This Thanksgiving, like the last ten or so preceding it, someone in my family will probably bring up the “turduckle incident of 2000,” especially, if for some reason, the meal is taking a little longer than expected to make it to the table (and our tummies). They’ll be referring to the year I insisted on doing the main dish for the eighteen or so relatives on my mom’s side who gather each year at my parents’ lake house to give thanks by eating truly ridiculous amounts of food. “No, Mom,” I said. “Don’t worry about cooking a turkey,” I said. “I’ve got this. Y’all are going to love it.”
I’d seen a sign taped to the glass door of the butcher and bottle shop I frequented advertising a marvel of modern food engineering: the turducken, which is a deboned chicken, shoved inside a boneless duck that’s then stuffed inside a boneless turkey. In between each layer of meat was a thick smear of Cajun-seasoned cornbread dressing. I had to have one, and I had to share it with my family, who, no doubt would be really, really impressed.
I ordered a turducken, the largest one they offered, and picked up the frozen ball of birds the day before Thanksgiving. I drove up to my parents, where everyone else already was, and produced my prize, a veritable poultry pageant. To my dismay and disappointment, the reaction was flat. “Fine, dear,” Mom said. “Just put it in the fridge in the basement.” I think one cousin asked what it was, but his attention was back on the card game he was playing with my granddad before I finished my detailed description outlining the turducken’s full glory. I was so disheartened, I did as my mother said and placed the “turduckle”—which is what my mom kept calling it, not understanding (caring?) what it was—in the refrigerator.
At midnight I awoke in a cold sweat of panic. The stupid turduckle needed to thaw. It should have been out all afternoon. I rushed downstairs, hauled it out of the fridge and hoisted it up on the counter. It was still frozen. If this happened today, I’d ask Google what to do. But I had no smart phone, and there was no computer or even Internet service at the lake house, so I had to think for myself.
Oh, and I’m pretty sure the turduckle came with thawing and cooking instructions, but in my excitement, I’d either neglected to get them or lost them, so I had no idea how long and at what temperature to safely cook what was basically several strata of salmonella even if I had thawed it properly. I decided to leave it out, go back to bed and get up with the sun to continue defrosting it in the oven on really low heat.
I awoke at 5:00 AM and put it in at 275 degrees. At 9:00 AM, I cranked things up to 325. At 11:00 AM (one hour before the scheduled feast), I stuck a meat thermometer in it. The middle (somewhere in the chicken’s breast) was barely 100 degrees. I turned the oven up to 350, knowing it wouldn’t do much, but I had to try something and anything higher would definitely dry out the turkey on the exterior. At noon, the internal temp had climbed to 130.
The next few hours were filled with silent cursing by me (didn’t want to upset my mother), complaining by everyone else, and snacking. So much snacking. At a little after 3:30, the turduckle reached 165 degrees and was finally done. I pulled it out of the oven, and my dad carved it. It was kinda pretty, with its rings of dark and light meat and a spiral of golden dressing. It may have looked good, but it tasted great. At least to me. I don’t think the rest of the family ate more than a few bites. Everyone had filled up on chex mix and sweet tea during the long wait.
So now, whenever our regular turkey or the dressing or the rolls getting finished pushes the meal back a few minutes, someone will pipe up and say, “Well, at least it’s not like the turduckle!” And we all laugh and count this minor blessing among our many others as is appropriate on the holiday that celebrates an appreciative attitude. And I quietly renew my personal vow to stick with what works when feeding a crowd intent on eating at a certain time and never again be seduced by the siren song of anything akin to a turducken. Which is why a regular ole roast turkey will be the star of the show this year, like it probably will be at your house.
So, with this in mind, let’s talk turkey. We’re all gonna gobble up pants-popping amounts of this succulent centerpiece on the big day, but there are always still leftovers. And there are myriad things to do with them, including the almost-obligatory sandwich (and the inevitable question that comes with it: with or without cranberry sauce?).
But if you want to think beyond the bread this year and try something new, try a turkey pot pie. I can hear you now: “I don’t want to fool with pie dough and cutting up vegetables. I want something easy.” After the food-focused holiday that had me in the kitchen for hours, I don’t want to be baking or chopping either, friends.
But we won’t be. Enter frozen puff pastry and pre-cut veggies to save the day. In about thirty minutes, you can serve a turkey pot pie so satisfying, you and your family may never make a day-after-Thanksgiving sandwich again. You’ll crave this cozy dish long after the last slice of turkey is gone, and when it is, you can always use roasted chicken. (And next year, cook an extra turkey!)
EASY TURKEY POT PIE
• 2 cups cooked turkey or chicken
• 6 tablespoons butter, divided
• 4 tablespoons flour
• 1 cup chopped onion
• 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
• 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
• 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
• 1 bay leaf
• 2 1/2 cups chicken stock or broth
• 1 cup whole milk
• 1 cup heavy cream
• 1/2 to 1 cup frozen green peas, thawed
• 1/2 to 1 cup pre-shredded carrots (buy the bag in the produce section)
• 1 1/2 cups frozen shredded hashbrown potatoes, thawed
• salt and pepper to taste
• frozen puff pastry shells (I use Pepperidge Farms)
Melt 4 tablespoons butter in a dutch oven. Cook the onions until soft. Then add the carrots and cook until soft. Add the fresh herbs and cook 1 minute more. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. When the butter is melted, add the flour, stir to combine and cook 1 to 2 minutes. Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil, stirring constantly.
As soon as the mixture begins to thicken, lower the heat and add the potatoes, peas, milk, cream, and cooked turkey or chicken. Season with salt and pepper and cook on medium-low heat for about 20 minutes. While the filling finishes cooking, follow the package directions to cook the puff pastry.
Place the pastry shell in a shallow soup bowl, and spoon the filling in and around. Finish with chopped fresh chives (optional).