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It's a turkey! It's a duck! It's a chicken! It's ... turducken!

Sunday, March 19, 2000

By Marlene Parrish, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

A few months ago, Chuck Ellis of Monroeville was in China working on an import-export project. Running to catch a flight in Beijing, he noticed a guy wearing a Miami Dolphins sweatshirt huffing along just ahead. Ellis, originally a Floridian, hollered "Hey, you must be from Florida."

 
George Morland, chef at Smartie Artie's in Monroeville, didn't know what turducken was when he was asked to prepare it for 22 guests. When it was done -- after 12 hours of cooking, he said, "The roast looks like a 15-pound football." (Steve Mellon, Post-Gazette) 

The guy puffed, "Nah, I'm just a Cajun. Louisiana. Dolphin fan."

Well, long story short, the plane had to be de-iced and was delayed. The two good ole boys hung out in the Beijing terminal for a couple of hours. Eventually, they got to talking about food.

"You never et a turducken?" asked the Cajun.

"What's a turducken?" Ellis asked.

"You'll see. I'll send you one."

Cut to the hometown. A few weeks later, a large, heavy box containing a frozen turducken arrived at Ellis' home. Ellis, a marketing consultant who loves a party, called Art Sciullo at Smartie Artie's restaurant in Monroeville.

"Art," he said. "I got some sort of turducken meat roast. It looks kind of like a huge watermelon. Can you cook it at your place for me and some friends?"

"Yeah, sure, bring it on over." Sciullo hung up and called to George Morland, the chef. "Do you want to cook a turducken for a customer?"

"Yeah, sure," says Morland. "Uh, what is it?"

"I have no idea," said Sciullo. "I just know it's big and heavy. We'll find out together."

And that's how 22 curious guests were invited to a turducken dinner with all the trimmings at Smartie Artie's.

The definition of a turducken reads like something out of the Ancient Annals of Poultry Gynecology. It starts with the architecture of a 15- to 20-pound semi-boneless turkey -- the wings and drumsticks remain--that is stuffed with a boneless duck that is stuffed in turn with a boneless chicken. After layering the poultry with stuffing, the pile is whomped together, sewn, greased, hoisted into a pan and roasted. It will feed at least 20 people.

 
   
To mail order

Roasts are 15 to 20 pounds.

$124.99 includes shipping via Fed Ex, allow 2 days.

The package is shipped frozen.

Order at least a week ahead to give the meat time to thaw.

During holiday season, order 2 weeks ahead.

Some stuffings are: Crawfish etouffee, shrimp etouffee, Cajun cornbread.

Serves 20 to 25. With side dishes.

Sources:

Hot New Products, Bruno Brothers Division, Lafayette, La. 800-293-6178.

Cajun Specialty Meats, Pensacola, Fla. 850-479-8383.

Joey's Specialty Foods, Layayette, La.318-237-3661.

The Gourmet Butcher Block, Gretna, La. 504-392-5700.


Related article:

The how-to drill

 
 

The utter absurdity of the procedure gives the turducken its appeal. Nature abhors a vacuum, they say, and stuffing animal cavities is nothing new. Roman and medieval cooks did it, and not too many decades ago, James Beard did it. Paul Prudhomme, ever the marketing genius, is behind the recent upsurge in turduckens, and his Web site gives full directions. To put this in perspective, though, he also gives a gravy recipe that includes eggplant, Grand Marnier and a stock you can make from squirrel bones. There are easier ways to drive yourself crazy.

But you don't have to be a chef or a meatpacker to engage in this exercise. Turduckens are more about boning and sewing than fowl play.

But back to the Night of the Turducken, more like a screenplay by George Romero than a dinner party.

Sciullo, who owns Smartie Artie's with sons Joseph and Jay, did the color commentary, as well as play-by-play preceding the carving and serving.

First, Chuck Ellis retold the story of the Beijing airport.

Sciullo introduced Dr. Bruce Raymond of Upper St. Clair, who made a turducken from scratch two years ago. Raymond deserves two medals, one for tenacity, the other a purple heart.

"I've always had a campaign against plain turkey for Thanksgiving and Christmas," said Raymond. "I decided to make a turducken. To save time, I went to a gourmet grocer to buy the birds and have them boned. But the butcher didn't get the concept. He had literally shoved a chicken into a duck and then the both of them into the turkey, bones and all.

"Because of my many years of practicing surgery, I wasn't concerned about being able to bone the birds myself. It's not hard, just slow and precise work. I also made oyster and sausage stuffings from scratch. I sutured the mass and set it into the roasting pan. It looked exactly like what it was, a large boned turkey, but without definition."

Raymond passed around snapshots that showed the birds sprawled on the kitchen gurney, er, counter. Finished and sewn, the turducken looked like a post-op, quadruple-bypass patient. The close-ups also show multiple Band-Aids on his fingers, as well as raw meat. "I guess I'll never live that down. I'm the surgeon with the Band-Aids."

The following year, Raymond was wiser. He bought a mail-order turducken boned, stuffed and ready to cook.

Sciullo brought out chef George Morland. "The roast looks like a 15-pound football. I defrosted it in the refrigerator for three days, just like you would a frozen turkey. I came in at 7 this morning, and I cooked it for 12 hours. I also removed fat drippings every couple of hours so that it wouldn't fry on the bottom."

Morland cut the bird in half along the "waistline," then cut portions so that everyone got a little of everything. There were even a few second helpings.

We wondered about grease from the fatty duck skin, but no problem. The skin not only all but disappeared but served to keep the meat moist.

The chef's menu included smoked corn and potato chowder, turducken with seafood rice stuffing and pan-gravy, roasted potatoes with rosemary, mushroom-stuffed zucchini, salad and fresh peach melba.

Morland neglected to mention, however, that the turducken was overstuffed and detonated in the oven, shooting rice all over the oven like a Chinese wedding.

Post-Gazette wine columnist Dave DeSimone chose the wines. "I dug deep for this one," he says. "There are wines that go with all three birds."

He talked about acidity, fruitiness, tannins and other fancy oenological terms. Everybody was relieved when he said, "Begging off, we'll open four wines and decide what we like."

He pulled the corks on a Meridian cabernet sauvignon, a Gabiano chianti classico, a San Angelo pinot grigio and a Pennsylvania wine, Naylor's chambourcin.

Inevitably, the conversation got around to other stuffing. "We could do a fish thing," said a professional fish cutter. "We could stuff an alewife into a salmon trout into a shark." And that would be an amtrak. Would a duck stuffed with a hen stuffed with a quail be a danquail?

Somebody remembered the "International Cuisine Cookbook," presented by California Home Economics Teachers. The recipe for Stuffed Camel, submitted tongue in sheik by Shararazod Eboli, calls for 1 medium whole camel, 1 large whole lamb, 20 whole chickens, 12 kilos of rice for the stuffing, 110 gallons of water to boil it in and salt to taste. Start by skinning and cleaning the camel, which is easy, Eboli says, once you get over the hump.

DeSimone stood to announce the best matches. "Nobody sent back the chianti. So the reds seem to be the better partner," he laughed. "The whites don't carry well or complement the meats. Then again, there are no empty wine bottles. Looks like a draw."

And how did the guests like turducken?

They were unanimous in their assessment: "Tastes like chicken."



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