I have a policy of never reviewing the food my friends make. I see it as a largely pointless and potentially harmful exercise. If I say good things about a friend’s food, my readers may think I am merely being nice. If I say bad things, then I may lose a friend, something worth eating many an overdone chicken breast or mystery tofu scramble to avoid. As it is, friends rarely invite me over for a meal. I am left to conclude that this is either because they think my standards are too high, or because they simply don’t cook. But I am going to break my own rule today by describing what is only the latest feat of culinary skill expertly executed by my friend Oyster: Ladies and gentlemen, I give you The Great Turduckening!
First, a definition: A turducken is a deboned chicken, stuffed inside a deboned duck, which is then stuffed inside a deboned turkey. Actually, the turkey still has its leg and wing bones, but no thoracic cavity. As I found out yesterday, turducken is traditional in Louisiana, which is where the idea of stuffing fowl inside each other allegedly first made landfall on this side of the Atlantic. People outside of the South sometimes eat turducken on Thanksgiving for a change of pace. Oyster was recently in New Orleans, which is where he hatched a plan to bring the turducken tradition back to his friends in the Mid-Atlantic. He would cook enough to feed us all, in addition to providing New Orleans-style beans and rice and a keg of Natty Lite—or was it Miller High Life?
Before I get into the details of this elaborate affair, I must mention some of the other food-focused parties Oyster has had this year. In February, he earned his name, buying 300 oysters from a wholesale supplier, shucking some to put into a delicious stew, some to bake and whole hell of a lot to slurp down raw with a squirt of lemon juice. Then in April, while I was (sadly) in San Francisco, Oyster held a crawfish boil for which he purchased 100 pounds of mudbugs from a dude down in Louisiana and had them shipped up. There were also alligator steaks. Most recently, in July, Oyster went to Cape Cod and caught a bunch of quahog clams. He brought them home and topped them with bacon-herb bread crumbs, baking them until the topping was crisp (pictured here). Again, he invited his friends to partake. I have said it before, and I’ll say it again: Oyster is a giver, and all of us who love to eat count ourselves lucky to be among his friends.
For the this feast, Oyster decided to buy his turducken preassembled. If anyone might have figured out how to debone three birds and properly assemble them into this portmanteau of birds, it would be Oyster, but the man has a full-time job. He first tried calling the premium New York meat purveyor Lobel’s, but he was told the two turducken would cost him $275 each. Oyster is generous, but not stupid. He called up a butcher in New Orleans, and his more affordable turducken were put on the next flight out. (I heard from one of his colleagues that the birds were shipped to the office, creating quite a stir.) We had all assembled in Oyster’s cement side yard where we drank beer as we awaited the main course. Eventually, a big pot of delicious andouille-laden beans and rice came down from the apartment kitchen. The first turducken, now sliced into large rounds exposing rings of each meat, arrived soon after. Beer-filled and ravenous, we lost no time in digging in.
The meat was tender, a testament to Oyster’s care, but I found it somewhat bland. It took me a minute or two to puzzle out why. It basically boils down to this: Two of the things that make poultry taste good are bones and crackled skin. By definition, the turducken has minimal amounts of both of these things. Duck, in particular, is nothing without the skin. As a gamier meat, it also benefits from being cooked slightly rare, something that could not be achieved with a turducken because the chicken in the middle must be cooked through.
For dessert, I made a brown butter nectarine cake featured in a Melissa Clark column in the New York Times earlier this summer. I figured we might as well eat nectarines before all the nectarines are gone, and what better way to eat them than atop a brown butter-infused base?
Any criticism of turducken I have detailed here is, of course, not to say that I didn’t appreciate Oyster’s supremely competent effort. Not having tried another turducken, I can only assume that he cooked these to perfection. I would have been so unsure of my ability to prepare one of these that I never would have attempted it in the first place. I may have implied above that the turducken is a flawed concept, and I’m not going to go so far as to moderate that stance. But, flawed or not, I am entirely willing to eat turducken, especially when it is cooked by a good friend.
Many thanks to one of Oyster’s college friends for the top photo. He had a much better camera than I did.