Strange birds
September 8, 2005 7:34 AM   Subscribe

I want to prepare a Russian-Doll Roast.

In Schott's Food & Drink Miscellany, there is a recipe for a "Russian-Doll Roast" as follows:

Below is one of many versions of the famous Russian-doll-like roast. Its preparation is complex and laborious (it is wise to debone all of the birds larger than the ortolan), and there is always the vexed question of how long to cook the monster once it is prepared. Eighteen hours of moderate roasting seems a reasonable time, but be sure to check the juices run clear.

Stuff a large olive with capers and a clove
Place the olive inside a bec-figue
Place the bec-figue inside an ortolan
Place the ortolan inside a lark
Wrap the lark in vine-leaves and place inside a large thrush
Place the thrush inside a plump quail
Wrap the quail in bacon and place inside a plover
Place the plover inside a lapwing
Place the lapwing inside a partridge
Place the partridge inside a woodcock
Place the woodcock inside a barded teal
Place the barded teal inside a well-hung guinea-fowl
Garnish the guinea-fowl with bacon and place inside a duck
Place the duck inside a plump chicken
Place the chicken inside a large high pheasant
Place the pheasant inside a goose
Place the goose inside a large turkey
Place the turkey inside an enormous bustard

Off the top of my head, I know I can find turkey, duck and chicken; and I'm pretty sure I've seen quail, pheasant, and guinea fowl in stores before but am not positive I can find them easily. The rest I have no idea where I'd find them, and in some cases I have never heard of them. I'm looking for the following:
1) Purveyors, either online or in the SF bay area, for any of the less common birds. Bonus points if I can buy them already deboned.
2) Tips for preparing such a roast, especially with regards to boning each specific bird. Are there any special bones to watch out for in, say, a Lapwing that won't be mentioned in a guide to deboning a chicken? To be honest, I've never even deboned a chicken (or any other bird) so general tips would be helpful as well.
3) Experiences with similar roasts, even if on a smaller scale (anybody done a TurDuckHen, perhaps?). Thoughts on roasting temperature, target internal temperature (is there anything other than salmonella that I need to be worried about?), cooking time, how to keep the outside layers from going dry, etc.? Any other poultry that this list is missing that I might want to add/substitute (Squab comes to mind)?
4) This may be a longshot, but if any of these bird names are antiquated versions of something more common, please let me know. If there's another name for a bird that a butcher might know better, that would certainly help me track it down.
5) Anything that I might need to know about seasonality. I'm planning to make this for Christmas, so I wasn't planning on buying most of this stuff right away, but is there anything I should definitely buy and freeze now before the hunting season (or slaughtering season or whatever) might end?

Sorry for the huge question, but I'm anticipating a huge project and need all of the help I can get. Thanks in advance.
posted by rorycberger to Food & Drink (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Something similar is the Turducken, which is a stuffed chicken inside a duck inside a turkey. Searching on turducken reveals lots of recipes.

There are places online that will deliver one if you're not up to cooking.
posted by unixrat at 7:43 AM on September 8, 2005

And I see now that you mention the Turducken in point 3. Oh, well.
posted by unixrat at 7:47 AM on September 8, 2005

My god, man, that's seventeen birds! If you do embark on this monstrous undertaking, I beg of you to document it meticulously and post the photographs online. The world needs to see.
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:55 AM on September 8, 2005

Well the bustard is out - they went extinct in the UK in 1830 or so, (now reintroduced), and they're covered by CITES. Maybe you could use some kind of locally-available eagle instead.

Ortolan buntings are illegal in France now, aren't they? Though plenty still get caught each year.

For the bec-figue/ortolan/lark... substitute a few shop-bought canaries, perhaps? Easier to catch, anyway.
posted by Leon at 8:05 AM on September 8, 2005

(BTW, all those names are current. A teal is a duck, and I believe "barded" refers to the style of cooking)
posted by Leon at 8:07 AM on September 8, 2005

I'm pretty sure it's illegal to eat some of those birds, the ones that aren't game such as the lapwing. Perhaps you could start on something more modest of the turducken school just using the very tasty birds that are readily available.
posted by ninebelow at 8:08 AM on September 8, 2005

Trying to purchase those things now and defrost them all so they will be pliable *at the same time* sounds difficult.

