Neal Harkins doesn't do small.
The Whistler chef lives more by the "go big or go home" approach, as he can attest to after having served 17,000 hungry baseball fans at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., or an endless stream of tailgaters as part of Super Bowl XLV in Dallas three years ago.
So it would stand to reason that, when it comes to holiday cooking, Harkins would have similarly grandiose visions. The Whistler Conference Centre's executive chef is hosting an event at Cornucopia this weekend, called Holiday Cooking Made Easy, which, according to Harkins, may be a bit of a misnomer.
"I don't know how easy I'm going to make it," he laughed.
"I'm actually doing something a little more complicated... I'm going to be making a turducken."
For the uninitiated, or at least those who value their arteries, the turducken is a decadent feast consisting of a deboned chicken stuffed into a deboned duck stuffed into a deboned turkey. Somewhat ridiculously, each layer is typically slathered with stuffing as well. You know, just in case you were worried about still being hungry at the end of the meal.
The origin of the mighty turducken can likely be traced back to the Ancient Romans, who were known to impress dinner guests with their lavish displays of extreme gastronomic hedonism. But it was during a sumptuous French dinner in the early 19th century — the golden age of stuffed meats — that the trend reached a dizzying new height. Noted Napoleonic gourmand Grimod de la Reynière once wrote about the rôti sans pareil, or "roast without equal," that he had the pleasure (misfortune?) of sampling in 1807. The orgy of meat featured 17 different birds stuffed into one another, beginning with a garden warbler and ending with the 30-pound bustard. Some of the birds included are now extinct, presumably because gluttonous French nobles ate them all. By comparison, this should relieve you of any guilt you may be feeling at the thought of simultaneously consuming three different kinds of poultry at Harkins' seminar.
Unfortunately, space restrictions precluded Pique from providing our dear readers with Harkins' heart-busting turducken recipe this week ("It would take up five pages," he explained), but he does have some tips for those of you who want to take a stab at this carnivorous trifecta of cooked meat.
"The biggest, hardest thing is just deboning all the meats," he said. "You've got to debone everything and assemble it all back together. As long as you have the patience to sit there and take the time to butcher all the birds up, then that's the hard part done."
As for seasoning, Harkins recommends a classic poultry rub generously doled out on each layer of meat.
"After you debone the turkey, you have to lay it flat skin-side down and season each layer of meat just to make sure the flavouring gets all the way through," he said.
When it comes to cooking time, prepare to squirrel away a good portion of your day, not, of course, including all the recovery time you're going to need following your self-induced food coma.
"Depending on how big all the birds are... generally you're looking at a good solid five hours. You don't want to do it on high because you don't want to dry it out," Harkins said. "You've got to do it at a lower temperature because obviously the turducken is filled with stuffing, so the internal temperature of the stuffing has to get high enough as well."
Of course, you'll need something to wash down all those succulent meats, and what better way to do that than with a tall, refreshing ladle of turkey gravy? Thankfully, Harkins will be showing off his own gravy-making technique this weekend, using the leftover bones from the turducken to make a stock.
And Harkins had one last tip out there for the home cooks this holiday season, and, considering the man's penchant for culinary excess, it's a suggestion we should have all seen coming.
"Make sure you have enough food."
Don't think that will be a problem.
Chef Harkins presents at Cornucopia on Saturday, Nov. 15 at the Whistler Conference Centre from 2:30 to 4 p.m. Tickets are $40, available at www.whistlercornucopia.com.
Chorizo Cornbread Stuffing
1 pound fresh Spanish ground chorizo (remove meat from sausage casings)
1 medium white onion, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 cups coarsely crumbled cornbread
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
3 Tablespoons chopped sage
1/2 cup corn
1/4 cup fine dice red bell pepper
1/2 cup chicken stock (low-sodium store-bought is fine)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Heat a large skillet over medium heat and cook the chorizo, breaking it up with a spoon and stirring occasionally as it cooks, until it begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the onion, carrot, celery and garlic to the chorizo and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have browned, about 10 minutes. Add the crumbled cornbread, herbs, corn and pepper. Gradually pour in enough of the stock so the stuffing is not too dry but at the same time not too wet. Stir gently and well. Butter a small casserole dish. Spread the stuffing in an even layer. Bake until it's heated through and lightly browned on top, about 20 minutes. Serve right away.
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