One day last fall, my friend Jeska called me and asked me if I might be interested in helping her create a Turducken. Did she even have to ask? I was already thinking about what kinds of stuffing to use, and if we should wrap the whole thing in bacon. Naturally, I accepted her offer.
When we saw each other next, we discussed how we were preparing. I had watched some videos on youtube about deboning a chicken, and had scheduled a practice deboned chicken into my meal plan. She had talked to a few butchers and chefs, and was feeling a bit worried about the whole thing. There was the general impression that making a whole Turducken was more hassle than it was worth. But, what can I say? We were drawn to the challenge, and we finalized that we would serve the Turducken as the main course of an upcoming potluck.
The week before the potluck, I watched this video, and, with the help of my boyfriend rewinding parts while I confusedly poked around leg-joints, successfully deboned a chicken. (I also consulted Julia Child's instructions for deboning poultry in Mastering the Art of French Cooking.) I filled it with garlic and rosemary, rolled it and tied it, and made Roast Boned Chicken from The Guardian. Jeska picked two stuffing recipes, and we considered who would buy and defrost the birds. Neither of us had the time or space to correctly defrost a whole turkey at that time, and we worried that we would have to back out of our planned Turducken feast. Instead of canceling, we decided to punt and make a Ducken - simply stuff a chicken in a duck. And then when I was at the grocery store to buy the birds, I saw little Cornish game hens in the case next to the ducks, and I picked one up just for kicks. And so the Ducken-hen was born.
The day before potluck, Jeska, her friend William, and I met at her co-op to prepare the birds and stuffing. First we whipped up two stuffing recipes: a basic stuffing with mushrooms, and a sausage, apple and cranberry stuffing. I don't often cook in other people's kitchens, especially big co-op kitchens! It's strange not to know where everything is, but the collection of utensils and the rack of large jars full of tea and spices made up for feeling out of place. Once we had two bowls full of stuffing set aside, we removed the defrosted birds from the fridge and set up large pans as prep areas. Armed with small knives, we began what we believed would be the most difficult part of the process. Jeska demonstrated properly stretching the birds by helping them do shoulder rolls. She worked on the chicken (with William's help on the legs), and I tackled the duck and game hen.
I successfully deboned the duck first. (We left the lower leg-bones and wings on the duck, since it would be on the outside.) Although the duck weighed almost a pound more than the chicken (which was a pound and a half more than the game hen), the duck had less meat. It was significantly fattier and the carcass was larger and longer. The video I watched to prepare me for deboning poultry warned that smaller birds were more difficult than larger birds, but I found that removing the bones from the game hen was pretty simple. Once you know how to handle the joints to the wings and legs, the whole business boils down to not slipping while you are carving.
With three birds deboned, we started layering them with the stuffing. The game hen was easy enough to skewer closed around the stuffing. The chicken was difficult but not impossible to close around the stuffing and smaller stuffed bird. The duck, however, who fooled us into thinking he was larger with his heavier weight, simply would not close around the chicken. This was the only point during the process that I wished we had planned ahead well enough to use a turkey. A 15 lb turkey surely would have had ample room to hold a duck, even a duck which would not close around the chicken inside it. We tried using four or five skewers, all at different angles, to secure the duck. Then we started cutting lengths of kitchen twine to tie around the mass of poultry. With hands tying twine, jabbing with skewers, and desperately trying to hold the whole thing together, it felt a bit like a dramatic scene in Grey's Anatomy. We finally managed to secure the outer bird to our liking, and we put our anatine/galline* Frankenstein's monster in the fridge to stay cold overnight.
The next day our Franken-fowl got some salt and pepper, and went into the oven for the timerescribed by its weight. When I next saw it, it was plump and golden brown - practically begging to be eaten. Our fellow potluckers didn't disappoint when it came to sides. We had gravy, mashed potaotes, luscious chocolate tortes, and a whole tub of local, fresh-picked grapes. And the Ducken-hen? Well, although we never got the beautifully layered look when we cut into it, the meat was moist, tender, and tasty, all the way through. I had one of the duck legs, which was so flavorful and tender, that I was convinced I definitely need to cook duck more often. The already delicious stuffing was improved by the meat. In the end, only a few pieces of skin remained on the platter. In short, it was a success. Jeska and I vowed to take on the full Turducken next. If trussing the too-small bird was the hardest part, then using a large turkey could only make the next time easier. What could go wrong?
*anatine means "duck-like", and galline means "chicken-like"