Happy Turkey (Stuffed with Duck, Stuffed With Chicken) Day!
It probably wouldn’t take a rocket surgeon to figure out that Thanksgiving is easily my favorite holiday of all holidays. It’s been that way for years. There are numerous reasons for this: First, there’s not having to wear a tie and drag oneself to religious services. In fact, there’s no religious obligation at all, unless you consider football a religion. It’s pretty difficult to find qualms with a holiday that’s centered around thankfulness, family, and gorging oneself on turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes (marshmallow topping is a vegetable, right?), and wine so fully that passing out on the carpet — the older gents in my family claim their sofa and easy chair birthrights — isn’t just accepted, it’s expected. Most holidays do have a culinary component, minus the ones where fasting is obligatory, in which cases the absence of food serves as a painful reminder of that day’s holiness and gravity. Not so Turkey Day, a glorious occasion during which full-on, no-holds-barred gluttony is the only way to show appreciation for life’s bounty. Beautiful.
In my family, nothing represents both Thanksgiving indulgence and good, old fashioned Cajun cooking more than the turducken. For those of you unfamiliar with this particular Louisiana delight — and I’ve been shocked to learn that even some of my relatives were in the dark on this as recently as three years ago — the turducken is a deboned chicken, filled with dressing, stuffed into a deboned duck with a second dressing, and then stuffed into a deboned turkey with, yes, a third kind of dressing. Three birds, three dressings, baked in toto, like a loaf, so that when you cut into it, you get a cross section of triple-meat, triple dressing goodness, all in a single slice. This, of course, is a glorious thing to behold, the kind of overtly egregious culinary invention that could only have been dreamed up in Cajun country. So, you might wonder, how does one make a turducken? Easy: He orders it from the Gourmet Butcher Block in Gretna, Louisiana, as the Gold clan has been doing for the better part of a decade. Sadly, however, I’d never been to this hallowed ground of stuffed poultry until recently, when its proprietor, Glenn Mistich, graciously invited me behind the scenes of the world’s most popular turducken operation.
When Mistich opened up shop sixteen years ago, the turducken had long been invented, but at the time it was still known mostly to lucky South and Central Louisianians and their friends.
Enter an unlikely hero: John Madden.
According to Mistich, “”When he found us, in ’97, the turducken wasn’t very well known. There were only a few places doing it. And someone heard on the radio that John Madden was coming to New Orleans for a game, and maybe I should try and get him to try one of our turduckens. We got in touch with some of the Saints guys, and they said ‘Sure!’ So we cooked it up for him and he loved it; during the game he kept talking about it – talking about the turducken instead of the game! Since then he’s been getting it from us every year, and it’s become the official food for the all-Madden team. We even have jackets!” After that, business was booming. At present, the Gourmet Butcher Block sells about six thousand turduckens a year, shipping them nation-wide and internationally, even as far as Africa. Walking into the company’s gigantic freezer, you’ll see hundreds of turduckens — stuffed, frozen, boxed and ready to go — stacked up to the ceiling, looking like nothing if not poultry masonry, making up a solid wall of stuffed birds (within stuffed birds, within stuffed birds). But, Mistich is quick to emphasize, this operation is far from being a factory. Each turducken, boneless stuffed chicken, stuffed quail, rabbit, pork chop and tenderloin is prepared by hand, from scratch, on the premises. “What makes our products great is the time, the heart and soul we put into them,” says Mistich. “We don’t mass-produce; every single product is done individually, as if ordered by a customer right here in our shop. We don’t cut any corners.”
Behind the store’s counter, chockablock with carnivorous delights, you’ll see hardworking GBB employees deboning birds, cooking the various dressings, and seasoning the final product. By the time you receive your bounty, all that’s needed is to pop it in the oven. “Everything is ready for you to cook,” he tells me. “We have filet mignon, crawfish-stuffed potatos, shish kebabs stuffed and ready for the grill, stuffed pork roast, boudin, chicken sausage,” and a brand new product that caught me a little incredulous, what he calls a fowl de cochon. “We use a 30 pound suckling pig, deboned, but with the head still on. Then we stuff a turducken inside the middle of it with a different dressing on each side, then sew it back up so it looks like a whole, single pig. It’ll feed about 50 people — great for parties. That’s a real popular item. We sell about thirty a month, sixty a month in November and December. I know that may not sound like a lot, but that’s 50 pounds of meat and no bones — it’s a real beast!”
After pondering the incalculable taste explosions a fowl de cochon might offer, Glen kindly fills a shopping bag for my family: A deboned chicken stuffed with oyster dressing (a Louisiana favorite), turducken sausage — that’s all of the elements of a traditional turducken, including spices and stuffing, squeezed into a natural casing — crawfish-stuffed potatoes, even a T-shirt. And, sure enough, cooking was easy as (crawfish) pie. We simply placed the chicken and the sausage on a baking sheet in the oven, and roasted. Upon removing, here’s what we were treated to:
Luckily, you don’t have to make a trek to Gretna yourself to be availed of such fine Cajun cookery. You can find the Gourmet Butcher Block online at www.cajunturducken.com, or just give them a ring at (504) 392-5700. Do it. It will make you happy. And isn’t that something worth being thankful for?
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