All About Turducken, The Inception of Meat Dishes
Confession: I didn't know the turducken was a real thing until I was probably 23 or 24 years old. The portmanteau of its three poultries sounded silly, and the goofy mental image of one bird stuffed inside another stuffed inside another turned the whole thing into jokey fiction in my head. "No way that's a thing," I'd say.
Of course, it most definitely is a thing—a real thing real people eat around the holidays. Even though I came to realize that turduckens exist, I still didn't really know that much about how they're made. I've never eaten one, and I assumed there was more to a turducken recipe than just cramming a chicken inside a duck inside a turkey. To learn more, I spoke with Paulina Market owner Bill Begale, who gave me the details on the Inception of poultry roasts.
There's more than just turkey, duck, and chicken in there.
Though it might seem like real estate would be at a premium in a three-bird roast, the answer to "What is a turducken" involves more than just turkey, duck, and chicken. "We mix our andouille sausage, [and] we make cornbread stuffing," Bill told me, describing the way they intersperse savory sausage and cornbread between each poultry. So yes, turducken is a sort of incomplete description, but turduckstuffenage doesn't really roll off the tongue, either.
Expect some zip when eating one.
Typical holiday turkey isn't usually made spicy, but the turducken isn't a typical holiday food. While the exact moment and place the turducken was invented are disputed, most trace its origin to Louisiana, and Paulina Market honors that heritage in its turduckens. "We season it with Cajun-style seasoning," Bill says. "It's not crazy Cajun, but it's got a bite to it."
It weighs about the same as your Thanksgiving turkey.
You'd think a dish with multiple animals involved would tip the scales, but that's not really the case. Since each bird is deboned before the frankenmeat is fabricated, the end result ends up being in the same ballpark as a run-of-the-mill holiday turkey. "We start with a 12lb. bird—a turkey. [Then] a 5lb. duck, and a 3 to 4lb. chicken. We end up with about 13 pounds after we take all the bones out," Bill says.
Making one takes time and a trained hand.
Speaking of deboning: it's not easy. The only bones that are left when a turducken is complete are in the turkey's legs and wings, and removing the bones of the duck is particularly tricky, according to Bill. "Smaller bones, [so] the meat doesn't come off as easy as it does on a turkey," he says.
The work's not only difficult, but time-consuming, too. Paulina Market uses an entire crew of butchers—an "assembly line," as Bill put it—to construct its turduckens. "We bone the turkeys out on a Wednesday, we bone the ducks and chickens out on Thursday … and then it goes in the freezer that Friday," he says. The pros at Paulina have it down to a science: a team of 5 or 6 is able to fabricate roughly 50 turduckens in as little as five or six hours, according to Bill.
Don't try to fry one.
You've heard the horror stories of people burning down their garages trying to fry a turkey, and it's even harder with a turducken. "You can't deep-fry it because it would fall apart," Bill tells me, noting the netting used in frying a large bird would likely end up twisting and mangling the turducken's delicate innards. So what should you do instead? Easy: roast your turducken in the oven in the same container it was built in. "Simplify it as much as you can," Bill advises.
You can make your own, but you're probably better off leaving it to the pros.
Dead set on building a turducken yourself? There's some good news and bad news there. The good news: places like Paulina Market will give you everything you need, from deboned poultry to extra sides of stuffing. The bad news: building a turducken is very hard; this video illustrates the difficulty in tying up the entire thing like a giant, meaty football. If you're feeling even a little uneasy about your ability to pull it off, go the safe route and order one that's already been prepped and frozen.
Get those orders in early.
As you can by now imagine, making a turducken takes time, and it's not something most butcher shops will regularly keep in stock. So do your butcher a solid and place the order for your bird (Or is it birds?) early. "We need orders ahead of time … if you don't have an order by that Tuesday or Wednesday [before Thanksgiving], we're not going to do it," Bill says.