It is sitting in front of me face down, haunches up, goading me. I pry the legs apart but they modestly snap back together. It is a beautiful specimen and I hold up a knife to the goose fleshed skin and it retracts and follows the sharp blade. "Aren't you a pretty one?" I say to it quietly.
"Do it, do it" it says back to me.
I grab a pair of shears, run my fingers down its backbone feeling the knobs of bone and cartilage against my fingers and murmur "This won't hurt a bit dear" before savagely slicing through it's skin and bone with the shears. It's a particularly brutal act, made even more difficult by the size of the beast at over 7 kilos but it's a necessary one. Although once I started cutting with the shears I wondered whether I had done the right thing. After hacking back and forth through the thick bone I remove the backbone and connected neck with a triumph raising it high but feeling like a serial killer at the same time that has eviscerated someone.
I haven't turned Dexter. I'm making a turducken. For Christmas in July of course. Northern Hemispherans might wonder what on earth Christmas in July is and as far as I know, it is a Southern Hemispheran's way of celebrating Christmas when our weather is at its coldest. Instead of our usual hot Summer's Christmas of salads and seafood, having on in July means that having things such as baked mega turkeys make sense.
What is a turducken? Well you may have heard of it mostly in America which is the land of over the top excess (which is incidentally why I would love to live there ;) ). It's origins are originally Ancient Roman and it was then taken up by the French in the 1800s, in a dish called a "Rôti Sans Pareil" or "Roast without Equal." A large deboned bird is stuffed with progressively smaller, deboned birds the smallest being tiny enough to fit an olive in and nothing else. This version, a more user friendly version made popular recently, is a deboned turkey stuffed with a deboned duck stuffed with a deboned chicken, hence the name Tur-Duck-En as a portmanteau of the three bird's names.
I was sent a glorious free range Thirlmere turkey and cranberries from the U.S. cranberry institute and if I had any sense I would have simply roasted it whole along with some lovely cranberry stuffing. But because I am something of a masochist for punishment (and it turns out also a sadist considering what I did with the turkey) my inner Franck Eggelhoffer came out and said "Let's make zis a Christmas in July to remember! Ja? Faaabulous!"
Queen Viv and her son Michael and his fiancee Terri who were here on holidays were invited along to come along. A day before I decided to brine the turkey to keep it moist. Since I was sent the turkey I couldn't ask for them to debone it for me. I had deboned quails before and spatchcocks and they were, anatomically speaking, a smaller version of the turkey. So I knew my way around them but I also knew that as a vastly larger bird it would require strength that my upper body doesn't possess readily. I really needed Dexter or Jack the Ripper to do it.
In the absence of a serial killer friend I set aside a large space on my workbench and cut and sliced away. It took about 30-40 minutes all up to debone the seven kilo beast but that was including time to wash my hands and take photographs. After huffing, puffing, swearing, pushing and pulling I removed the final touch, the wishbone triumphantly and plunged the turkey into its brining solution made up basically of salt, sugar, apple cider vinegar and whatever herbs I had handy and some black peppercorns. The brining solution would help to keep the meat moist. Afterwards I slumped down at my desk exhausted clutching a glass of something stiff (for me an apple juice and soda water, I needed my wits about me).
While the turkey was brining I went to pick up the duck and chicken that I requested to be deboned (I wasn't going to go through _that _another two times). When I ordered it a few days ago I was talking to the girl on the phone about getting as small as duck as possible and I explained the turducken idea. She told me that she was very familiar with the concept as they had sold ready to roast turduckens. We went back and forth about the smallest duck possible as I wasn't sure of the size of turkey that I'd receive and she promised to find me the smallest duck that they had. And save me the bones for soup ;)
When I unwrapped my package the next day to stuff the all and roast them I stared at the two deboned fowl. I had asked her for the smallest duck possible but she had given me what appeared to be the largest chicken possible! In fact they were both around the same size. Qu'elle horreur!! Nevertheless with no other option and cursing myself for not being clear about the chicken size as well as the duck size (I had assumed that she knew all about how a turducken worked size wise) I set about trussing it all up. I should have had a needle and some twine but quite frankly I think that would make me feel too much like Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs.
