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Lessons in Freestylin’ – Daring Cooks Challenge December 2009

Pastry resting

Hi all! Welcome to December’s Daring Cooks Challenge. This month’s challenge, hosted by the wonderful Simone from Junglefrog Cooking, is Salmon en Croute or some variation that essentially composes of meat (or vegetables for vegetarians/vegans) wrapped & baked in pastry. The suggested meat alternative to fish was Beef Wellington. However, me being me for those of you that have read a number of my challenge entries, I’m certainly not one to follow convention.

So, if that modestly nice looking pastry parcel is neither Salmon en Croute or Beef Wellington, then what exactly is contained within? The answer I shall provide below in the form of a joke.

Joke reveal

Ok, if it wasn’t clear from the joke, that which is contained within pastry casing is essentially a turducken. However, the method used to make what I shall refer to as Turducken en Croute follows closely with the method used for making Beef Wellington. For the original recipe, please check out Simone’s blogpost of this month’s challenge. Note: Link to specific post will be provided once she publishes her entry.

Ok, Turducken en Croute sounds ridiculous but this is what I’m going with, as I prefer it to Turduckenellington :P

For those of you that don’t know what a turducken is, a turducken is, like its name, a combination of a turkey, duck and chicken, all amassed into a single unit of meaty goodness.

If done properly.

I say this because in my case, well, let’s just say it wasn’t done as properly as I’d like. To be frank, though I did not find the end result to be an utter failure, there were a lot of areas for improvement. I’ll go through what I felt could have been done better throughout the course of this post.

Problem 1 – Freestylin’. What I refer to freestylin’ is essentially my impatience for following recipe’s directions and either improvising certain steps or substitutions, or in this case, cooking entirely off the top of my head without a recipe as a guide. Though, to be fair, finding a guide for Turducken en Croute is somewhat of a challenge as I wasn’t able to come across any references of cooking a turducken within pastry, let alone an actual recipe. So, if you find the steps and quantities somewhat vague or imprecise, apologies in advance. It’s just the way I cook.

Speaking of cooking…

turducken unrolled

This is the core of my Turducken en Croute. The three layers of meat (starting from the bottom) are the drumstick of a turkey wing fillet (light meat layer), duck thigh fillet (dark meat layer) & 2 x drumstick of a chicken wing fillet. Each of the meat fillets were pounded with a meat mallet separately. Though some tenderising does occur, the main reason why this was done was to spread out the meat into a flat mass in order to make it easier to roll. As the chicken was to be the centre layer, after tenderising the meat, it was amassed into a more sausage like shape, rather than a flat mass.

Next, lay out a sheet of plastic wrap and lay down each of the meats in the order shown above i.e. from the bottom, turkey, duck then chicken. Before placing the layers together, make sure to season each layer generously with salt and pepper. I guess had I more time and forethought, I could have brined all the meats and done away with layers of seasoning. It’s up to you as to how you want to do it.

turducken rolled

Roll the mass of meat together and twist the ends tight into a sausage-like form as shown above. Place into the freezer for about an hour to firm up the meat so that it will retain its shape when removed from the plastic.

Bear in mind that the plastic is only wrapped on the outside and there should not be any part of it rolled into the mass of meat. Rather than explain in detail on how to do this, the Youtube video of Gordon Ramsay making Beef Wellington should show you the process, as well as give a quick guide as to how Beef Wellington is prepared.

turducken roll with prosciutto - unrolled

Lay down another sheet of plastic wrap, on top of which strips of prosciutto are layered to form a sheet of sorts. Take the firmed meat roll from the freezer and place onto the end of the prosciutto sheet, as shown. However, there should be a step just after you lay down the prosciutto and before you place the turducken roll on top. More on that below.

cranberry mix

Problems 2 – Ingredients for absorption layer/stuffing. In a traditional Beef Wellington, there is a layer of mushroom duxelle i.e. mushroom paste. The layer of duxelle not only bring an element of flavour & texture but it also serves as an absorption buffer for the juices that will inevitably be drawn out of the meat during the cooking process. What I decided on was dried cranberries & roasted pine nuts. I don’t think that it was a bad choice to go with this, as it tasted fine together. My issue was that I over estimated the absorption properties of the dried cranberries. In hindsight, I would also look to include other moisture-holding ingredients, such as dried bread crumbs.

Problem 3 – Placement of absorption layer. If you watched the Gordon Ramsay Youtube video above, you’ll see that the mushroom duxelle (acting as an absorption layer) is incorporated between the meat and the prosciutto. My mistake in this case was to incorporate the absorption layer between the prosciutto and the puff pastry.

For those of you that don’t know, moisture and puff pastry aren’t the best of friends. They’re not even on speaking terms with each other.

