Even if you're more creative in your cooking the other 51 weeks of the year, chances are you're inclined to stick to some version of the traditional menu for holiday dinners: say, mashed potatoes, casseroles, and side dishes crowded around a hickory-smoked ham or a roasted turkey. But every year, brave souls with a strong digestive system and a boatload of patience sign on for a more difficult, ambitious spin on the traditional (ok, semi-traditional) holiday feast: the three-in-one meatfest known as a turducken.
Combining a turkey, a chicken and a duck (hence the name), a turducken is a feat to take on for any holiday meal, and an impressive centerpiece to lay out on your table. If you’ve ever wondered what turducken is all about, here's everything you need to know.
1. It’s a lot of meat
You already know turducken is made of meat, but just how much? On average, a 20- to 25-pound turkey is stuffed with a four or five pound duck that’s then stuffed with a three-to-four pound chicken. Of course this varies depending on how many guests you’re feeding, but since it has to fit a boned bird instead of another one, the turducken ends up looking impressively large. Those who want to take it to the next level add even more meat by stuffing sausage or bacon, and in the lowcountry, some shrimp.
2. One serving is a meal in itself
In case you're wondering how many extra calories you’re packing on: Although the high-protein dish helps make you feel (more than) full for a good long while, one single serving clocks in at around 510 calories. That’s without any dressing or side dishes on your plate.
3. A turducken has no bones
The presentation is spectacular, involving rolls upon rolls of meat. Yep, just meat. But to achieve this look, and to be able to cook the dish, you have to completely debone all of the meats, which if you’ve ever attempted this at home, is no easy task. Luckily, because of its popularity, there are plenty of how-to videos and guides to help you figure out every step of your turducken adventure.
4. An NFL coach helped make turducken even more famous
Though the history of the turducken is debatable (more on that later), it gained a massive national audience thanks to an NFL coach. John Madden, who is known for being both an NFL announcer and a coach who led the Oakland Raiders to a Super Bowl victory, also had an appetite for meat. How did he catapult the turducken to fame? In the 1990s, he carved one while on camera and talked about how deliciously ridiculous the turducken was, sparking the curiosity of culinary experimenters everywhere. After all, you do need something to munch on while watching the game, and a turducken might just be big enough to last you the whole season.
5. There’s a mystery around its creation
As with any great invention, speculation abounds as to who actually arrived at the big idea first. Mostly, the credit goes to Paul Prudhomme, a chef with a Cajun flare who said he created the turducken in the 1970s, and even trademarked the name in 1986. However, other sources give the byline to Dr. Gerald R. La Nasa, a surgeon from the New Orleans (hey, turducken does require some clever positioning and cutting), while food writer John T. Edge guessed it was created at a hunt camp.
6. It’s a type of engastration
While a turducken might seem like a revolutionary idea (and okay, if you taste one, you might agree), technically speaking, it’s simply the practice of stuffing and cooking one animal inside another, which is called "engastration." This method of cooking has a long history, dating to the Middle Ages. Just think of the iconic stuffed pig that’s portrayed at many Medieval tables: It’s called cockentrice, and was made by connecting the head and the upper torso of a pig. Attendees at these lavish parties would often eat so much of this dish (and everything else around it) that they’d have to excuse themselves to um, relieve themselves before going back for more. Historians trace engastration to Europe in the 18th and 19th century, where many recipes for the wealthy involved this practice. An early food journal published in 1807 described The Yorkshire Christmas Pie, which involved turkey, goose, pheasant, partridges, woodcocks, snipes, grouse and widgeons, all baked together.
7. There’s a dessert version
Who says vegetarians can’t get in on the fun? Well, vegetarians for one, and that’s why a meat-free cake inspired by the turducken was created in 2009 by Charles Phoenix. What is it? It’s a three-layer cake that has pies (cherry, apple, pumpkin) baked into each cake layer (yellow, spice). Did we mention it’s all topped with a homemade cream cheese frosting. While a turducken can be cooked in a day, this dessert takes several days to allow for proper cooling.
8. You can buy it at some supermarkets
For many years, a turducken was only available at specialty butcher shops or restaurants that took the time to piece it all together. However, a few years ago, Whole Foods started making it a holiday tradition to offer a pre-cooked turducken at its stores. In a blog post, they wrote, “There is no reason to be intimidated by this poultry triple-threat because the truth is that all of the hard work is already done for you.” They even do the deboning for you, so you won’t have to worry about a mess, and you'll still get to serve something quite impressive. (We won’t tell if you won’t.)
9. A turducken is like your first kiss
By now you’re probably wondering how this thing tastes, right? The funniest commentary came from celebrity chef Paul Prudhomme, who in an interview with Anderson Cooper in 2008 described this three-meat masterpiece: “Can you imagine how it would feel to have your fantasy girlfriend in front of you and you’re just going to get your first kiss? That’s the way it feels.”
10. You can’t deep fry it
Bad news for Southerners and State Fair fanatics: While you can dress a turducken up with other meats, tons of dressings and basically any dipping sauce you fancy, it’s pretty impossible to deep-fry one. The biggest reason? A turducken is completely boneless (remember?), so there’s nothing to hold it together. If you placed it in a deep fryer, it would fall apart. It also lacks a key component of a turkey: It's not hollow, since it's stuffed with other meats. If you tried to deep-fry it, the delicious meats on the inside would burn before the outside could properly cook. And that would be a holiday fail of epic proportions.
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