Closing up the chicken was easy, for once I hadn't overstuffed the bird (a compulsion I find hard to break) but closing up the duck proved difficult. It was like trying to close the buttons on a coat that was three sizes too small. I pushed and pulled and eventually with the aid of skewers I got the thing shut. Then I tried to do the same to the turkey and only just managed to get it shut again flipping over the gigantic 11 kilo mega beast over carefully and with a lot of effort. I made a mental note that I must work on upper body strength if only to wrangle errant mutant birds once a year.
I stuck it in the oven, cooking it at 150C/300F for 5.5 hours using an internal oven thermometer to see when the bird was done (I couldn't imagine opening it up to see it raw and hauling the thing back into the oven in front of guests). Over the next 5.5 hours I made some maple glazed carrots to go with it, a cranberry pear crumble and then realised that no crumble should ever go uneaten without vanilla ice cream (I've heard winged monkeys will swoop down for you if you don't) so I made a batch of that too. And by that time it was finished and the table was set for my guests.
I inserted the thermometer and the magical temperature of 75C/167F popped up. Exercising weight lifting skills I never knew I had ("Lift using your knees!" I kept saying to myself) I brought the bird and the two trays out of the oven with a thud. The creature had to rest for 30 minutes-ideally it should rest for an hour as the bird itself has no internal structure and simply too delicate to lift. I managed to lift it wearing doubled up kitchen gloves although I knew that it would be more practical to do it with two people. It sort of splayed onto the way to the serving platter (I should have tied the legs together perhaps) and after it had its time to rest, I sliced it open.
The inside was a ribboned layer of the three birds. A glorious sight to behold and just at that time Queen Viv, Michael and Terri from Canada arrived with a home made Montreal delicacy called Cipaille (pronounced "sea pie") whose recipe Terri has kindly shared below, along with some roasted vegetables. This is layered meat pie filled with several types of game meat and a buttery lardy pastry on top. With Christmas music playing in the background we had ourselves a very Merry Christmas in July. The vivisection of an almost human now a distant memory.
The three layers-you can see the pink turkey layer, the juicy fatty duck layer around the white meat of the chicken which is in the centre-plus the stuffing of course ;)
Would I make a turducken again? I would love to say that it was a waste of time and not worth the effort. But it was absolutely delicious with all of the meats wonderfully moist with different profiles of flavour and is an utterly festive looking vision. I would however only make it again if I had someone to debone the three birds. In that case it is really quite easy, just brine, make the stuffing and then roast and baste and it is just like a regular roast but with much more spectacular results. Oh and it is also best for when you are entertaining a lot of people. There were just five of us as it was a last minute dinner but it would be fantastic for a dozen or so people given the size (or even more as part of a Christmas feast).
So tell me Dear Reader, have you ever deboned a bird before? And does the idea of deboning make you squeamish? And do you prefer cold weather or warm weather Christmases?
- 7 kilo turkey deboned except keep the legs and wings intact with bones
- 2 kilo duck, completely deboned (pre deboning weight)
- 1 kilo chicken or smaller, completely deboned (pre deboning weight)
Brining solution adapted from here
- 4 litres/16 cups water
- 1 cup salt
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar
- Whatever herbs you have (I used rosemary and lemon thyme)
- handful of black peppercorns
- 2 cups ice cubes
Cranberry & pistachio stuffing
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 onion, chopped
- 100g/3.5ozs bacon chopped
- 1 garlic clove, chopped
- 100g/3.5 ozs dried cranberries
- 50g/1.7ozs pistachios
- 100g/3.5 ozs fresh white breadcrumbs
My favourite stuffing
Adapted from chef Hamish Watts of Botanic Gardens Restaurant
- 2 large onions finely chopped
- 3 to 4 sprigs fresh thyme, finely chopped (I used lemon thyme)
- 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 50g butter
- ½ cup apricot stuffing
- 50ml brandy
- 400ml cream
- 300g/10 ozs. bread (crust off) cut into 2cm cubes
Debone the turkey
Step 1 - There's no way to delicately do this and if I were you, I certainly wouldn't start on deboning a turkey-a quail is the best way because, and I know this sounds gruesome, but you can snap the bones easily. I've deboned lots of quail, spatchcock and chicken but I found deboning a turkey an arduous task but doable. And because I was home alone I wasn't able to take step by step pictures of me doing it but hopefully enough to give you an idea. The turkey needs to be deboned of the rib cage and backbone but the legs and wings need to be kept intact. And if you're doing the duck or chicken too I would suggest doing the chicken first to get to know the anatomy of them, they're all the same really with the size the only difference.
