Smith: The mysterious origins of turducken
Vail, CO, Colorado
EAGLE COUNTY, COLORADO ” Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday ” the only one I actively celebrate, in fact ” mainly because it allows me to participate in at least three of the Seven Deadly Sins, all in one sitting.
But this past Thanksgiving was a bit disappointing. Sure, my family and friends gathered and we laughed and ate and told stories and laughed some more, but still, I couldn’t stop thinking about how much better the evening would have been with some turducken. Which, when you think about it, is a form of Envy, which brings the Deadly Sin count up to four. So that’s cool … but still …
Turducken, in case you don’t know, is what you get when you take a chicken and stuff it inside of a duck, then you take that resulting Frankenbird and stuff it inside of a turkey. Then you cook and eat it. Yum.
I’ve yet to have turducken, and for that I feel like a failed Southerner.
The origin of the turducken is uncertain, though it’s definitely Southern, and most likely from Louisiana. Several have laid claim to its invention, but no steel cage bird-stuffing death match has yet to be held to crown the true inventor.
As someone who used to eat squirrel (hey, I grew up in Mississippi), I’m fascinated by the history of food. At some point, way back when, a caveman cracked open an oyster and, rather than gagging, actually ate it. Then, before you know it, it’s the most expensive thing on the menu. And this almost certainly happened before the invention of hot sauce, making the moment all the more revolutionary.
So how did this turducken thing first come about? Aren’t a chicken, duck or turkey just fine all on their own? Well … apparently not …
A Louisiana family sits down to a roasted chicken dinner. The kids pick at it, uninterested.
Father: Eat your supper, boy!
Son: I’m bored with plain ol’ chicken, Daddy. If only there were some way to spice it up, like by shoving it inside of a larger bird …
Daughter: Then shoving THAT inside a bird that’s larger still!
Father: (inspired) I’m goin’ to the butcher. I’ll be right back.
It’s a busy Louisiana kitchen, Friday night, people are moving quickly ” one chef is preparing a chicken, another is preparing a duck, still another is prepping a turkey. They grab their respective fowl and run for the ovens, only to collide violently at that blind corner where people are always having near-misses (bad feng shui in this particular restaurant.) When they’ve picked themselves up off the floor, the chicken, the duck AND a wristwatch are missing, and the turkey seems substantially heavier than before. A culinary legend is born! But what do we call it? Chickyturkeyducky? Churdick? Chickturd? No time to think about that now, we need to get it in the oven, pronto, as it takes about 17 hours to cook.
Legend has it that in 1850s New York a restaurant patron complained that the French fries were too thick. The chef responded by slicing some potatoes ridiculously thin, frying them, then oversalting them ” the culinary equivalent of sarcasm. The result, as it happened, was darn tasty! The potato chip was born.
I’ve tried to imagine a similar situation that might have been the genesis of the turducken, but I’m having a hard time constructing the type of complaint that would result in the spiteful insertion of small birds into larger birds. The best I can come up with is this: a disgruntled customer says something scornful about the chicken dinner, something that includes the word “shove” and a word that RHYMES with “duck.” The waiter, new to the English language, passes the poorly translated complaint on to the chef, who, confused, gives a customer’s-always-right shrug and commences to hollowing out a turkey. Ta-da!
Mysterious origins aside, I’ve still yet to sample this multi-meated meal. Maybe next Thanksgiving will be my moment. In fact, with any luck, the art of culinary cavity stuffing will have advanced beyond the turducken by this time next year, so my family and I just might be sitting down to a meal of roasted whalephantippotelopestrichturduckensquirellfrogscallop.
Which, I’ll bet, is mighty good eatin’.
Read more about Barry Smith’s adventures at http://www.barrysmith.wordpress.com.
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