Turducken is an aviary in a roasting pan—a deboned chicken stuffed inside a deboned duck, which is then stuffed inside a partially deboned turkey. Usually there is a sausage or bread stuffing in there, too. Because, why not? Turducken is not about restraint.
Turducken is an American invention, but roasts involving several animals sewn or stuffed together go back at least as far as the 1500s with the “cockentrice,” a capon and a pig sewn together. Ambitious cooks have been celebrating holidays by stuffing and roasting mixed company ever since.
Hannah Glasse, in a cookbook published in 1774, described how to make a Yorkshire Christmas Pye: “Open the fowls all down the back, and bone them; first the pigeon, then the partridge, cover them: then the fowl, then the goose, and then the turkey, which must be large; season them all well first … so as it will look only like a whole turkey….”
In the 1980s, Louisiana chef Paul Prudhomme invented turducken, an all-American dish that immediately began to give Yorkshire Christmas Pye some competition in the over-the-top feast category of celebratory foods.
The East End of Long Island is a paradise of high-quality poultry, an important consideration for those who would make turducken. Anthony Iacono butchers chickens every day at the farm on Long Lane in East Hampton that his family has run since 1948, and he is very good at it. From Anthony, I buy a four-pound chicken that was walking around earlier that day.
Read more: Long Island Ducks: A Culinary Tradition
The duck for my locally raised turducken comes from Crescent Duck Farm in Aquebogue where the Corwin family has been raising the finest birds since 1908. The fat in the skin of the duck contributes wonderful flavor to turducken, but there is a lot of it, so discard most of the skin around the cavity and neck, and leave only the skin covering the breast meat intact.
When you make turducken, the turkey skin has to be perfect, with no tears or ragged gaps. Mark Miloski Sr., of Miloksi’s Poultry Farms (since 1946) in Calverton, not only provides me with a pristine, freshly killed turkey; when he hears I am making turducken, he spatchcocks the bird for me, removing the spine and flattening the breast so I can remove the rest of the bones easily.
Here’s how to prepare your own turducken this holiday season, at home.
- Sharp boning knife
- Cheesecloth, lots of it
- Trussing needle and cooking twine
- Roasting pan that will accommodate a 20-pound turkey, equipped with a rack to hold the bird(s)
- Instant-read thermometer
- Bulb baster
- 15 cups of your favorite stuffing
- 1 (4-pound) chicken, spatchcocked and boned, with any visible fat or excess skin from the neck and cavity removed
- 1 (5- to 6-pound) duck, spatchcocked and boned, with any visible fat or excess skin from the neck and cavity removed
- 1 (20-pound) turkey, spatchcocked and boned except for the drumstick bones and wings. Remove thigh bones, pulley bone, ribs, breast bones and spine.
- Spice rub (see below)
- ½ cup melted butter
For the spice rub, mix together:
- 5 tablespoons salt
- 2 tablespoons ground pepper
- 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
- 1 tablespoon chopped sage
- 1 tablespoon fresh tarragon
- Lay a 3-foot length of cheesecloth on a clean work surface, and spread the turkey on it, skin-side down. You’ll be using the cheesecloth as a sling to move the turducken as you assemble it, so make sure the cheesecloth runs under the breast of the turkey, and allows you to lift the turkey by lifting the ends of the cheesecloth.
- Rub 3 tablespoons of the spice mixture into both sides of the turkey.
- Spoon about half of the stuffing in an even layer over the non-skin side of the turkey. Rub the duck meat and skin with 2 tablespoons of the spice rub and place the duck skin-side down on the stuffing layer on the turkey. Spread half of the remaining stuffing on the duck.
- Repeat this process with the chicken; apply the spice rub, place it skin-side down on the duck and spread the remaining stuffing on the chicken.
- Starting with the neck end, hold the 2 cut edges of the turkey together, and sew the 2 sides together from neck to the cavity with a trussing needle threaded with cooking twine. Use the cheesecloth to turn the turducken breast-side up.
- Slide a doubled-length of butchers’ twine under the turducken, near the wings, and slide another near the legs. Use the twine to lift and move the turducken gently onto the rack in the roasting pan.
- Rub the melted butter over the entire surface.
- Bake at 325° until an instant-read thermometer registers 165° in all parts of the roast. This can take as few as 5 to as many as 10 hours. Baste the turducken every hour for the first 3 hours and every 45 minutes thereafter.
- Remove from the oven, and carefully transfer the turducken to a serving platter. To carve the turducken, make slices across the breast, starting just under the wings. Each slice will include all 3 birds, plus layers of stuffing.