the duck has a more pronounced flavor than the turkey and chicken, and adds a complexity to the overall dish. The taste of each bird shines individually in the turducken Van Bloem prepared, but also complemented one another harmoniously. Van Bloem suggests a serving size of about eight ounces per person, so a 10 pound turducken would feed between 16 and 20 people.
Inside the chicken is a cornbread-and-sausage stuffing, which absorbed the flavors of all three birds. It was potently flavored, and absolutely delicious. But Van Bloem says her favorite part of the turducken is the gravy, which packs the flavor of all three birds. She cooked the turducken with an onion and some carrots in the pan to help flavor the gravy. She recommends keeping the skin on the onions to help add color to the gravy. “I will tell you, it is the best gravy you’ll ever have,” she says. “The gravy is stupidly awesome. … I think I had four plates of potatoes because the gravy was even better than the meat.”
Van Bloem suggests preparing all of the side dishes that normally accompany a Thanksgiving turkey as a way of keeping guests happy. “I think realistically you’re going to freak people out enough if you do a turducken … People like what they like and feel like they can go home to that. It’s their comfort. I think if you’re going to mess around with something, mess with one thing. Messing around with the turkey is a big deal. People lose their marbles.”
And for those who won’t be interested in a piece of turducken, it still has the turkey legs and wings to provide some classic Thanksgiving flavor. “Think of your legs this way— grubby Uncle Buddy will still have something that’s just turkey that he can gnaw on and complain in the corner,” she says, laughing.
For those afraid of an outcry from their guests even with the traditional legs and wings, Van Bloem suggests a little chicanery. “Don’t tell anybody you’re doing a turducken,” she says, laughing. “Listen, if you want to wuss out a little, deep-fry a turkey in the backyard as a backup.”