Traditionally, Thanksgiving has been all about the turkey, but consider for a moment the possibility of other birds (inside of birds, inside of birds…). Have you been introduced to the turducken? A turducken is a de-boned chicken stuffed inside of a de-boned duck stuffed inside of a de-boned turkey (see how the name incorporates the whole delicious thing?!). We know–it sounds like a unicorn, right? Or a mermaid. Some creature so fantastical that it couldn’t possibly exist, but it does; and we are here to tell you that it is delicious!
No one’s quite sure exactly who invented it, but we know it originated in South-Central Louisiana (it was, and still is, sold in specialty-meat stores). There is some evidence that this little culinary, fairytale beast found its American origins in a meal that was created in a Creole restaurant in New Orleans, but the practice of stuffing a bird into a bird into a bird into a bird (and so on…) can be traced back to Europe and even Rome.
What lends even more Thanksgiving-like beauty to the turducken are the layers of stuffing between the birds. Each layer is padded with it! Stuffings can vary, but traditional New Orleans turduckens usually consist of three different stuffings–a cornbread stuffing, a rice stuffing, and an oyster-based stuffing. Some chefs recommend an all-meat stuffing, such as sausage or paté, to help balance the flavors and keep the shape of the birds (I have personally tasted one stuffed with Crawfish Étoufée, and it was divine).
Now, if you are lucky enough to get your hands on a turducken (and most likely you’ll have to order it in advance, if you’re not brave enough to tackle this beast on your own), you can cook it the same way you cook your usual Thanksgiving turkey: roasted, fried, etc. Some people complain that the turkey in turducken is usually dry and overcooked, and that makes sense, as you need to cook poultry to a certain temperature to ensure it’s safe to eat; but by the time you get the chicken to the right temp, the turkey is much higher, and therefore drier. Another problem: The “bird” comes out looking nothing like a bird. It loses its shape due to the boneless ingredients. A dry turkey that doesn’t look like a turkey? It may be tricky-tricky to get your guests to open up to that.
The best advice and instruction we found came from “The Food Lab” at Serious Eats. If you’re feeling ambitious this year, you really have to read J. Kenji Lopez-Alt’s piece about creating the perfect turducken. There is some serious research at work here.
This author asserts that the best way to cook a turducken evenly (without drying out the turkey or duck), is to cook each bird separately (to a degree). He uses a combination of poaching and browning to not only get the birds cooked perfectly (and safely), but also to get the duck skin nice and crispy. Not only that, but he gives clear directions on how to truss up your birds to get your final product to look like an actual turkey instead of a misshapen lump of clay.
So, here’s the question: Do you want to be known as the fairytale queen of the turducken kingdom or are you happy with being the master of the just-one-bird turkey universe? One thing is for sure: Turducken is a serious commitment to your Thanksgiving meal. Think it might be worth it?