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The how-to drill

Sunday, March 19, 2000

By Marlene Parrish, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

We recommend turducken for Thanksgiving, Christmas or just for fun, since it feeds lots of people.

If you want to get acquainted with the idea, these guidelines will be useful. They are not intended to be a recipe.

The road to turducken is long and expensive. To yield a 20-pound boneless turducken that will feed between 20 and 30 guests, start with a 20-pound turkey (about $1.20 a pound), a large duckling (about $9 to $12) and a 3-pound chicken (about $5). Add the cost of stuffings and side dishes, and dinner will run from $80 to $100.

If you allow time for defrosting, a kindly butcher will bone the birds. A Giant Eagle meat-cutter says the chain does not charge for deboning. A craft-oriented cook could undertake the deboning himself.

After the boning and stuffing, the cook must layer, stuff, wedge, wrestle, sew and primp the limp bundle into some semblance of a turkey. From start to finish, figure three days.

The only way to cook the inside of such a plump beast adequately without scorching the outside is slowly at a steady temperature of 190 degrees, or until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees. Estimate 12 to 13 hours, plus an hour standing time.

The cook needs: a large roasting pan, 15 by 11 inches and at least 21/2 inches deep (the disposable kind will do), an even larger roasting pan that the smaller one can fit into, because there may be fluid overflow, a 3-inch carpet needle, strong thread, cotton thread for tying the bird into position, a turkey baster, at least 14 cups stuffing, seasoning and gravy essentials.

Now the assemblage begins.

Place the turkey "flat," skin-side down, on a work surface. Expose as much meat as possible. The entire back of each bird is sliced open from head to toe. Although the bird doesn't lie flat-flat, it's possible to expose more of the inside of a boneless turkey than you might think. The turkey looks like a flappy jacket.

Season the inside of the meat with poultry seasoning.

Spread a 1/2-inch to 3/4 -inch layer (about 7 cups) of stuffing onto the turkey, including the wing and leg cavities. Don't overstuff.

Trim the excess skin and fat from the duck's neck. Arrange the duck, skin-side down, on the layer of dressing in the turkey. The turkey and duck should be oriented the same way. Season and spread about 4 cups of stuffing inside.

Repeat with the chicken, using 2 or 3 cups of stuffing. Skins remain on the birds. They are necessary for moistness, and the inner skins are virtually unnoticeable.

With another person to squeeze the edges of the turkey together like a suitcase, fold the bird, so it resumes a turkey shape. Sew the bird closed.

Rub the outside of the turducken with butter or olive oil, then sprinkle with seasoning. Tie the turducken in three places around the girth. Place breast-side up on a rack in the 11-by-15-inch ungreased pan. Refrigerate until ready to roast.

Preheat the oven to 190 degrees, and place the smaller roasting pan in the larger one. Basting is not necessary, but every 2 hours, remove the drippings from the smaller pan so the turducken doesn't fry in its own juices. Periodically insert a meat thermometer to check. Roast until the temperature at the center reads 165 degrees, anywhere from 9 to 12 hours.

As juices accumulate, save them for gravy.

The margin for error in cooking time was an unknown variable, but it would be a shame if it kept someone from trying this. Because the turducken is so massive, keeping it in the oven a little longer wouldn't hurt.

Transfer the turducken to a serving platter, and let it cool for an hour before carving.

For explicit instructions, check out the Internet. Just key in "turducken."

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