From quail to turducken, holiday feast is sure to please

Turducken, which hails from food-loving Cajun country, is a bundle of whole chicken, duck and turkey layered with stuffing.

Maybe your Thanksgiving isn't a table crammed with people ready to feast on a colossal roasted turkey.

Or maybe it is.

From two to 20 eaters, there's a bird to fit your needs. A diminutive quail weighs in at about 4 ounces, while the largest turkeys can tip the scales at 25 pounds. In between, there is poultry of varying size: Cornish game hens, duck and chicken, all viable options for the holiday dinner.

Meanwhile, the newest bird on the block — at least in Charleston — is the turducken, a chicken inside a duck inside a turkey with layers of stuffing in between. Each bird is deboned, resulting in all meat and stuffing, except for the legs and wings of the turkey. Turducken is a Cajun specialty that's finally bubbled up from Louisiana to the retail level here.

Quail

Not had quail? It's a succulent mix of white and dark meat that once was a delicacy confined mostly to the hunter's table.

Thanks to Manchester Farms in Sumter, frozen quail is widely available in supermarkets throughout the Lowcountry. The family business began commercial production in 1974 and now is the oldest and largest producer of farm-raised quail in the United States, processing 5-6 million birds a year. All are antibiotic- and hormone-free.

The most common retail product is a 1-pound box containing four frozen semi-boneless quail that sells for $8-$9. The quail have been lightly marinated in a brine and are split through the breast, which makes them ideal for grilling, although they can be cooked other ways equally well.

Often served as an appetizer or as part of a mixed grill, quail also can easily serve as the main course. For Thanksgiving appeal, simply lay the cooked quail on a bed of bread dressing or wild rice.

If quail is the main protein of the meal, then allow two birds per serving, advises company President Steven Odum. Don't add any additional salt due to the preseasoning.

Visit manchesterfarms.com or call 800-845-0421 for more information about quail and other Manchester products.

Cranberry Glazed Quail

4 each semiboneless quail, thawed

1/2 can (7-ounce) jellied cranberry sauce

1 pinch black ground pepper

In a saucepan, add cranberry sauce and simmer on medium heat until it becomes liquid. Stir in black pepper and remove from heat and set aside.

Rinse the quail and pat dry. Over a medium-hot fire, grill quail on one side for about 6 minutes, until lightly browned. Turn over and brush with cranberry glaze. Repeat again until both sides are grilled and brushed with glaze.

This recipe can be easily downsized for fewer servings.

Pomegranate Glaze

Enough for 12 quail

2 cups honey

1/2 cup pomegranate juice

1/4 cup white grape juice

2 tablespoons orange zest

1 tablespoon lemon zest

4 green onions, finely chopped

In a nonreactive bowl, combine all ingredients except onions. Brush glaze on grilled quail 5 minutes before quail is done (see previous grilling instructions). Top with chopped green onions and serve.

— Recipes from Manchester Farms

Game hens

Cornish game hens don't get much attention, but they can own the stage for a special occasion such as Thanksgiving. Each person has his own bird, and they stuff very nicely as well.

This recipe is adapted from "The Best Chicken Recipes" from the editors of Cook's Illustrated magazine. In their testing of recipes, they set out to maximize flavor from the game hens, which average about 1 1/2 pounds, while dealing with certain challenges. For one, browning can be difficult because the small birds cook quickly and the white and dark meats cook at different rates.

Their path to outstanding game hens involves brining for flavor, glazing for beautiful color and preheating the stuffing to avoid overcooking the breast meat.

Cook's notes: If you do not have a wire rack that will rest on top of your roasting pan, you can place the rack on a large, rimmed baking sheet instead. Pouring a little broth into the roasting pan at the 25-minute mark, once the hens have been turned, prevents them from smoking during cooking and makes instant jus, eliminating the need to deglaze the pan.

Cornish Game Hens

Serves 6

Table salt

6 Cornish game hens (1 1/4-1 1/2 pounds each), giblets removed and wings tucked

Ground black pepper

6 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

3 tablespoons olive oil

3 cups stuffing of choice (see suggested recipe below)

1 cup low-sodium chicken broth

1/4 cup dry vermouth or white wine

Dissolve 1 cup salt in 4 quarts cold water in a large container. Submerge the hens in the brine, cover, and refrigerate for 2-3 hours.

Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees. Remove the hens from the brine, rinse well, and pat dry with paper towels. Season the hens with pepper.

Whisk the vinegar and oil together in a small bowl and set aside. Cover the stuffing with plastic wrap and microwave on high until very hot, about 2 minutes. Spoon 1/2 cup of the hot stuffing into the cavity of each hen, then tie each hen's legs together with kitchen twine. Arrange the hens, breast-side down and with the wings facing out, on a wire rack set over a foil-lined, rimmed baking sheet or roasting pan.