I'd replace some of the birds with, say, a layer of prosciuttio or something so you still get the effect of many layers without QUITE so much effort.

Invest in a good digital probe thermometer and test it ahead of time for accuracy in an ice water slurry and in boiling water. I have no idea what temperature you'd want to shoot for; 160 or so maybe?
posted by bcwinters at 8:16 AM on September 8, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks for the info, I guess I should add that I'm not totally locked into this list of birds. I'm definitely not expecting to find every single one, and am not surprised that some are illegal/extinct. I'm not planning on hunting anything (especially illegally), I'm mostly just hoping for suggestions of places to find rare poultry (whether on this list or not). Ideally, I'd like to find about 10-12 birds to be able to do this.

If you do embark on this monstrous undertaking, I beg of you to document it meticulously and post the photographs online. The world needs to see.
I definitely plan to, look for it around Christmas time on my forthcoming food blog: (nothing there yet).

[on preview] bcwinters - that's a good point about defrosting, I'll have to plan for that. Maybe in a couple large coolers or something. And yeah, I figure about every third layer will be bacon, prosciutto, etc.
posted by rorycberger at 8:35 AM on September 8, 2005

This project is *awesome*. Check out these people. You may have to slaughter the birds yourself, though.
posted by drobot at 9:26 AM on September 8, 2005

Exotic Meats in Seattle has a few different kind of birds that could work.
posted by milkrate at 9:30 AM on September 8, 2005

Response by poster: Excellent link milkate - they sell 10 different birds there alone! The wild turkey is particularly intriguing, as they are much smaller than a regular turkey, so maybe I'll use one of those as an inner layer and then a regular, jumbo-sized turkey for the outside.
posted by rorycberger at 9:57 AM on September 8, 2005

I may be missing something here - I'm no chef. Don't all these birds have rib cages, etc.? If you stuff a load of birds inside other birds, and then cut in, don't you just have some sort of bone lasagne to deal with?
posted by benzo8 at 10:17 AM on September 8, 2005

benzo8, from the post:
...(it is wise to debone all of the birds larger than the ortolan)...

So I don't have any answers, but wanted to share a blurb about the (illegal-to-eat) ortolan (aka bunting).

They're tiny thumb-sized songbrids from the yellowhammer family, and they currently go for about $100 a pop. They're considered an extravagant culinary luxury, and have been prized in France for centuries.

Their digestive systems get acidic from their berry-based diet, which I guess is part of the appeal. They’re eaten with a cloth over the head to capture the aroma, or because, some say, of the shame of eating such a sweet-voiced songbird. Ortolans are served hot and eaten whole (yep, whole, un-gutted with bones and all) and they are so hot that you have to gasp in cool air while you eat them under the napkin.

Michael Paterniti on eating an ortolan:

. . . I sever the head . . . . The bird is surprisingly soft, gives completely, and then explodes with juices -- liver, kidney, lungs. Chestnut, corn, salt -- all mix in an extraordinary current, the same warm, comforting flood as finely evolved consumme. . . . Here's what I taste: yes, quidbits of meat and organs, the succulent, tiny strands of flesh between the ribs and tail. I put inside myself the last flowered bit of air and Armagnac in its lungs, the body of rainwater and berries. In there, too, is the ocean and Africa and the dip and plunge in a high wind. And the heart that bursts between my teeth. It takes time. I'm forced to chew and chew again and again . . . . And that's where I want to stay -- but then can't because the sweetness of the bird is turning slightly bitter and the bones have announced themselves . . . ."

posted by Specklet at 11:21 AM on September 8, 2005

Specklet writes "benzo8, from the post:
...(it is wise to debone all of the birds larger than the ortolan)..."

D'oh! Missed that - thanks Specklet...
posted by benzo8 at 11:40 AM on September 8, 2005

There used to be a show on the Food Network wherein chefs would help ordinary people achieve some sort of major culinary dream. On one episode, some girl made something similar to this for her husband/boyfriend. I remember (possibly wrongly) lobster being involved.