Removing the bishop's nose
Cutting away the backbone
Step 2 - Start by removing the back bone. You will need a sharp boning knife (a long, flexible knife) and a pair of boning scissors or kitchen scissors. Place the turkey breast side down and cut off the bishop's nose, the fleshy bit at the bottom. Feel along the backbone -if it helps look inside the turkey. You will be cutting along each side of the backbone with the scissors. Halfway down it will get harder but keep doing it. You will end up removing the backbone and neck together.
Step 3 - Then using the boning knife, cut close to the rib cage bones separating the meat from the bones with the knife. This is really a matter of slicing away close to the bone, there's almost a membrane that separates it. Remove the rib cage on both sides. Also remove the thighs at the bottom. This requires snapping a joint in a rather brutal fashion and turkey joints are harder to snap than smaller creatures. But cut away the thigh again by slicing away the meat from the bone. Remove the wishbone at the top too.
Step 4 - The hardest part is next. Trying to get the breastbone out without piercing the breast skin which is quite close by. You just have to do this slowly, feeling your way with your finger and cutting away at the white bone very carefully. Have a stiff drink or reward oneself with some online shopping at this point.
Step 5 - Next brine the turkey. Bring 1 litre or 4 cups of water to the boil and add salt and sugar and stir until dissolved. Add the apple cider vinegar, herbs and ice. Your brine is now ready to use. Submerge the turkey in this overnight and cover with a lid or cling wrap for up to 2 days.
Cranberry & pistachio stuffing
Step 6 - Then make both of the stuffings (I did these the night before). Heat a saucepan on medium heat and add butter and cook onion until translucent and smelling sweet and then add bacon and garlic and cook until bacon is fragrant and cooked through. Have the ingredients ready in a bowl and mix to combine. This is a drier stuffing than the apricot one.
Step 7 - This truly is my favourite stuffing, first eaten at a Sunday Roast lunch at the Botanical Gardens restaurant this past June. Place onions, thyme, garlic and butter into a pot and sweat off until onions are translucent and soft-don't hurry this bit, the onions must be soft and lose all acridness. Add 1/2 cup dried apricots finely sliced and sweat off for a few minutes. Deglaze the pan with 50 ml brandy and reduce for a minute then add the cream and bring to the boil. Add sourdough then turn heat down to low and place a lid on the pot, stirring occasionally for about 45 minutes or until the bread has absorbed all the liquid. Season with salt and pepper.
Trussing up the turkey
Turkey with cranberry and pistachio stuffing
Duck on top of turkey with apricot stuffing
Step 8 - Time to stuff and truss up the turkey and roast it. Preheat oven to 150C/300F. Place the turkey open and fill with the cranberry and pistachio stuffing. Depending on the size of the turkey the amount of stuffing that the recipes above make should suffice with possibly a bit left over. Then place the duck over this open as shown and fill with the apricot stuffing. Then repeat for the chicken. Using metal or wooden skewers, seal up the chicken first and then pull together the duck to bring together the skin and seal it up too. Then do the same for the turkey. Tie the legs together with string.
Step 9 - Place in a very large baking tray that will fit it. Mine just fit the turducken quite snugly. Bake a 7 kilo turducken for 5.5 hours-the general rule is 3/4 of an hour per kilo of turducken. The best way to tell is by inserting an internal thermometer into the centre of the turkey or the thigh and if it reaches at least 76.7C/170F then your turkey is done. Baste it with its juice every hour or so. My turkey started to brown quite nicely after 2 hours so I placed a sheet of greased foil on top (grease it generously so that it doesn't stick to the skin) for the remaining 3.5 hours. Once it is finished, rest it for at least 30 minutes, ideally an hour.
