The Saga Continues . . . .
The day before Thanksgiving, I set out the duck and the chicken to thaw, and I bought the sausage and oysters and every other fresh thing necessary. Occasionally during the work day I stopped and thought about the order in which I should perform my chefly chores, so that by the time of early evening, I had that night’s agenda and schedule clear and distinct in my head and anticipated a very late night in the kitchen. I figured I could be working until as late as 2:00 a.m., being a turducken virgin.
I made cornbread for the cornbread stuffing. Then I removed the back and ribs and sternum of my turkey. The chicken came apart. To my surprise, the duck came apart in my hands simply and of a piece. And all the time I worked, the image from the turducken web site intermittently flashed through my mind. So, neither my appetite nor my anticipation over seeing the completed meal grew.
To reconnoiter the construction, I put the flaccid turkey carcass skin down on the cutting board. Then the duck on that. Then the chicken on top of the duck. The mound of muscle looked like what it was: three stacked dead bodies. Food is not supposed to remind you of dead bodies. I know what meat is, but when I am trying to make something delicious, I really do not need the reminder that I am going to eat a fresh carcass. I mean, there are just some times when you want your illusions. But I could not longer suspend my disbelief. I would never look on this meal as delicious, aesthetic or appetizing. It was too much like college anatomy on the one hand and Red Asphalt on the other.
Still, I had made up my mind, had told my friends about Frankenbird and my plans. Mostly, I had promised myself that I would do this to give pleasure to my family.
I put the corpses into plastic bags and into the fridge, which was only a small relief, for although they were out of site, they were not out of mind. I had the beginnings of raw poultry PTSD.
I made cornbread stuffing with Italian sausage and mangoes, and I made sourdough stuffing with oysters and tarragon. I worked without break and without hesitation, and when I was done, it was only about 10:30. I had mentally practiced my process so much, had visualized it in my mind so thoroughly, that without realizing, I had worked in an efficient and focused manner, and though I had expected to be done very late, I had plenty of time on may hands. There was only one thing to do: build Frankenbird.
I splayed the turkey out on its boneless back and plopped some cornbread stuffing with sausage and mango down into the crevices between the breast meat and the intact thighs and wings. Then I layered about a quarter inch of stuffing over the whole thing, just because I could.
Next, I splayed out the naked, structureless duck on top, its dark meat in contrast to the yellow stuffing. Once again, I placed cornbread stuffing in the valleys between muscle groups. Lastly, I stacked the chicken on board.
By now my monster had grown to over eight inches high and bulged away from the center, tilting away from the breast meat, making the chicken threaten to slump away. But I held it fast as I dumped on California sourdough stuffing with oysters and tarragon, then flattened it as much as possible. Now I had to stitch the two severed sides of my creation together.
This I had planned for this too. It is why, when I bought needles for sewing Frankenbird together, I also bought metal kabob skewers. My plan was to skewer the chicken shut, then the duck, then encase them in the turkey and sew it shut.
However, once I skewered the chicken shut, it behaved badly. It no longer liked its perch on the duck and tried to slide off, and rolling the duck up only made the chicken squirt out from inside, like the center of a boiled onion. And try as I may, that chicken would not stay put. It resisted its ducky sarcophagus.
Maybe a turkey-folding strategy would work. I slid the stack of flesh and bread around to look at different angles and visualize different plans of attack. I performed two folding trial runs, but each time the chicken escaped, followed quickly by the duck. What to do? With two people, this would have been short work, but I only had myself and my two hands. Without that other person, I was going to have to use my body as an immovable object against which to press Frankenbird.
So I threaded my big honking needle with three feet of cotton string and stood at the counter and pulled one side of the bird up against my stomach and pulled the other across so that the two sundered sides once again touched. It was possible, but the duck and the chicken were still reluctant to stay in their fleshy tomb. I had to work quickly.
I fastened the neck end of Frankenbird together and quickly worked my way down its back, plunging my needle into its skin and drawing the cotton string through from side to side. Once down at the other end, I sewed a little barrier against the inner birds’ escape, and then worked my way back up, because I could see that the turkey’s new contents were stretching it quite tightly. When I once again reached the neck end, I drew my turkey-juice-soaked suture tight, drawing the cut ends of flesh together, just like in pictures of open heart surgery, and tied Frankenbird off with a surgical knot.
I carefully placed Frankenbird, sutured back down, onto a pan. And there it lay, my pasty white, bloated, overstuffed Frankenbird. If it was disgusting in pieces, it was more so rebuilt.
I originally thought it would at least look like a regular turkey, a little anyway. Like in the pictures of manufactured turduckens. But, once assembled, my Frankenbird looked more like road kill that I could have imagined. My Frankenbird looked as if it had been bloated with expanding gasses. Its grotesque round body now dwarfed its little legs and wings. It was morbidly obese, a pathetic mockery of food. It trivialized the sacrifice these three animals had made for my holiday entertainment. I had cobbled this monster together for my own gratification and now I knew I would never be able to eat any of it. The thought of it repulsed me, so I shoved Frankenbird into the refrigerator and closed the door.
I was so traumatized that I could not sleep, so I watched… something, whatever. At 2:30 and I had had enough. I went to bed thinking that I would put Frankenbird into the oven early.
Into the Oven
A turducken is about one and one half cubic feet of solid meat and bread product. It cannot be cooked at regular turkey-roasting heat. It must be cooked for a very, very, very long time on very low heat. Only this way could anyone be assured that, while the inside cooks thoroughly through, the outside will not be charred black and inedible. The instructions I told me to cook Frankenbird at 225 degrees for about 9 hours, longer than the average work day. Therefore, I planned to get a jump on the day and thus know that by five o’clock dinner my one and one half cubic feet of solid, boneless food would be thoroughly cooked in time for my two guests.
I woke up the next morning without an alarm at 6:30. Rose straight from bed and into the kitchen without coffee to put my poultry monster into the oven. Two hundred twenty five degrees, in my harvest gold electric Kenmore oven, clearly straight from the seventies.
I am just not a morning person, which means I don’t exercise first thing. It’s a kind of crime. So, lifting these dead animals and the pan and all amounted to weight lifting and even though the distance from fridge to open oven was only about three feet, I thought I was carrying a water buffalo a hundred yards.
For hours Frankenbird showed no external signs of cookage. No pan drippings. No scent. No browning. Nothing. And the meat thermometer, stuck so gently into its center, did not appear to change. However, around eleven o’clock, something happened. Little clear beads of poultry sweat occasionally appeared on Frankenbird’s pasty white surface, broke loose, slowly plucked their way down and pooled in my roasting pan. Also, my avian monstrosity began to emit a faint odor, which was neither appetizing nor revolting.
When I looked in at about noon, what I saw looked like a fat, sweaty, sun-challenged man, a poultry version of Syndey Greenstreet in a sauna.
And still, the internal temperature had not broken 80 degrees, much less 100, much less the 180 degrees at which poutry has safely cooked according to my thermometer’s printed dial. So the afternoon of experimentation paced slowly on. At some point we passed 80 degrees. At three o’clock, I noticed that it had turned a color that I am pretty sure has no name.
Still, Frankenbird just sat in its rack over a small pool of bird sweat. With dinner at five, this severely threatened my schedule.
However, every little sign of cooking I took as encouragement from Frankenbird. Each time I saw the internal temperature rise even a couple of degrees I thought to myself: Maybe it will work. Maybe just the inner bird needs to start heating up and somehow it will develop, like a juggernaut, into a cooked turducken in time.
Once you begin deluding your self, it is really hard to stop.