I have been making boneless stuffed birds for years. I think I started with Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Roast Goose with Smoked Ham Stuffing and Spiced Peach Gravy. I’m not sure why I even tried to make it boneless. Or maybe I made a boneless turkey from Sunset magazine. In any event, boneless birds have made it to my table for decades. I know that the following picture from 1986 is where I learned how to do the process, though I have other explanations as well. It certainly helped having this practice when I decided to make Julia Child’s Pate De Canard En Croûte a few years ago for an all-French Thanksgiving (ironically, just before I started cooking with French Fridays with Dorie, and of course Cook the Book Fridays).
I like using this method, since it significantly shortens the cooking time, makes the meat more juicy, and creates a dramatic presentation. For a turkey, I can have the bird in the oven by 12-12:30 and we can still be sitting down to dinner by 5:30 or so. This also has the advantage of freeing up the oven early in the day – nice for when you have nieces who really want to bake pies, but don’t get in until late Wednesday!
On larger birds, I will sometimes debone the legs – either part or all, I usually leave the wings. I made this recently, and thought I’d show some step-by-step photos of the process. But, it really is not for the faint of heart. I know plenty of people who won’t even eat anything on the bone… let alone deboning something themselves!
The bird is placed breast-side down on a cutting board. Using a very sharp, thin knife (a boning knife is ideal of course), slice through the skin along the backbone. One side at a time, carefully separate the skin and meat from the main ribcage/carcass. You’ll scrape the meat from the bones, and move toward the breastbone – the cartilage that separates the two breasts. Be VERY careful not to cut through the skin. You’ll separate the meat from the bones at the breastbone at the last – that’s probably the trickiest part of the entire operation. At the wing socket, carefully cut tendons around the joint, and then carefully separate the wing by snapping it loose. For the thigh, similarly cut the tendons and separate the joint. Repeat this on the opposite side. When you are ready to cut the meat away from the breast bone, be sure to position the skin away from the cartilage/meat, and cut through. I’d rather have a little remaining than to cut the skin – since it needs to remain to hold everything together. And then, if you are removing them, scrape the meat from the thigh bones, and separate at the joint.
Not the most beautiful presentation at this point – but don’t worry if there are bits of meat that aren’t perfectly attached, it won’t matter later. Once deboned, lay flat with the skin side down, and season well. I used Chef Paul’s poultry seasoning (you can make your own or buy it) to season the chicken generously while I made the stuffing. For a more French presentation, pour an ample amount of port and/or brandy over the meat, allowing it to marinate while you prepare the stuffing. Of course, depending on what type of stuffing you’re using. For Thanksgiving this year – it will be a mushroom brioche stuffing.
I love to make Cajun-Creole cornbread stuffing. I had some jalapeño cornbread left over, so it was easy enough to add some French bread, sautéed aromatics and spices and a little stock. Oh, and a little bacon. The recipe (below) calls for the vegetables to be sautéed in butter. I swapped out for bacon drippings, since I would be skipping the ham that is supposed to be added (sausage would be good too).
This mixture is piled onto the meat-side of the chicken. I always “sew” it up with bamboo skewers, since they are the most likely to be on hand. Once the bird is sewn up, you transfer it to the baking dish, and re-shape it to a bit more typical shape, then season again, with the poultry blend or other seasonings of your choice.
The bird gets roasted for about 1.25 hours at 400 degrees. You can certainly baste or rub with butter, but I never do. It is nice to serve with a gravy, wine sauce or other sweet/spicy sauce, though not necessary.
To carve the bird, you split the bird lengthwise, then it’s easy to carve slices, with some of the stuffing as part of the slice.
This really is a great technique to learn. It’s easier the larger and meatier the bird is, but even though it takes some concentration – it’s a beautiful presentation, and makes for a delicious, juicy bird.
Boned & Stuffed Chicken
1 (5lb) roasting chicken
1 recipe Hearty Poultry Stuffing
1 T+ Cajun Poultry Seasoning
Hearty Poultry Stuffing
1/2 c bacon drippings (or butter)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large green bell pepper, chopped
1/4 c chopped celery
4 bacon slices, diced
1 t dried rubbed sage, or 1 T fresh, chopped
1 t dried leaf thyme, or 1 T fresh, chopped
1 t dried rosemary, or 1 T fresh, chopped
1 t dried leaf oregano, or 1 T fresh, chopped
1 t salt
1.5 t minced fresh garlic
1/2 t ground pepper
(1/4 lb smoked ham, coarsely ground)
4 c crumbled corm bread
6 c French bread cubes
2 eggs, slightly beaten
about 1.25 c poultry stock
Melt drippings or butter in a heavy 10” skillet over medium heat. Add onion, bell pepper, celery, bacon, seasonings and ham. Saute, stirring often until vegetables are wilted and bacon is cooked, about 10 minutes. Place cornbread and French bread in large bowl. Pour vegetable mixture over and combine. Stir in eggs. Add enough stock or broth to make a moist dress tin, stirring to break up corn bread and French bread. Makes about 1 lb. or 8 cups. (Double this for a turkey)