Anyhow, to move on with what should have been the process to follow, chop dried cranberries & toasted pine nuts into fine pieces. Incorporate bread crumbs to the cranberry & pine nut mix. Place a thin layer of the cranberry mix on top of the prosciutto.

turducken roll with prosciutto - rolled

Carefully roll the prosciutto & turducken meat into a roll as per the image above. This time around, though the plastic may be used to help with the rolling, there isn’t a need to wrap it in the same fashion as the previous step.

Lay out a sheet of puff pastry and place the meat roll at one end. Roll the puff pastry around the meat roll as tightly as you can, minimising any air pockets between the puff pastry and the meat.

pastry folding

Once you’ve finished rolling the puff pastry, it should look very much like the first image (top left). As shown in that image, turn the roll around so that the seam is showing at the top.

Now, for anyone familiar with wrapping presents, the rest of this should be pretty straight forward. Essentially follow the steps shown in the image above i.e. fold down the top (top right), fold across on one side (bottom left) then fold across on the other side (bottom right).

pastry tabs ready for egg wash

Do the above steps on both sides and you should end up with something like that. The reason why the end tabs are not folded over at this stage is that a little egg wash should be applied to each tab to help it stick down onto the pastry and not lift away during the cooking process.

pastry egg wash

Turn the pastry roll over and apply an egg wash to the outer surfaces. If you haven’t learned from experience already, don’t egg wash the bottom. It’ll only stick to whatever it’s sitting on.

If you have it, place a probe thermometer so that the probe is located within the centre of the turducken meat. Bake in a 180 degree (Celsius) oven until the internal temperature reaches 75 degrees. For the mass of meat that I had, this took around 40 minutes.

If you don’t have a probe thermometer, good luck. Unfortunately, you’re on your own on this one as turkey, duck & chicken are not so forgiving when it comes to slightly undercooking it. This is why I selected fattier cuts of meat over breast. As there is more fat content within these pieces, they’re a little more forgiving if you overcook them.

turducken resting overhead shot

Remove the Turducken en Croute from the oven and allow to rest. I gave it 20 minutes and the centre was still plenty hot when I carved into it. Make sure to NOT cover the pastry as you might resting other meats. Remember, puff pastry and moisture are not on speaking terms :)

turducken internal shot 1

The cross-section cut of the Turducken en Croute. Notice how the moisture has affected the bottom layer of puff pastry, or should I say puff pasty. Had the cranberry mix been incorporated where it should have been, I believe the prosciutto would have helped prevent any moisture making contact with the puff pastry.

turducken internal shot 2

Overall, I liked the flavours, though the meat ended up being just a little too dry & tough from being slightly overcooked. This is where brining may have helped.

I loved the concept of this dish but if I were to make this again, there’s much that’ll needs to be dealt with in order to end up with a better result.

To conclude this post, how would you have dealt with the issues that I’d encountered differently? Do you feel that there is a better way to deal with the moisture content than what I’ve suggested? Would love to hear your thoughts & suggestions on this matter.

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{ 32 comments… add one }
  • Steph December 14, 2009, 8:39 am

    Ahahhaa that comic is hilarious! And you are nuts…but in a good way! I can’t believe you managed to stuff so many meats in, pity about it being dry!

  • Linda@eatshowandtell December 14, 2009, 9:13 am

    it’s only 9 in the morning, I’m looking at your photos and they look drool worthy.

  • billy@ATFT December 14, 2009, 9:28 am

    Holy Turducken! That looks amazing! Hang on, wouldn’t it be a Proturducken? :P

  • FFichiban December 14, 2009, 12:29 pm

    Oh BABY!! I wannnnnttt!! Pure Brilliance!! Pity about the moisture but I would still eat it hee hee

  • Jenn December 14, 2009, 1:27 pm

    Hilarious, I love it!

  • cuppy December 14, 2009, 1:31 pm

    Brilliant!!! I’ve never actually eaten turducken, but I’m definitely interested. What a great idea!! :D

  • Karen December 14, 2009, 1:35 pm

    Hahaha now that’s a meatfest! Awesome work and next time bring a turducken to our picnic :P

  • Y December 14, 2009, 4:06 pm

    Very funny post! Brining sounds like a good idea. Also maybe putting the stuffing in the right place :P Or making a mousse out of one of the turducken components. But it still looks great even if you weren’t entirely happy with it.

  • Trissa December 14, 2009, 6:52 pm

    I like your detailed post. If anyone gives you a suggestion about the moisture content – please let me know as I still have to make my daring cooks challenge!

  • Ellie December 14, 2009, 7:52 pm

    It’s a brilliant idea to transform the Turducken to Wellington form. lol!!

  • WX December 14, 2009, 10:03 pm

    Given that it’s almost Xmas I think it’s certainly an interesting alternative to the usual roast turkey thing.

    Btw, it was a pleasure to meet you yesterday!

  • Jenny December 14, 2009, 10:13 pm

    Turducken!? Never heard of that (being Swedish), LOL how crazy! But in a good way – I would love to try it! Such brilliant creativity with this challenge!

