Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Turducken Post

Thursday, Nov 24, 7:30 PM

I am ready to begin. All three birds are sitting in the fridge - a frozen duck that's been thawing for the last few days, a turkey that took two visits to Supersol to get, and a chicken. I'm slightly concerned, because the duck is supposed to be larger than the chicken, but Israeli chickens are significantly larger than American chickens, and it looks like the opposite is true for ducks. More on that later.

My team arrives - Akiva, Ari and Levi. Ari brings bags full of produce and gear - thermometers, knives, latex gloves, a blowtorch. He probably has a nuclear reactor in that bag somewhere, just in case. I put Levi to work doing stuffing prep - lots of vegetable dicing and manning the stove. Ari, Akiva and I each take a bird, a cutting board and a knife. Akiva has been methodically honing his knife for the last 30 minutes with an intense look on his face - I am scared but also excited. We're going to be de-boning on the plastic folding table, which has been covered with a plastic table cloth. In Rachel's words, "at least the plastic table can be Chloroxed down after".

There are some dishes in the sink with my name on them, but Rachel takes pity on me and cleans them. Then she retires to the guest room and closes the door, so that she will not have to watch poultry being deboned.

8 PM

We have made our incisions. Ari and I have made very little progress, despite having watched numerous Youtube vidoes in preparation. Akiva, meanwhile, has deftly deboned half of his duck. I jealously accuse him of hustling us, but he insists this is his first time. Levi mows through vast quantities of onions, celery and green bell pepper.

9 PM

The deboning is finished, much earlier than expected. Deboning is not super easy, but it's not as hard as I thought it'd be, especially with two helpers. We all turn to the stove to help Levi turn out three stuffings - cornbread gizzard stuffing, sausage stuffing, and mushroom stuffing.

10 PM

With the stuffings all made, we begin to assemble. It's like a bizarre operating table with three gloved (of course.. don't worry) men holding, tugging and stuffing fowl as tightly as possible, crudely weaving the seams together with wooden skewers. I'd say next time I'll use butcher twine, but there isn't going to be a next time.

I was right, and the duck is about the same size as the chicken. Still, we stick to protocol and we do our best to wrap it around. It's kind of a mess, but we're wearing gloves and there's plastic protecting the table, so it's all good. We try to stuff the duck inside the turkey, but it looks like it won't fit. We'll make it fit, I say, and we begin to tug at the turkey skin. Turkey skin, we discover, is slightly elastic, and stretching does the trick. My friends hold the seam in place, and I weave (more like ram) skewers through it. We don't do a very neat job, but the skewers will come out in the end, anyway. We hoist the bird into the roasting pan. It looks like a fat man in an undersized bathtub. The whole thing is crazy heavy - must be at least 40 pounds. We celebrate, and Rachel snaps some photos.

12 AM

The mess wasn't that bad, but it still took a while to clean, even with very generous and undeserved help from Rachel. I sit down and eat my snack - leftover gizzards that I floured and fried until crispy. The gizzards are extremely salty, but fried in flour with hot sauce on top, the saltiness is tolerable and almost decadent. They are a little tough, though. According to the Internet, I'd have gotten better results if I'd boiled them first for about 15 minutes - this would have made them softer and also leached out a bit of that salt. I'll probably make them again some time; being the cheapest part of the chicken, gizzards make an affordable snack. You can often buy a kilo for under 10 shek.


7 AM

Ahh! My alarm was supposed to wake me up an hour ago! I hurry out of bed and wash up quickly. I plunge the meat thermometer into the turducken - it's a very neat thermometer that simultaneously measures the internal temperature of the meat as well as the oven temperature. A quick google conversion tells me that 225 F is equal to 107 C. I turn the oven to about 125 C just to be safe, and turn on the convection fan to distribute the heat more evenly.

Meanwhile, I take a stockpot out of the fridge. Inside are all the bones from last night, roasted for about an hour in the oven. I pour water over them and start making the greatest poultry stock ever.

7:30 AM

Oops, I forgot to do a spice rub! I take the turducken out, and rub it with some spices (gloved hands, again), then put it back.

8 AM

I am pleased with my temperature control. The oven is maintaining a consist temperature hovering just above 225 deg F. According to the Internet, this temperature will cook my turducken in 8 to 9 hours, bringing it to completion before shabbat. Jeffrey Steingarten needed over 12 hours to make his, but he was cooking at 190 deg F, significantly cooler. I should be fine.

10:15 AM

The temperature has been holding steady, but I still don't see any juices in the pan. Turduckens are supposed to exude enormous volumes of beautiful golden liquid, and it's important to periodically remove it. You don't want your turducken to stew instead of roast, and, in my case, I don't want the liquid to flood and spill out of the pan and start a fire. I have a turkey baster at the ready, but there's only the slightest bit of juice at the bottom! Am I doing something wrong? Maybe the juice will come later?

11:30 AM

It's been over four hours, which means I'm supposed to brush oil over the turducken, and then cover it with foil. The internal temperature has risen to 130 F. I take it out of the oven and - behold! - some juice has indeed collected in the pan. Nothing like the opaque swimming pool of yellowness that I was expecting, but lots of golden, savory gravy. I collect it eagerly, get the birds oiled and foiled, and return the behemoth to its slow, steamy cell.

1:30 PM

150 F! This bird is actually going to cook!

3 PM

165 F! Just as our guests walk through the door, I triumphantly hoist the finished 'ducken and set it down to rest. It is golden and beautiful.

4 PM

We put the turducken on the plata

6:30 PM

After kiddush and motzi, I immediately begin carving the turducken, while Rachel tends to the salads and whatnot. I find that it is completely impossible to cut neat, whole slices containing clearly visible layers of meat and stuffing. I mostly blame the duck, which, in its central location, is supposed to lend structural support to the finished product - ours does not, because it is a small duck, and therefore we can't have neat slices. Maybe no one who makes turducken ever gets neat slices. In any event, I decide to simply cut up the turducken and pile it, casserole-like, on large serving platters. Our guests poke around the platters, taking what they wanted, and sometimes requesting certain parts (usually duck). We pass around two bowls of gravy, and I wonder what we were going to do with the other gallon of gravy I have sitting on the counter. And then we taste.

It was all worth it, folks. Don't listen to those who say turducken is no greater than the sum of its parts, they are wrong. All of the birds are cooked wonderfully - juicy and not at all dry. This is an obvious consequence of their low, slow cooking. The stuffings lost their individual distinction, but blended into one that was mouth-wateringly rich, full of salt and juices, sweet grainy cornbread, pungent herbs and savory aromatic vegetables. It is messy, but it packs a wallop of comfort-food-Thansgiving FLAVOR!

And I'm never doing it again.