You may know what this is like: You are reading a book that reminds you of another book.
“Best Food Writing” is a series of books that compiles essays, mainly from American culinary magazines and newsletters. The particular book is the 2002 edition (edited by Holly Hughes), featuring writers Mark Bittman, Jeffrey Steingarten, Calvin Trillin, Betty Fussel, Mimi Sheraton, among others.
One of the essays is “The Gastronauts” by Danny Zwerdling, first published in Gourmet. It is about the International Workshop on Molecular and Physical Gastronomy.
It’s not Ferran Adria’s project, but rather an annual event that started in 1992 and was founded by physics professor Nicolas Kurti, chemist Herve This, American food writer Harold McGee and cooking teacher Elizabeth Cawdry Thomas. The workshop helps chefs to understand the science behind cooking.
One of the questions answered in the 2000 workshop is whether salting sliced eggplants before frying will make them crisp rather than soggy. It does. The explanation is necessarily scientific, involving cells and positive and negative ions. It can be boring to an ordinary reader but for chefs, the science has helped them cook better.
An ardent student is Heston Blumenthal, who applies the science to his menu.
The title of the essay, however, brought to my mind the book “Gastronaut: Adventures in Food for the Romantic, the Foolhardy and the Brave” (BBC Books, 2005) by Stefan Gates, a writer for the BBC series “Full on Food.” His book doesn’t really give recipes, but is more about the attitude one should have when cooking.
But what caught my eye was his piece on turducken. This is a dish involving three birds—a hen within a duck within a turkey.
In Cebu, I once saw a chicken cooked inside a lechon. At Reimon Gutierrez’s Prado Farm in Pampanga, I saw a duck cooked inside a lechon.
Small birds first
“Gastronaut” author Gates proposes the amateur cook to practice first with small birds like chicken, poussin (young chicken) and quail. Boning is the first step, followed by trussing and roasting.
A turducken, however, was made for a book still to be printed after this lockdown—”A Taste of Heaven” by Fr. Herbert Schneider, S.J. The author is the founder and spiritual director of several Catholic lay groups, one of which is the Brotherhood of Christian Businessmen and Professionals, publisher of the book.
Father Schneider loves to cook and share his dishes with members of many groups.
Recipe testing and photography happened in January. The stumbling block was finding a turkey, because there was none in groceries and from food produce importers.
Thankfully, Via Mare Catering of Glenda Barretto had some in stock.
Recipe tester chef Mike Silbor of De La Salle-College of St. Benilde accomplished what was to me a feat—assembling and roasting the turducken and making sure it held together when it was sliced.
Photographer Mark Floro asked what the contraption was at one side of the breast. It was the plastic indicator that would tell when the turkey would be done. But we were afraid that it would work just for a roasted turkey, and not one stuffed with two other birds.
For the cover, the turducken had to be sliced to show the layers. And when sliced, it beautifully showed the chicken and turkey. And in between was the duck’s dark meat. All the birds were cooked, through.
The suspense was whether each slice would hold. We collectively held our breaths while the chef sliced the first three pieces. All that effort was rewarded by quite a photogenic and delicious turducken.