Roast the hens until the backs are golden brown, about 25 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and brush each hen with the vinegar-and-oil glaze. Turn the hens, breast-side up and with the wings facing out, and brush with the glaze. Add 1/2 cup of the broth to the pan and continue to roast until the stuffed cavity registers 150 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, 15-20 minutes longer.

Remove the pan from the oven and increase the oven temperature to 450 degrees. Brush each hen with the glaze, add the remaining 1/2 cup broth to the pan, and continue to roast until the hens are spotty brown and the cavity registers 160-165 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, 5-10 minutes longer. Remove the hens from the oven, transfer to a cutting board, and let rest for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, pour the cooking juices from the pan into a small saucepan and spoon off excess fat. Add the vermouth and simmer over medium-high heat until the sauce thickens slightly and the flavors blend, 3-5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve the hens, passing the sauce separately.

Couscous Stuffing With Dried Fruit and Pistachios

Makes about 3 cups, enough for 6 Cornish game hens

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 small onion, minced

2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed (about 2 teaspoons)

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground ginger

1/8 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 cup couscous

1 1/3 cups low-sodium chicken broth

1/4 cup shelled pistachio nuts, toasted and chopped coarse

1/4 cup dried apricots, chopped fine

3 tablespoons currants

2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves

1 teaspoon juice from 1 lemon

Salt and ground black pepper

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 5-7 minutes. Stir in the garlic, cinnamon, ginger and turmeric and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the couscous and cook until well-coated, 1-2 minutes.

Add the broth and bring to a simmer. Remove the saucepan from the heat, cover, and let stand for 5 minutes. Fluff the couscous with a fork and transfer to a medium microwave-safe bowl. Stir in the pistachios, apricots, currants, parsley and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste. (The stuffing can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 24 hours.)

Note: Toasted slivered almonds can be substituted for the pistachio nuts.

Duck

Duck, another bird with rich, flavorful dark meat, has soared in popularity in recent years. It has migrated from Asian and fine dining menus on down the line to home kitchens across the country.

Duck is fattier than most fowl and should be handled with care during cooking. It may be necessary to take the duck out of the oven during roasting to remove excess fat from the pan. Be very careful, and use a metal spoon or baster.

This recipe is adapted from the cookbook "The Boathouse: Tales and Recipes From a Southern Kitchen" (Joggling Board Press, 2006).

Oven Roasted Crispy Duck With Raspberry Port Reduction

Serves 6

For the duck:

3 medium skin-on ducks, trimmed of all excess fat

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

For the raspberry port reduction:

2 pints fresh raspberries

1 cup sugar

32 ounces beef stock (store-bought is acceptable)

24 ounces chicken stock

1 cup orange juice

1 cup port (reduced to 1/2 cup over medium heat)

2 ounces whole butter, cut into cubes

Salt and pepper

Serving suggestion: Over mashed potatoes

For the duck: Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Place ducks in a large bowl and cover with oil. Season with salt and pepper, coating ducks thoroughly. Place ducks, breast side up, on an oven-safe rack in a large roasting pan (at least 2-inch sides) to allow the excess fat to drip away from the ducks during the roasting process. Roast for 2 1/2-3 hours and remove from oven. Increase temperature to 475 degrees, and roast ducks for 12 more minutes, or until the skin is crispy and golden brown. Remove from oven and let rest before serving.

For the raspberry port reduction: Over medium-low heat, cook the berries and the sugar until well-incorporated and the berries are very soft, about 30 minutes. Set aside.

In a medium sauce pan over medium-high heat, reduce beef stock by half. Add chicken stock and reduce again by half. Add the orange juice, port and raspberries, then continue to cook over medium-low heat until mixture begins to thicken slightly. Whisk in whole butter. Finish with salt and pepper to taste.

To serve, split the ducks and remove the breast, thigh and leg. Place a spoonful of mashed potatoes in center of dinner plate. Arrange breast, leg and thigh around the potatoes and finish by drizzling the raspberry port reduction over the duck and potatoes.

Roast chicken

Has the convenience of rotisserie chickens made roast chickens obsolete? A plump, roasted chicken was the traditional centerpiece of Sunday dinners past, a family occasion that has faded away in the 21st century.

But good roast chicken should be part of every cook's repertoire, and there's no reason it can't be the bird of choice on Thanksgiving day.

This recipe is adapted from "Nathalie Dupree's Southern Memories: Recipes and Reminiscences" cookbook (University of Georgia Press, 2004).

