Sizing Up the Mysterious and Persistent Appeal of Turducken

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Every year, people go nuts with the mere concept of turduckens, and no one seems to understand why. What makes the turducken—a de-boned chicken stuffed into a de-boned duck stuffed into a de-boned turkey then all of the various stuffed with various fillings(usually sausage or venison)—so alluring? Some turducken aficionados deem the construction to be the pinnacle of culinary feats. It’s become a Thanksgiving institution for those who don’t want to settle for a mere roasted turkey.

Those are some mighty big words for a franken-bird (the average turducken usually weighs between 15-24 pounds).

It’s hard to pin-point exactly when the turducken first appeared, in part because elaborate animals-stuffed-into-animal constructions date back to at least to the Roman Empire, including an oft-cited banquet extravaganza for the rich that involved stuffing birds into a pig, and the pig into a cow. Centuries later, in his book Manuel des Amphitryons, Alexandre Balthazar Laurent Grimod de La Reynière a gastronomist during the Napoleanic era of France, advised hosts to serve Rôti Sans Pareil, which boasted 17 layers of different fowl, from a tiny bunting to a final layer of something called a Great Bustard.

Since those days, we’ve come a long way from peasant pies and buntings. Louisiana chef Paul Prudhomme has claimed to be the originator of the modern turducken, though food historians have disputed this, especially since various Cajun specialties involve stuffing one thing into another, and then another. Nevertheless, Prudhomme’s recipe is the touchstone for some cooks; if he didn’t create it, he popularized it outside of the American south.

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It has since made its way deeper into mainstream pop culture. Gourmand John Madden (yes, of Monday Night Football fame) brought out his very own turducken on a 1997 Thanksgiving broadcast and carved it up for the meat (and football) gods.

The turducken shamelessly indulges our sins of gluttony, sloth and pride—although if you plan to create a turducken from scratch, leave your sloth at the door. Perhaps another part of the dish’s appeal is the sense of accomplishment involved in making your very own turducken. Paula Deen’s recipe says it takes a total of 13 hours from start to finish, whereas this recipe from Alpine Steakhouse featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives on the Food Network takes 18 hours. If you’ve ever boned a poultry item while attempting to keep its flesh and skin intact, you know it’s no small feat. The manufacture of turducken requires this to be done not once, the three times...and that’s not including the making of three different stuffings, either. Amanda Hesser’s recipe from the New York Times consumes only six hours of your time, though Hesser notably outsources the boning of the chicken, duck, and turkey.

The bigger question to ask: is the laborious process really worth all the Thanksgiving Day struggles? According to beloved Food Network star Ina Garten, the answer is hell no. She was quoted in a USA Today article saying, “It’s a ridiculous idea. It offends me.” Those familiar with world of The Barefoot Contessa know her sensibilities are more in line with minimal ingredients; she prefers a roasted turkey stuffed with fresh herbs.

But those who heartily disagree with Garten have plenty of options. If the classic, 13-18 hours of prep way isn’t your style, you can simply order a turducken online from places like Cajun Grocer (voted best turducken by the Wall Street Journal) from $54.95 and up or Echelon Foods (which touts itself as the “original turducken”) for $64.99 and up. Oddly enough, the frozen and pre-prepared turduckens are easier to cook than a regular old turkey. So easy, in fact, all you have to do is properly defrost it and stick it in the oven. I know, as I’m speaking from experienc (and I’m going to be honest here: if I can do it, you can do it too).

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The assembly of a turducken can bring about family togetherness. Photo by Quinn Dombrowski CC BY-SA

If turducken itself is so excessively elaborate, to be perfectly honest, I don’t think its allure is anything that complicated or special. The fact that people get to play around in the kitchen making a nesting doll of a dinner—which then turns into a magical conversation starter—gives a home cook the chance to experiment and have fun with flavors, textures and a bit of absurdity, while celebrating the holidays among family and friends. It gives guests a chance to have a bit of fun with an otherwise boring meal: upon presentation, it looks like any other turkey. But once it’s slice open and presented, each beautiful portion is showcased for its delights, much like a layer cake.

With the annual hype growing and growing around turduckens (comedian Nick Offerman gave an absurdist nod to them in an interview with Jimmy Fallon recently), vegetarians and vegans no longer need to worry about missing out on the fun. Now there is the Vegducken, a leek stuffed into a zucchini stuffed into an eggplant stuffed into a butternut squash, which creator Katherine Sacks promises to take “the onslaught of Tofurkey, the go-to Thanksgiving options” and turn it upside-down. The handsome and hefty offering is a stunna and stands toe-to-toe with turducken when it comes to Thanksgiving focal points.

So regardless of what your plan is for this Thanksgiving, there is definately one thing that we should be thankful for. And it’s the turducken.

Amanda (Ama) Scriver is a full-time community builder and official ‘head bee in charge’ of the food, fat and feminism blog, Fat Girl Food Squad. When she isn’t busy kickin’ ass and takin’ names, she is having serious feels for all things coffee, hip-hop, the art of drag, Kardashians, pizza and Doritos. You can find more bylines from her at Eater, BizBash and Toronto is Awesome. Follow her on Twitter: @amapod.

Main photo by Gail CC BY
Turducken photo by Adam Selwood CC BY

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