  • Helen (Grab Your Fork) December 14, 2009, 11:35 pm

    A wrapped-up present of four kinds of beast! And ha, I love freestylin’. Always much more fun!

  • Winnie December 15, 2009, 2:28 am

    Ok, now that is a super cool and really original approach to this challenge!
    Re: the problems…don’t know what to say as I have never attempted such as thing. I free-styled a little with the pastry dough this time, but stuck with salmon and it came out very well. Even if yours was a little tough and overcooked, though, it still looks great!

  • claire December 15, 2009, 4:49 am

    Fantastically festive idea! Never heard of Turducken before but apart from the dryness it sounds like a great idea.

  • Rochelle (Acquired Taste) December 15, 2009, 5:02 am

    Love your turduckin idea! Looks delicious and your pastry looks great, love that it looks like a leaf sorta :)

  • Judy December 15, 2009, 10:56 am

    Wow! Your version sounds fabulous. I’d experiment with the brining to see how it affects the dryness. Dark meat dries out less, but I think that’s what you used. Could it have baked in less time perhaps? Looks delicious no matter what.

  • Lauren December 15, 2009, 12:07 pm

    Such fun! I think it might just be a turpigken, since there’s the procuitto there too ;D. I’m tip-less, as I don’t know all that much about meat, but you totally rocked this challenge! Its very very very cool.

  • Monkey December 15, 2009, 1:12 pm

    Wow! I think you won the creativity content with Turduckhenellington! The pairing of cranberries with the poultry is inspired too – perfect for Christmas.

    It doesn’t look like you seared the meat, either individually or as a little log – I think that might have helped in getting it cooked without sogging up the crust. However, a little sog on the bottom is inevitable as near as I can tell. I’d thought that the crepe from Simone’s beef recipe would do the trick and it may have helped but it wasn’t a cure… I’m just thinking that searing the meat, then cooking it all a little quicker might get you through the process before the pastry notices it’s juicy neighbors.

    In any event, it’s much more fun to go offroad on these challenges, for better or worse, right?

    Happy Christmas!

  • Dani December 15, 2009, 2:36 pm

    What an amazing, detailed post! Your photos are absolutely gorgeous. Thanks for the insight- keep up the great work :)

  • chef_d December 15, 2009, 4:07 pm

    Wow…the pictures are so gorgeous! I think I’m going to borrow your recipe for Christmas Eve dinner :)

  • bake in paris December 15, 2009, 7:16 pm

    Frankly speaking, your Turducken en Croute is the most creative invention out from this challenge! Love it and would keep the recipe for the important event!

    Great recipe and nice pictures!

    Sawadee from Bangkok,

  • Taste Traveller December 15, 2009, 10:00 pm

    Even if there’s a bit of excess moisture, this is amazing. Very creative & I’m sure that a second version would create great results. Well done! I never even thought of deboning the meat, but, of course – that’s the only way to get it into the right shape! :-)

  • Jacq December 16, 2009, 1:46 am

    Awesome idea! I want to eat it off the screen and I agree with Karen, you should have brought some to the picnic! The pastry looks so lovely and golden on the outside :)

  • syrupandhoney December 16, 2009, 3:57 am

    Loooove the creativity here! I know it’s not considered idea for puff pastry to get soggy like that, but I kinda like it personally! Mmm butter :)

  • Catalina December 16, 2009, 6:04 am

    What an interesting idea – very imaginative

  • art and lemons December 16, 2009, 10:30 am

    Thanks for the laughs…and great photo essay!

  • Natashya December 17, 2009, 1:14 am

    Wow, this is the most creative adaptation and post of the challenge I have seen! I don’t even know what advice to give because you are way beyond me in creativity and ability!

  • Valérie December 17, 2009, 4:50 am

    Great write-up, so informative! I have never had turducken, but I can’t imagine why it wouldn’ taste delicious. Thanks for all the tips and ideas!

  • Lisa December 19, 2009, 4:19 am

    Simon..OMG, when I saw your photo of this on the reveal date, I couldn’t wait to get here and comment, not to mention read more about it. Unfortunately, time got in the way, and I almost forgot!

    that said..where do I start? You have definitely (again) pulled out the most unique take on this challenge. Turducken on it’s own is hard enough, but to think to roll up boneless chicken, duck and turkey and then encase all three in pastry, is brilliant! It looks beautiful, delicious, and your phots are heavenly. I’m truly awed by your creativity and talent.

  • Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella December 21, 2009, 9:02 pm

    Hehe great job on the Turducken en Croute! Probably one of the more elegant ways of Turducken I’ve seen! :D

  • Kitchen Butterfly December 22, 2009, 5:56 am

    This was one challenge I didn’t get round to completing…didn’t even start it to begin with. This looks lovely, very well done and super informative.

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