NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) — Mankind has had some interesting holiday traditions over the years. One such interesting tradition is the story of the Turducken.
Liz Williams is the founder of the Southern Food and Beverage Museum and says, “part of the reason people stuffed animals into each other was to show their wealth. If you could afford to have a camel, a cow, a pig, a calf, everything else in-between, and birds and that sort of thing, inside the other to be cooked; you were wealthy. It wasn’t always about the actual flavor of the meat, but it showed off the skill of the chefs because they almost always had to debone the animals. They created stuffing and used figs and dried fruits. It was this exotic special thing!”
With the sewing skills of a surgeon, the technique of engastration, or placing animals inside other animals to be cooked, was born. But it gets a lot weirder than that.
Sometimes, it is not just about stuffing animal bodies into other animal bodies. There is also a great tradition of fusing animal carcasses together for human consumption in interesting ways, to create mythological creatures for the dinner table. There is a history that can be traced back to many civilizations including the Bedouins and the ancient Romans. The tradition was revived by the French in the middle ages, where some of the strangest beasts were created.
As some of the older religions and myths gave way to newer ones, some of the older monsters found their way into Christianity. One of the earliest examples of this is with the cockatrice, also known as the basilisk. A dangerous creature of legend that has eyes that turn men and beasts to stone. It was often depicted as having the head of a rooster and a reptilian body. It’s mentioned in the Bible’s book of Isiah, in chapters 11, 14, and 59.
As time continued onward, the myths and legends of old monsters became less about religion and more about spectacle. During the great feasts of the Middle Ages, chefs showed great skill in fusing suckling pigs and birds together to create “real” cockatrices, dragons, and other creatures to serve at dinner. A cooked cockatrice is called a cockentrice. A food historian and Youtuber by the name of Max Miller, successfully recreated a medieval cockentrice earlier this year. Click here to check it out!
Over the years the tradition declined, but the cooking technique of engastration continued onward. By the 1970s, New Orleans had its own beast for the feast. Chef Paul Prudhomme is credited with creating a savory creature that forever changed the dinner tables of North America called the turducken.
Glenn Mistich is the owner of Gourmet Butcher Block, a specialty meat shop in Gretna, Louisiana. It’s a family-run business with Glenn’s son and wife and it’s full of flavor and cajun tradition.
“The turducken is unique because you have all three birds deboned and stuffed inside each other. It has sausage in the turkey, sausage in the duck, and cornbread dressing in the chicken. We can debone a chicken in about 45 seconds and a turkey in about a minute and a half,” says Glenn Mistich.
Gourmet Butcher Block is known for its turduckens. They ship out around five thousand turduckens a year. The peak season is right after Thanksgiving, in preparation for Christmas.
In 1977, the NFL had caught wind of Louisiana’s delectable mythological beast. Glenn remembers the day that changed his life saying, “John Madden was coming to do a Saints and Rams game. He called Jerry Romig and said he wanted to try the turducken. We brought a turducken to the Superdome. Two days later, John Madden called me and said, Glenn, it’s John Madden here, do you think I can get some turduckens shipped to California? I thought it was one of my friends messing with me but it was really him.”
The turduckens were shipped to John Madden. A week later, Fox Sports calls the Gourmet Butcher Block shop and announced that Madden wanted the turducken to be the official food of the All-Madden-Team.
“I did one with six legs for the Thanksgiving-day game, where they tore the legs off and gave them to the most valuable players. The following year, they wanted two legs added and requested an eight-legged turducken for the linemen on the offensive line.”
Holiday traditions have a deep history, but whether it includes Roman creations or Thanksgiving Football, one thing remains; the holidays are best served with others.
To learn more about the origins and techniques of cooking and food, head over to the Southern Food and Beverage Museum in New Orleans. On December 5th, they are having a program all about how to use sugar in the kitchen. On December 11th, they host their annual Holiday Market.