I’ve been a slightly obsessive home cook for quite a while now and a football fan for almost as long as I can remember. So every Thanksgiving, while I was preparing the family feast, I heard the great coach turned commentator, John Madden, wax eloquent about the seductive allure of the Turducken—a chicken inside a duck, inside a turkey. All boneless with three knockout stuffings!
In 2006, I decided to take the plunge. After a few hours research on the web, I settled on chef Paul Prudhomme’s blueprint, but decided to substitute my own favorite stuffings plus brining and a little truffle oil. One year, I even added $40 worth of foie gras (don’t bother). That first year was a lark, but the result was so delicious that I found myself proclaiming, “I guess I’m doomed to do this every year.” It’s a big commitment, but one well worth making.
What follows is my take on this most wonderful of Thanksgiving treats. You’ve got to be organized, work clean, and have a certain understanding of basic cooking techniques, but it’s basically perseverance. If you’re not an experienced a cook, there’s lots of information on the web to fill in the gaps in your technique, but I’ve tried to include everything that’s essential. Trust me, your guests will swoon.
1. Bake the cornbread for stuffing.
2. Brine the turkey overnight.
2a. Brine the chicken for 1 hour.3. De-bone the poultry.
4. Roast the bones and prepare the poultry stock.
5. Prepare the cornbread–sausage stuffing.
6. Prepare the wild rice pilaf stuffing.
7. Prepare the shrimp Creole stuffing.
8. Assemble the Turducken.
9. Roast the Turducken @ 225° to 165°, about eight hours.
10. Rest the Turducken for one hour before carving.
11. Prepare the gravy.
STEP 1: Cornbread
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2/3 cup buttermilk
2/3 cup milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted (plus extra for greasing baking dish)
1 cup yellow cornmeal, preferably stone-ground
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon fresh baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Grease an 8-inch square cake pan with butter and preheat the oven to 375°. Combine the wet ingredients in a medium bowl. Whisk the dry ingredients together in a large bowl; add the liquids and stir until just combined. Pour the batter into the greased baking dish. Bake until the top is golden brown and the edges show a faint line of separation away from the sides of the pan, about 30 to 40 minutes. Transfer the baking pan to a wire rack and cool to room temperature. Retained for the stuffing recipe in Step 5.
STEP 2: Brining
Brining is an old technique that has come back in vogue in recent years. Soaking delicate poultry in a kosher saltwater solution before cooking guarantees tender, flavorful meat all the way to the bone. Although some folks brine duck, I find myself agreeing with America’s Test Kitchen that it’s not beneficial in that instance, but it is a huge plus for turkey and chicken. Please don’t skip this step unless you’ve purchased kosher or self-basting birds, as they’ll end up too salty.
Dissolve the kosher salt in cold water as indicated below in a large stockpot or clean bucket and refrigerate for the specified time. When the brining is complete, remove the birds and rinse well under cool water. Then, pat dry inside and out with paper towels and refrigerate.
Turkey: 1½ cups kosher salt + 2 gallons water x 12 hours (in the refrigerator).
Duck: Does not benefit from brining.
Chicken: 1/2 cup kosher salt + 3/4 cup sugar + 2 quarts water x 1 hour (in the refrigerator).