Margaret Ann's "Sunday Best" Roast Chicken

Serves 4

One 3 1/2- to 4-pound roasting or frying chicken

1-2 bunches of your favorite herbs for stuffing (tarragon, sage, thyme or rosemary)

1-1 1/2 cups chicken broth or stock, homemade or canned, or more if needed

2 yellow squash, cut in 2-inch chunks

2 turnips, peeled and cut in 2-inch chunks

8 small red potatoes

2 medium sweet onions, peeled and quartered

2 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces

1 red bell pepper, seeded and quartered

1 green bell pepper, seeded and quartered

3/4 cup heavy cream

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Rinse the chicken and pat dry. Tuck the wing tips under the body of the chicken. Stuff the cavity with the herbs and tie the legs together. Place the chicken in a roasting pan large enough to hold the chicken and the vegetables, which will be added later. Pour the broth around the chicken and place in the oven. Cook for 20 minutes per pound, basting every 15-20 minutes.

Forty-five minutes before the chicken is done (which may be after only 15 minutes or so), remove the pan from the oven and scatter the squash, turnips, potatoes, onions, carrots and peppers around the chicken. Return to the oven and continue cooking and basting until done.

Remove the chicken and vegetables to a serving platter, tent with foil and set aside. Strain the pan juices into a heavy saucepan. Whisk together the cream and flour in a small bowl until smooth. Gradually whisk the thickened cream into the pan juices, bring to a boil and cook, whisking over medium heat for 2-3 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve the chicken surrounded by the vegetables, with some of the sauce poured over the vegetables. You may need to put some of the vegetables in a separate serving dish if your platter is not large enough. Pass the remaining sauce in a gravy boat.

Turducken

Roast turkey recipes are so abundant at this time of year that we won't add to the pile here. View Nathalie Dupree's video about roasting turkey or read about four methods — high-heat roasting, dry-brining, grilling and frying — that we've covered in the past.

The hottest new Thanksgiving commodity in Charleston is "turducken," a trio of poultry — chicken, duck and turkey — tucked inside each other and layered with any number of stuffings.

Like fried turkey, it's a Cajun thing. Some say Louisiana chef and restaurateur Paul Prudhomme created turducken, while National Geographic traced it to Maurice, La., and Hebert's Specialty Meats.

Turducken can be done by the home cook, provided that the cook is very comfortable with deboning or is willing to learn. How-to instructions are found on the Web and in some cookbooks.

Otherwise, they are available from a couple of new local sources: Cherie's Specialty Meats & Fine Coffee, 1005 Tanner Ford Blvd., Hanahan (in Tanner Station, across from the super Bi-Lo on North Rhett Avenue), and at Caviar & Bananas, 51 George St. in downtown Charleston.

At either place, turducken works out to about $6 a pound, but you're paying almost nothing for bone.

Cherie's turduckens are frozen, available in a choice of six stuffings including crawfish jambalaya and wild rice pecan, weigh 15-16 pounds and will feed at least 14-18 people. They are $99.50 and are available until Thanksgiving. Call 797-2441 or visit cheriesspecialtymeats.com.

Caviar & Bananas offers turduckens fresh or cooked in a choice of two different stuffings. Both weigh about 25 pounds; fresh are $160 and cooked are $185. Orders must be placed by Friday for pickup next week. Call 577-7757 or visit caviarandbananas.com.

Cooking hotlines

Turkey still frozen and dinner just an hour away?

The bread won't rise?

Still not sure what temperature you're supposed to cook stuffing to?

Help from holiday cooking hot lines is just a call or click away.

--Crisco Pie Hotline: 877-367-7438

--Butterball Turkey Talk-Line: 800-288-8372 or www.butterball.com.

--Empire Kosher poultry customer hot line: 717-436-7055 or www.empirekosher.com/index.htm.

--Fleischmann's Yeast Baker's Help Line: 800-777-4959 or www.breadworld.com.

--Foster Farms Turkey Helpline: 800-255-7227 or www.fosterfarms.com.

--General Mills: 800-248-7310.

--King Arthur Flour Co.'s Bakers Hotline: 802-649-3717 or e-mail questions to bakers@kingarthurflour.com.

--Nestle Toll House Baking Information Line: 800-637-8537.

--Ocean Spray consumer help line: 800-662-3263 or www.oceanspray.com.

--Perdue consumer help line: 800-473-7383 or www.perdue.com.

--Reynolds Turkey Tips Hotline: 800-745-4000 or www.reynoldskitchens.com.

--U.S. Department of Agriculture Meat and Poultry Hotline: 888-674-6854 or www.fsis.usda.gov/Food_Safety_Education/Ask_Karen.