“Chefs have been stuffing one bird inside another bird for a really long time,” says chef/owner Richard Erickson of Ulster County’s Blue Mountain Bistro-to-Go. As he points out, back in 1807 the French recorded a rôti sans pareil — stuffing 17 different birds into each other. Since the mid-’80s, turducken — one bird crammed into another with a layer of stuffing between each — has become popular all around the U.S.
Still, when he first set out to make this dish, “I didn’t consider it a turducken,” Erickson says. “It was more of a ballotine [a deboned leg of a chicken or duck, stuffed with meat]. But I guess that the fact that I was using turkey, duck, and chicken — everyone called it turducken, so I did, too. People really relate to that.”
Making turducken remains a huge challenge that many people put high up on their culinary bucket list — “but it is very time-consuming,” says Erickson. That’s why customers are thrilled when Erickson puts it on the menu. “This has a huge appeal. They get something different with little or no work. People sometimes get intimidated around Thanksgiving when they start thinking about roasting and then slicing a whole turkey. So here is something with no bones, and to just be able to slice it and serve — people are grateful.”
While Erickson originally introduced this dish for Christmas and New Year’s Eve, this year he has it on the bistro’s popular takeout Thanksgiving menu. “You can order an entire dinner,” says the chef. “Or, like many people do, you can just get your side dishes from us. It takes a lot of pressure off of the holiday” (www.bluemountainbistro.com).
Prepare the ballotine:
• 1 boneless breast of turkey, about six pounds
• ½ cup dry white wine
• 1 cup rich chicken stock
• Kosher salt and white pepper
- Lay out the turkey breast on a flat surface with the skin side down. Remove the filet (the piece of meat that’s in the center and loosely attached to the breast) and reserve for another use.
- Slice the large end of the turkey breast, opening it up so it is roughly rectangular. Cover with plastic wrap and pound with a mallet, skin side down, until it is as even and flat as you can get it. Season with the kosher salt and white pepper.
Prepare the mousseline of chicken:
• 1 lb chicken breast filet, ground
• 3 medium shallots, diced small
• ½ tsp salt
• ½ tsp white pepper
• 3 egg whites
• 1½ cups heavy cream
- Combine the shallots and raw chicken in a food processor with the egg whites and a bit of the cream. Puree until the mixture is smooth, scraping down the sides several times.
- With the motor running, add the rest of the cream in a slow, steady stream. At this point the mixture should be perfectly smooth and stiff, and should hold its shape on a spoon.
- Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Drop a spoonful of the mixture into the water; it should hold its shape and float while cooking.
- When it is firm to the touch, remove with a slotted spoon and let cool. This is your test, the texture should be light and fluffy (more cream can be added if necessary to make it lighter). Check to see if the seasoning is to your liking.
- Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until the other components of the dish are ready to be assembled.
Prepare the duck confit:
Confit is a time-honored method of preserving things, usually duck, goose, or pork. The meat is cooked and stored in its own rendered fat. The result is meltingly tender, moist, and flavorful. It is relatively simple and takes a few days to execute.
• 6 duck legs with thighs
• 4 cups duck fat
• 4 cloves garlic, smashed
• 1 shallot, sliced
• 3 Tbsp salt
• Several sprigs of thyme
• Several bay leaves, crumbled coarsely
• Ground black pepper
- Mix everything together except the fat and arrange in a container large enough to hold it in a single layer. Cover and refrigerate for one to two days.
- Preheat oven to 225 degrees. Remove the duck, brush off the seasonings, and pat dry (the salt will have drawn out some liquid). Arrange the duck legs in a baking dish so they fit tightly. Melt the fat and pour over the duck. The fat should come about 3/4 of the way up the sides; allow for more fat to melt away from the legs as they cook. Simmer slowly in the oven for two-three hours. The duck should be tender and fall off the bone easily.
- Remove the skin, shred the duck meat, and reserve for the ballotine.
- If you have extra, cool and store in the refrigerator covered in the fat. The confit will keep for many weeks. As you use the duck meat, melt, strain, and store the fat. It is fabulous for frying potatoes.
Prepare the spinach:
• 1 lb fresh washed spinach
- Steam or saute until wilted and transfer to a colander to drain and cool.
- Gently squeeze to remove excess liquid, as this will have a negative effect on the ballotine.
Back to preparation of the ballotine:
- Now take the spinach leaves, and spread down the middle of the turkey breast length-wise.
- Remove the chicken mousse mixture from the refrigerator and spread evenly over the turkey, leaving a one-inch border all around.
- Arrange the shredded duck confit down the length; cover with 10-12 moist pitted prunes down the center, end to end.
- Roll carefully into a cylinder and tie every two inches with a piece of butcher’s twine (an extra pair of hands makes this step easier).
- Once the roast is carefully tied up, season with salt, pepper, and minced thyme.
- Melt two tablespoons of duck fat in a roasting pan on top of the stove. Once the fat is hot, sear the outside of the roast, rolling it gently until the skin is brown.
- Add the wine and stock, cover with foil, and return pan to the oven. Cook for 45 minutes to an hour. Use a meat thermometer to check that the internal temperature is 140 degrees.
- Let rest for at least 15 minutes. Remove the twine, then slice and serve with the cooking juices.