By Lauren Mack
Like most holiday fare, the peculiar concoction called turducken comes with its own lore.
In one story that explains how turducken came to be, an old farmer walked into Hebert’s Specialty Meats in Maurice, La., clutching a turkey, a duck and a chicken. He asked the butcher to bone out each carcass and put the three birds together: the chicken inside the duck, and the duck inside the turkey.
On that day in November 1985, the owners, Sammy and Widley Hebert, christened the triple meat creation turducken.
Word quickly spread.
The turducken, featured on television broadcasts with football commentator John Madden and prepared annually by Louisiana celebrity chef Paul Prudhomme, has become a popular novelty dish among those seeking something unusual to serve on holidays, particularly Thanksgiving.
“It’s not something you can do for Sunday dinner,” said Widley Hebert.
One turducken serves more than two dozen people.
The birds, wrapped between layers of stuffing, weigh roughly 18 pounds. The Cajun dish is normally infused with spicy dressings and is baked in an oven. The juices of the turkey and chicken baste the duck and the more robust flavored duck, in turn, bastes the turkey and chicken.
Cooking takes anywhere from five to 12 hours or more. The birds smell like turkey and the meat is generally so moist it doesn’t need gravy.
When Steven Wilson and his friends made their first turducken on Nov. 10, 2003, the preparations started at 6 a.m. It was well into the evening before the dish was ready to eat.
“It tasted mostly like turkey, only better,” said Wilson of St. John’s, Newfoundland.
The feast was such a culinary success that Wilson and more than a dozen friends gather each Nov. 10 to celebrate what they have dubbed Turducken Day.
Turducken can be bought, assembled and partially cooked. It can be ordered online from companies like Hebert’s Specialty Meats and Hickory Farms. The meat comes frozen and is packed in dry ice and placed in a Styrofoam cooler.
Hebert’s Specialty Meats sells 3,000 turduckens a year. It charges $60 to $70, depending on size, plus shipping. Customers choose from eight different kinds of stuffing like crawfish or shrimp. The original turducken included cornbread dressing for the chicken and two layers of a stuffing made of ground pork, onion and bell pepper.
At Hickory Farms, exact sales numbers were unavailable, but turducken sales have increased every year. “It’s one of our top sellers, oddly enough,” said Molly Wyrick, catalog manager for Felder Brothers, Hickory Farms’ parent company. The company started carrying the product eight years ago. It charges $109.95 plus shipping.
Michael Pusateri, a turducken connoisseur in South Pasadena, Calif., first heard Madden talking about the dish on television. He ordered one from Frank’s Smokehouse in Baton Rouge, La., to serve at his annual Super Bowl party three years ago. Pusateri’s friends were skeptical.
“At first, they were hesitant to eat it,” said Pusateri, 38. “Now they think it’s great and get excited to have it.”
Turducken lovers say the idea of combining fowl in a dish this way originated during medieval times, but there is a difference of opinion over who came up with the modern turducken in North America. The Hebert brothers claim it was their idea prompted by the farmer’s request, but Prudhomme trademarked the name.
“We know we were the first to do it,” said Hebert, though he has no records to document the farmer’s tale.
Prudhomme said he came up with the idea when working on a buffet line 45 years ago. He wanted to come up with a way to make a turkey look more attractive on the buffet so he added three times the meat and three dressings to make the dish look fuller.
“I feel bad for them,” said Prudhomme of the Hebert brothers and their turducken story.
Prudhomme says it does not bother him that others take credit for creating turducken, and he has not contested anyone’s use of the moniker.
“It’s OK. Everyone knows different,” Prudhomme said.
At his restaurant, K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen, in the French Quarter of New Orleans, the dish is served twice a year, just before Thanksgiving and Christmas. Forced to shut down after Hurricane Katrina, the restaurant reopened on Oct. 18. Prudhomme is planning to cook turducken this November.
Turducken continues to attract more and more people who are tired of traditional Thanksgiving fare.
“People buy it out of curiosity,” said Wyrick of Hickory Farms. “After reading the description online, they have to see it to believe it.”