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Friday, December 28, 2007
The not-so magical turducken adventure
I found myself with a daunting task this holiday season: whipping together Christmas dinner for my parents, my sister and her boyfriend. I didn't want to cook but neither did any of them. With absolutely no holiday meal preparation experience under my belt, I was the worst person for the job. I'm still not sure why I was nominated or why any of them trusted me with the task. Despite what the ghost chef in Ratatouille claims, anyone can't cook. For instance, I routinely screw up cereal.
As always with challenges like this, I immediately decided to make things more difficult for myself. Instead of ordering a nice, simple turkey with a nice, simple popper, I put in an order for a turducken. Cooking just one bird wasn't enough. Only a chicken stuffed inside duck stuff inside a turkey would do.
And so last Sunday off I went in the pouring rain to pick up this mutant concoction from the Beaverton New Seasons. Behind the counter in the meat department was a guy who, according to a tag on his shirt, was named Turtle. Turtle couldn't find my order but was kindly enough to track down a 13 pound turducken roast from the freezer. It didn't look anything like I was expecting. Instead of an overstuffed turkey, this thing looked like a meat bomb set to go off at any second. I nervously took the turducken back to my car and prayed that it wouldn't go off on the drive home.
I consider it an accomplishment worthy of putting on a resume that I was able to get this beast over to my parent's house on Christmas morning. According to the overly-complicated recipe I looked up at the last minute, I'd need eight hours to cook the turducken and a roasting pan. Do my parents own a pan large enough for the Frankenstein monster of holiday main courses? Had I thought to pick one up? Of course not.
Four closed grocery stores and one open neighborhood market later, I returned with a $2.00 roasting pan almost identical to the normal turkey pan my parent's already had. Undaunted, I shoved a cookie sheet in the bottom of the pan to further prevent the turducken from wallowing in its own juices (supposedly a serious no-no). I tossed on an old chefs hat and finally threw the turducken in the oven over an hour behind schedule.
What to do next? The recipe had nothing to say about basting this mutant bird. A colleague I talked to on Christmas Eve claimed that basting anything, be it a turkey, a turducken or a goose, is a complete waste of time and will only turn it into something akin to the dried-out husk Chevy Chase contends with in Christmas Vacation. When the turducken reached the four hour mark, I panicked after noticing there were no juices at the bottom of the pan. I ended up basting it with a container of chicken broth.
Dinner was scheduled for six but the turducken was still twenty degrees away from being ready according to everything I read online. 165 Fahrenheit was the magic number it needed to hit before it would be deemed suitable for human consumption according to the USDA. Six quickly became seven and the turducken was still ten degrees short. My sister and her boyfriend decided to undermine my authority and pitch in with the side dishes. Had they no respect for my chefs hat? It was doing little to protect my honor. Faith in my ability to run a kitchen had reached an all time low.
I broke out a meat thermometer again. The ends of the turducken were five degrees higher than were they needed to be while the center was five degrees below. I decided to take a vote. None of us knew what to do. Everyone was all in favor of just eating the damn thing. The recipe claimed it needed to sit under tinfoil for an hour to "firm up." Instead, I left it front of a televised Blazer game for thirty minutes figuring that Brandon Roy's awesome dunking skills might somehow inspire the turducken to be more tasty.
The results were mixed. The exterior, turkey portion of the bird turned out dry while its duck and chicken center were juicy. In hindsight, I should have pulled el meat bomb out of the oven 30 minutes earlier.
The mysteries surrounding turduckens continue to elude me. Is it even possible to properly cook something like this- a weird feast o' meat melded together out of portions of three different animals? I've come to the conclusion that turduckens just weren't meant to be.