Step 10 - Meanwhile, while it is resting, bake the crumble and the carrots. Also make the gravy while they are baking. Skim the fat off the top of the pan juices from the turkey-I ended up with about 3 cups of pan juices and stock. Mix 4 -5 tablespoons of cornflour with 1/2 cup of cold water and heat the pan juices until almost boiling. Take off the heat and leave for a few minutes and then stir in cornflour mixture making sure to stir it as the cornflour settles in the bottom of the cup. Never boil a gravy with cornflour as it separates and becomes thin. When the turkey has rested, slice it into thinnish slices and serve it with gravy and sides.
Cipaille (Québécois game pie)
Don't you just love a recipe whose first ingredient starts off "2 pounds moose"? I was utterly delighted that Terri went to the trouble of making her family recipe for Cipaille for us. Of course getting moose was going to be hard but she, Queen Viv and Michael went to the store and instead of getting moose they found a venison crossbred with elk. Serendipity really. Oops, I almost wrote elf there which would have provided a funny image wouldn't it?
- 2 pounds moose
- 2 pounds deer
- 1/2 pound partridge or rabbit
- 2 pounds lean pork
- 4 medium onions, coarsely chopped
- 1/4 pound salt pork, thinly sliced
- 2 cups Potatoes, peeled and cubed
- 1 teaspoon Salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon Allspice
- 1 tsp Summer Savory
- 2 cups chicken stock (approximate)
- Pastry for double crust pie
Buyer's tip and note from Terri: We used Venison, Pork, Beef Cheek, Guinea Fowl and Rabbit in the Cipaille we made. It's much better if you use as much game meats as possible. The meats were purchased at AC Butchery. Summer savory is a dried herb that forms the basis of Canadian (and Bulgarian) cuisine. It can be found at Indian supermarkets, the one at the Southern end of King Street, Newtown stocks it.
Deboning guinea fowl
Slicing up beef
Step 1 - Debone and cut all meats into into 1 inch cubes and place in a large bowl. Combine with onions; cover and refrigerate for at least 12 hours or overnight. Arrange salt pork evenly in the bottom of a 3 quart casserole, preferably cast iron with a cover. Layer with 1/3 of the meat mixture and 1/3 of the potatoes; season with 1/3 of salt, pepper and spices.
Step 2 - Roll out half of the pastry slightly thicker than for a normal pie and arrange on the potato layer, cutting a small hole in the center. Repeat with 2 more layers of meat and potatoes seasoned with salt, pepper and spices. Cover with remaining pastry, cutting a small hole in the center.
Step 3 - Slowly add enough chicken stock through the hole until liquid appears. Cover dish and bake in a preheated 200C/400 deg F oven for 45 minutes or until liquid simmers. Reduce temperature to 121C/250 deg F and continue to bake, covered, for 5 to 6 hours more or until top crust is a rich golden brown.
Cranberry & Pear Crumble
An original recipe by Not Quite Nigella
- 3 pears approximately 500g/1 pound (I used Corella pears)
- 2 cups cranberries rehydrated in hot water for a couple of hours
- 2 tablespoons cornflour
- butter for greasing
For the topping
- 3/4 cup flour
- 1/3 cup white sugar
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup rolled oats
- 1/4 cup chopped pecans
- 120g/4 ozs cold butter, chopped into pieces
Step 1 - Preheat oven to 180C/350F. I never bother peeling pears or apples (along with icing sugar I consider it dull and mostly unnecessary) but if you want to, peel them. Core the pears (I use a melon baller to scoop out the centre seeds) and chop into small chunks about 1.5 cms big. Grease a crumble dish or some ramekins and add the pears and cranberries to it along with 3-4 tablespoons of the rehydrating juice which should be nice and sweet.
Step 2 - In a food processor whizz all of the topping ingredients together until you get a pebbly sand texture-there may be a bit more than what you need depending on how shallow your bowl is. Place the crumble topping over the fruit and bake for about 40 minutes until golden. Serve with vanilla ice cream.
Maple glazed carrots
- 1 kilo carrots, peeled and cut into batons
- 3 tablespoons maple syrup
- 1 tablespoon oil
- sprinkle of salt
Step 1 - Preheat oven to 180C/350F. Steam carrots in a saucepan for 5 minutes and then drain and toss with maple syrup and oil. Place on a baking tray and bake for about 30 minutes or until the carrots has slightly caramelised parts.