Admit it, you're tired of that same old Thanksgiving turkey recipe, prepared the same way year after year. Served with all the fixin’s on the big night itself and then recycled for a week in sandwiches, tetrazini, turkey salad, and finally, turkey soup. While a lot of folks look forward to this annual gorge-a-thon, more and more people are turning to an alternative main course to add variety to their Thanksgiving feast. Two of the most popular of these are the vegan-approved Tofurky and its arch-enemy, the Atkins-friendly Turducken. To-who? Tur-what?
It’s said that during their village feasts the ancient Romans stuffed an entire cow with a sheep, then a pig, then a goose, then a chicken, and then roasted the whole thing over a spit for a few days (imagine a culinary version of Russian matryoshka nesting dolls). Certainly this took a very long time to cook, as it’s very dense, and surely would have had to cook it very slowly, over low heat, to have the innermost meat not raw, and the outermost not burnt. There’s also evidence that Middle Eastern feasts included stuffed sheep inside of camels, and lamb inside of sheep, etc., etc. If you can imagine eating either one of these, without worrying about too many flavors all colliding in your mouth at once (or the amount of Pepto-Bismol you’d need after dinner), enter the turducken.
Based on a traditional Cajun recipe, the turducken is a boned turkey, stuffed with a boned duck, which is stuffed with a chicken, which is then stuffed with herbs and spices. It may be a couple of thousand years late for the Romans, but right on time for us carb-counting, high protein-craving Americans. In the last decade or so, the Turducken—and its deep-fried (!) variant—has been steadily gaining popularity outside of its original Louisiana habitat thanks to word of mouth and a dedicated cadre of mail order and online specialty houses.
But be warned: a turducken takes a full 12 hours to cook, and the chef should time this wisely. There’s a lot involved in the preparation, too and casual home cooks may want to mull over whether they want to lavish so much time on it, even for something that supposedly tastes a little like heaven. You may also opt to purchase one pre-prepared (although they don’t come cheap: Hickory Farms charges $109.95, which doesn’t include shipping). It’s probably best to order from a specialty provider that knows what it’s doing rather than a big chain, that may not.
Turduckens are great for carnivores, but what happens if you’re planning on having vegetarians over? Whether you’re dealing with ovo-lacto vegetarians, strict vegans or those who simply prefer not to eat meat for moral objections or for health reasons, the tofu turkey may be the answer for you. These soybean-based mock-turkeys are another holiday turkey alternative that is quickly catching on thanks to word-of-mouth and good press. And depending on the ambition and resourcefulness of the cook, they can be as tasty, elaborate and filling as any meat lover’s feast. <
Now, for the masochists and die-hard home chefs out there, here’s a synopsis of how to prepare and cook one of these poultry trifectas. The first step is to bone each bird, a procedure that in itself takes a great deal of time, so plan accordingly. Next, measure out the three ingredients for the dressing:
7 cups of andouille sausages
4 cups of cornbread
3 cups of oysters.
Next, assemble the behemoth: put the dressing inside the chicken, the chicken inside the duck and the duck inside the turkey. This requires a great deal of sewing, stuffing, molding and fitting to make it look like a turkey again. At this point, you may want to hire a tailor! Now that you have it assembled, your oven will be on for 12 hours, and hopefully, you’ve got air conditioning, otherwise you may feel like you’re being cooked along with your turducken.
For the truly adventurous, here’s the lowdown on how to make your own tofu turkey. Instead of being a tailor, as with the turducken, in this one you’ve got to be a sculptor. This recipe uses 5–6 lbs. of firm tofu (which must be weighed for 2 to 3 hours in a bowl), and the stuffing recipe of your choice, minus the bird-base. Stuffing here is key, as is basting, both of which make tofu taste like something other than, well, tofu. One suggestion for a basting mix is a very standard Asian mixture of 1/2 cup toasted sesame oil, 1/4 to 1/3 cup soy sauce or tamari, 2 tablespoons miso, 2 tablespoons orange juice, and 1 teaspoon vegan mustard of choice.
Once you’ve prepared the stuffing and basting mixture in advance—which should take a few minutes and still leave you time to vacuum under the sofa while you weigh the tofu—you simply drain and hollow out the tofu, then stuff the mixture in it. After this, simply sculpt or shape the tofu into a turkey shape, which can mean sculpting the additional legs out of the rest of the tofu, or leaving it the way it is.
If you’re feeling particularly ambitious, you can attempt to hold the “legs” on to the “body” by fashioning little pillows out of tin foil, and spraying them with some vegetable oil spray. You could even go so far as to connect them with some wooden skewers, but be careful to remove them before “carving.” Unless you’re a budding Martha Stewart, fashioning wings is probably just overkill…
Finally, bake in the over at 400 degrees for about an hour, basting until it's golden brown.
Tofurky sells its own brand of “giblet gravy,” or you can garnish with homemade cranberry sauce instead.
Happy Thanksgiving, whatever you decide to serve!