Turducken, Meet Your Match
Vegetarian excess? Soy inside soy inside soy!
By Stefany Anne Golberg
The Ethiopian cooks had two antelopes brought in from the zoo. They gutted, skinned, and roasted them in spices and butter. Twenty turkeys — stuffed with herbs and bread — were thrust into the antelopes and the empty crevasses filled with hundreds of hardboiled eggs. A bleating camel, feeling something sinister in the room, was soon slaughtered as well, his innards replaced with the antelopes, whose innards had been replaced with the turkeys and eggs, whose innards had been replaced with breads, spices, herbs, and fish. And the Emperor of Ethiopia ate only just a little.
Bawdy, exorbitant, unethical. In the most mythic banquets, everything is permitted, nothing impossible. Mile-high desserts carved to resemble palaces, grapes served upon platters of young boys, vomit buckets. But aside from the slaves, drunkenness, and orgies, it is perhaps the dining upon outrageously prepared animals — much like the stuffed camel Bohumil Hrabel describes in I Served the King of England — that is most...indelible. Heliogabalus enjoyed ostrich brains and eels fattened with Christians. The Emperor Vitellius once served a dish including flamingo tongues and lamprey milt in the name of Minerva. Hampton Court under Henry VIII was often the stage for feasts of whale, peacock beaks, and the ever-popular flaming boar’s head. No organ was left unturned.
The home version of this is the Turducken, the infamous carnival of carnage that involves three unfortunate birds (chicken, duck, turkey) stuffed into each other. If you use the Chef Paul Prudhomme recipe — considered by many to be standard — you will also add pork sausage (for one stuffing) and shrimp (for another stuffing). The third stuffing, cornbread, involves duck or chicken giblets. So, pardon me: that makes for three birds stuffed with pig and shrimp and their own giblets stuffed into each other. All served with a gravy that the birds have helpfully self-produced for the project.
A few years ago, I decided to make a vegetarian version, which I call "Tofucken."
I find great pleasure in reading a well-told recipe, with the promise of a magical taste experience in each measured ingredient. The sheer verbal deliciousness of seeing "whisk" and "cream" and "grill" and "shallot" swirling about on the page is a culinary joy of its own. When it comes to the business of actually cooking, however, recipes are often cruel mistresses. Sort of like making love by the light of an instructional video — helpful perhaps, but a bit stifling when it comes to improvisation.
With that, I give you my recipe for Tofucken. Please do think of it as a suggestion rather than a manual, a bracelet on which to hang your own charms. • 18 November 2009
|Tofucken, adapted from Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Turducken recipe.
There are five basic elements to your Tofucken: fake meat, three stuffings, and gravy. The rest is assembly.
You will need roughly 20 ounces each of vegetarian turkey, chicken, and duck. How much you need to purchase depends largely on how big you want your Tofucken. I purchased all my fake meat at May Wah grocery in New York City (their products are available online). They come nicely sculpted, which can add to the art of your finished product. My Tofucken head (as seen in photo) was sculpted by my friend Daupo.
If you wish to use the same products I did, you will need:
2 packages Vegetarian Healthy Chicken
Keep frozen until ready to use. You can thaw in the refrigerator the day before using.
You will also need:
1 large roasting pan. A cheap aluminum one from the grocery store will work fine.
I recommend starting with this stuffing since the fresh-baked cornbread will need time to dry out.
1 cup unsweetened soy milk
With a fork, scrape the cornbread lightly until it is crumbled. Spread the crumbled cornbread on a sheet pan and bake in a 300°F oven until the crumbs are dry and a touch of brown is showing on the larger pieces, about 30 minutes.
In a 4-quart pot or deep saucepan, melt 3 tablespoons of soy butter together with the sage. Add the onions and garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, until onions become translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the leeks and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring frequently so that your ingredients don't stick to the pot. Add the remaining tablespoon of soy butter and remove from the heat. Stir until butter is melted.
Put the crumbled cornbread in a large mixing bowl. Fold in onion mixture, add the soy milk and parsley. Stir until evenly mixed. Salt to taste — about 2 pinches will do. Refrigerate.
1 cup yellow corn meal
Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine dry ingredients in a mixing bowl (corn meal, flour, sugar, baking powder, salt). Cut the butter into the dry mixture. Add the milk and egg (or Egg Replacer) and stir until just fully mixed. Pour batter into a greased 9-inch baking pan and bake for 20 minutes or until a fork comes out clean when you stick it in the center of the cornbread. Cool completely.
1½ tablespoons olive oil
Preheat oven to 300°F. Put breadcrumbs on a pan and bake until very dry and slightly brown on top, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and cool.
Put the olive oil into a 4-quart pot or deep saucepan over medium heat. Add the sausage, chopping as it cooks to give it a ground beef texture. Cook about 5 minutes, until the sausage is lightly browned. Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are translucent. Add the brown sugar, celery, bell peppers and garlic. Continue to cook until the celery and bell peppers are faded in color, but do not overcook about 5 minutes. Remove the pot from heat and add the soy butter. Stir until the butter is melted. Fold in the half of the breadcrumbs. Add the sage, marjoram, parsley, and paprika. Fold in the remaining breadcrumbs. Continue to fold until the breadcrumbs are evenly moistened. Add salt and pepper to taste, about 2 pinches each. Refrigerate.
Technically, Prudhomme's third stuffing is made with shrimp. To avoid infusing the entire Tofucken with faux-fishy weirdness, I have opted instead for a good old mushroom hazelnut stuffing with crimini, button, and oyster mushrooms. Feel free to add any kind of mushrooms you like.
4 tablespoons soy butter
Soak the oyster mushrooms in 1 cup of the vegetable broth until they are soft. (If you're feeling fancy, use ½ cup vegetable broth and ½ cup white wine). Remove mushrooms with a slotted spoon and chop. Combine the reserved liquid with the remainder of the vegetable broth and set aside.
Melt soy butter in a 4-quart pot or deep saucepan over medium heat. Cook shallots and garlic until shallots are translucent. Add the hazelnuts, fennel, celery, and mushrooms and mix constantly until mushrooms are tender. Remove from heat and transfer to a large bowl. Fold in the half of the breadcrumbs. Add the sage, parsley, and tarragon. Fold in the remaining breadcrumbs. Continue to fold until the breadcrumbs are evenly moistened, adding the remainder of the vegetable broth. Add salt and pepper to taste, about 2 pinches each. Refrigerate.
For a really saucy Tofucken, this gravy recipe can be doubled.
Please note: Instructions assume that you are working with May Wah. If you aren't, don't hesitate to be creative with your layering.
1. Take all stuffings and meats out of refrigerator. Make sure meats are fully thawed.
Stefany Anne Golberg is an artist, writer, musician, and professional dilettante. She's a founding member of the art collective Flux Factory and lives in New York City. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Recipe photos by Stefany Anne Golberg.