12 Bizarre Examples of Engastration: The Art of Food-in-Food CookingJanuary 25, 2019
Have you ever heard of matreyoshka? They’re cute little Russian nesting dolls that unscrew to reveal other smaller cuter dolls until you get to the last one that’s usually no larger than a bean. Now, take that concept and bring it to the kitchen, and you’ve got one of the most adventurous ways of preparing food: engastration.
Engastration is basically foodception: taking an animal and shoving it up another animal, and then cooking it on a spit or in an oven. Chefs have been playing around with this technique since the Medieval times. Nowadays, the most well-known example is the turducken (a roast of chicken stuffed inside a duck, stuffed inside a turkey). It was brought to international fame by NFL commentator John Madden who would award this mammoth dish to the winning team during the Thanksgiving football game.
The turducken is far from new or unique. Here are 12 other bizarre and extreme examples of engastration that may or may not inspire ideas for your next Christmas feast.
The French have perfected the tedious technique of stuffing forcemeats and other ingredients into the thighs of birds such as chicken, duck or turkey. The resulting masterpiece is rolled into a small log, and stitched together using kitchen twine. The term ballotine is also used as an umbrella term for any food that has been cooked in the style of engastration.
Three-bird roasts are commonly known as “royal roasts” because they are feasts fit for kings and queens. A close relative to the turducken is the gooducken, which is a goose stuffed with a duck, which is in turn stuffed with a chicken. Proper care must be taken to ensure that all the birds are cooked thoroughly.
3. Pandora’s Cushion
One of the earliest recorded examples of a ballotine is the Pandora’s Cushion. It is a goose stuffed with a chicken stuffed with a quail. Slice open the goose and let out the glorious aromas of the other birds inside. Yum!
4. Tudor Christmas Pie
The Tudors were a Welsh house of nobility (also the titular characters in a risqué epic series starring Margaery Tyrell and Superman) who liked to throw grand parties and banquets just because they could. A traditional Tudor Christmas feast would not be complete without the Christmas pie, a multi-bird roast of pheasants, partridge, goose, chicken, and turkey cooked in a pastry crust decorated with intricate designs.
The monarchs during the Tudor period staged Bacchanalian feasts with the food itself providing the entertainment. Servants would roll in pies from which live birds would fly out when sliced (the pie, not the birds). One historical account also mentioned a pie large enough for a dwarf in full armor to spring out of.
Still on the subject of medieval excesse, the rich and powerful during the era of jousting and chastity belts habitually threw parties that would make Jeane Napoles’s debut look like a birthday party at McDonald’s. Cooks went as far as creating hybrid creatures out of their food by sewing together different animals. The combination of a castrated rooster (capon) and a small pig resulted with the Frankensteinic dish known as the cockentrice.
The capon and the pig are joined at the hip, and the resulting chimaera would be baptized Syr Pig (with the head of a pig and the body of the capon), or the downright horrific John Thomas (the head of the capon and the body of the pig) . The beast is also stuffed with all sorts of ingredients such as pine nuts, bread, saffron, eggs, liver and spices.
6. True Love Roast
Just when you thought nothing could be more ridiculous than creating monsters out of poultry, here comes the True Love Roast. It’s a turkey stuffed with the breasts of twelve birds. Apparently, this thing is so heavy that it takes two hulking, greased-up muscle men to lift. The stuffing of the True Love Roast is described as:
“Goose filled with orange and walnut stuffing. Chicken with hazelnut and ginger. Pheasant with juniper stuffing. Aylesbury duck with sage and onion. Barbary duck with Persian fruit stuffing. Poussin and guinea fowl layered with parsley, lemon and thyme. Partridge and pigeon squab set in juniper stuffing.
Mallard duck layered with cranberry and lemon and whole boned quail filled with cranberry and orange relish.”
Some of these birds are completely alien to me. On another note, I guess the roast is called such because it takes true love to get someone to painstakingly debone the breasts of twelve different birds just to make a pie.
7. Rôti Sans Pareil
In 1807, the gourmand Grimod de la Reynière described the rôti sans pareil (literally, incomparable roasts) like this:
“…a bustard stuffed with a turkey, a goose, a pheasant, a chicken, a duck, a guinea fowl, a teal, a woodcock, a partridge, a plover, a lapwing, a quail, a thrush, a lark, an ortolan bunting and a garden warbler. “
So take a bustard and stuff it with an entire aviary? Okay, got it.
8. Lechon Manok Stuffed Lechon Baboy
Every Filipino handaan is made more special by the presence of the crispy-skinned, tender broiled, and gorgeously browned lechon baboy. Lechon manok, on the other hand, is the staple emergency salo salo food that you can easily purchase from a roadside stall or the supermarket when you underestimate the number of guests arriving for dinner.
Some local lechoneros, such as Leonardo’s in San Juan, have come up with the brilliant idea of comibining the two. The lechon baboy cavity is often stuffed with lemon grass and other aromatics, but this innovative concept makes use of the longer cooking time to create fork-tender chicken that is seeped in the juices of the flavorful pork belly. But why stop there? Surely we can think of something else to stuff in the chicken. Maybe bacon strips? It makes me weak in the knees just thinking about it.
Engastration is not limited to stuffing animals into animals, it could also mean stuffing a dessert into another dessert. Aside from the turducken, an equally famous Thanksgiving innovation is the cherpumple. It’s a dessert of different flavor pies, baked inside several different flavors of cake, and then stacked together. Cherpumple is short for cherry, pumpkin, and apple pie. Imagine having this ala mode.
10. Andalusian Ram
Moving on to much larger animals, a recipe from the An Anonymous Andalusian Cookbook of the 13th Century calls for “many plump chickens, pigeons, doves and other small birds,” cooking them separately, stuffing them with breadcrumbs, quail eggs, spices, and egg yolks, and then the stuffing the birds into a skinned fattened ram. Any gaps that still remain are filled with meatballs and an herb mixture. The ram is then cooked in a clay oven for hours.
11. Bedouin Wedding Dish
After going through this list, you probably think there’s nothing more that can shock you as far as a engastration is concerned. Try this next one:
“Cook eggs. Stuff eggs into fish. Cook the fish. Stuff the fish into cooked chickens. Stuff the cooked chickens into roasted sheep. Stuff the roasted sheep carcass into a whole camel . . . now cook to taste.”
This recipe is for what the Guinness Book of World Records hailed as “the largest item on any menu in the world.” The stuffed whole camel is apparently served at the weddings of sheikhs and their family members. Grimod de la Reynière was wrong, this is the true rôti sans pareil.
Easily one of the most repulsive food items in the entire galaxy is the kiviak. Pepper has talked about this horror before. Kiviak is a traditional wintertime food from Greenland that is made made of auks (a type of water bird) preserved in the hollowed-out body of a seal.
Around 500 of the birds are stuffed to ferment inside the seal whole, feathers and beaks included. The seal is then sewn shut and hermetically sealed with grease to discourage bacterial growth. Several months later, the birds turn into a putrid liquefied mush that is eaten by snapping the bird’s neck and slurping out the juice. Mind you, this delicacy is served during weddings and birthdays. People actually die of botulism from eating it, but this has done little to stymie the practice. Yolo, I guess?