Thanksgiving

Turducken, Meet Your Match

A vegetarian alternative to the ultimate Thanksgiving centerpiece

by


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.

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.

Meat

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
  • 2 packages Vegetarian Smoked Duck
  • 1 package Vegetarian Smoked Turkey

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.
  • Bamboo skewers

Cornbread Stuffing

I recommend starting with this stuffing since the fresh-baked cornbread will need time to dry out.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 cup unsweetened soy milk
  • 4 tablespoons soy butter
  • 1 cup minced onions
  • 1 cup finely chopped leeks
  • 6 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 4 cups roughly crumbled cornbread (see recipe below)
  • Salt

INSTRUCTIONS:

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.

Cornbread

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 cup yellow corn meal
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup soy butter
  • 1 cup unsweetened soy milk
  • 1 egg, beaten (or use Ener-G Egg Replacer for a fully vegan recipe)

INSTRUCTIONS:

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.

Sausage Stuffing

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1½ tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons soy butter
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 package Gimme Lean (Ground Sausage Style) or 14 ounces fake sausage of your choice
  • 2 cups minced onions
  • 2 stalks chopped celery
  • 1½ cups chopped green bell peppers
  • 7 cloves or 4 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons fresh chopped sage
  • 2 tablespoons fresh chopped marjoram
  • 1 heaping pinch fresh chopped parsley
  • ½ tablespoon sweet paprika
  • 3 cups dry breadcrumbs, unseasoned (preferably French bread)
  • Salt
  • Fresh ground pepper

INSTRUCTIONS:

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.

Mushroom Stuffing

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.
INGREDIENTS:

  • 4 tablespoons soy butter
  • 1 cup chopped fennel
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 2 chopped shallots
  • 7 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 cups hot vegetable broth
  • 1 ounce dried oyster mushrooms
  • 1 cup chopped crimini mushrooms
  • 1 cup chopped button mushrooms
  • ½ cup chopped hazelnuts
  • 1 heaping tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 heaping tablespoons chopped fresh sage
  • 3 heaping tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
  • 3½ cups dry breadcrumbs, unseasoned (preferably French bread)
  • Salt
  • Fresh ground pepper

INSTRUCTIONS:

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.
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.

Gravy

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 sweet potato, peeled
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons soy butter
  • ¼ cup minced onion
  • 3 cloves minced garlic
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • ¼ cup vegetarian oyster sauce (if you can’t find this, tamari will work nicely)
  • ¼ cup fresh chopped sage
  • 2 pinches fresh ground pepper

INSTRUCTIONS:

Wrap the sweet potato in foil and bake at 400°F until soft. Allow it to cool and puree with a hand blender. Set aside. Melt the oil and soy butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Sauté the garlic and onion until translucent. Stir in flour, nutritional yeast, and oyster sauce until everything is incorporated. Add a dash of vegetable broth and mix into a paste. Gradually whisk in the remaining broth. Sprinkle in sage and pepper. Add 2 heaping tablespoons of sweet potato to thicken. You can add more as needed but remember that sauce will continue to thicken as it cooks. Simmer and stir constantly, for about 10 minutes.

For a really saucy Tofucken, this gravy recipe can be doubled.

Assembly

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.

2. Preheat oven to 350°F.

3. Place one piece of duck, concave side up, atop a bed of sausage stuffing.

4. Place two pieces of chicken on the sides. Affix to the duck with 2-inch pieces of bamboo skewers. Fill the duck cavity with cornbread stuffing.

5. Slice turkey and place on top of the duck/cornbread, enough to reach the top of the chicken sides.

6. Place the 2nd duck piece on top of the turkey, concave side down.

7. Surround the Tofucken with the remainder of the stuffings (I put the cornbread in front, mushroom in back, and sausage on sides).

8. If you choose, place a decorative head in front, using a bamboo skewer.

9. Bake about 20 minutes or until you burn your fingers when you stick them into the Tofucken.
Serve!

Comments

  1. Ann says:

    Might I suggest “tofurken” as a name, to make it a bit more PG.

    • Or perhaps an umlaut over the u, to pronounce it tofooken. ;)

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