Saw this about, hm, 5 years ago. Perhaps if you give them a call they can send you a copy of the show. IIRC, it took two days to prepare.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 12:31 PM on September 8, 2005

I would brine the birds before stuffing and cooking them, which should help prevent some of the drying in the oven.
posted by Lycaste at 12:42 PM on September 8, 2005

Polarica are in San Francisco, and carry chicken, wild and free-range turkey, quail, squab, poussin, capon, partridge, pekin duck, barbarie duck, mucovy duck, moulard, goose, pheasant, and guinea fowl, among others. Check out their product list (PDF).
posted by trip and a half at 2:18 PM on September 8, 2005

Rory, please post again after the party, with pictures taken before too many vodka shots have been downed. Also, if it's not too much trouble, I'd love to see a conversion table, e.g.:

For bec-figue substitute anorexic wren
For ortolan substitute consumptive sparrow
For large high pheasant substitute rooster that's been spun until dizzy, and so on...
posted by rob511 at 6:40 PM on September 8, 2005

ewwwwww! Olives...
posted by ernie at 9:25 PM on September 8, 2005

Response by poster: ewwwwww! Olives...

Ha! That was my thought too, although I figured that one olive in the middle of ~100 pounds of meat probably would be ok.

trip and a half - great link, thanks. I've actually seen that before and forgot about it. I'll definitely give them a call.

rob511 - I don't think I'll be able to post here, as I don't plan on doing this for a couple months (either thanksgiving or christmas). Watch for an incredibly detailed post on the aforementioned forthcoming blog - Me Hungy!
posted by rorycberger at 10:38 PM on September 8, 2005

Whole birds need an internal temperature of 180. Make sure you're reaching all the ay to the center, and that the therometer isn't touching any bones. I have no idea how to debone a bird while keeping it intact-I have tons of experience wrenching bones out of sockets and tearing various limbs off dead chickens, then ripping the bones out, but no experience cutting the bones out while still keeping the animal as more than a heap of parts. I'm sure it's possible, but they'd probably be pretty flimsy and falling apart from all the cutting.
I'm sorry I don't have more advice-this sounds AWESOME.
posted by Juliet Banana at 7:44 AM on September 9, 2005

Response by poster: Not sure if anyone's still reading this, but here's my current plan: I think I'm going to go with Polarica, as they can get most of the birds fresh (no need to defrost), and they deliver to San Jose on thursdays (which should be perfect since Christmas is a Sunday this year). Here is my tentative list, from smallest to biggest:

*Shredded duck confit*
Poussin (Cornish Hen)
Baby Pheasant
Guinea Fowl
*high quality, thick cut bacon*
Muscovy Duck (Hen)
Pekin Duck
Moulard Duck
Wild Turkey
*Caul fat*

I may remove one or two of the ducks, but probably not since I like duck so much. I also am unsure about the squab, because I've read a few places that they can take on an off flavor if overcooked, and I'll want the 3 birds inside of it to be fully cooked. If I get, say, a particularly big guinea fowl or small poussin I will switch the order as necessary. I will probably brine most if not all of the white meat birds, and individually season anything that doesn't get brined. If anyone has suggestions for flavors to incorporate into specific birds, I'm all ears. Between now and the main event I hope to try cooking most of these birds (especially the small ones, since they're cheap) by themselves so I can learn their flavors, and I may do a Turducken for Thanksgiving to practice some of the technique of boning, stuffing, tying, etc. I'm a little nervous about the boning, but I figure that there will be so much damn meat (75 lbs+) that I can be pretty liberal with cutting off wings and legs which should make it easier, and of course all of the scraps will go into the stockpot. Still working out the details of cooking it, but I'm thinking maybe 225 degrees for 18-24 hours, with 3-4 probe thermometers at different depths so I can monitor how the heat is penetrating the roast throughout the process. If I decide to cook with aromatics, I figure I'll have to change those every few hours before they go bitter. Or maybe I'll just add them for the last few hours and cook it dry before that, we'll see. Thanks for all of the advice so far, and I'll keep watching this page in case anyone wants to add anything else.
posted by rorycberger at 8:20 AM on September 12, 2005

You, sir, are genius. I will be watching the blog, and if I am not rewarded at Christmas with a picture heavy play by play, I will be most displeased.
posted by Juliet Banana at 9:52 AM on September 20, 2005

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