Turkey to Turducken

Cooking How-To, Holidays, How-To
on August 30, 2012
Herb-Brined Turkey
High Cotton Food Styling and Photography

Turducken is a chicken stuffed into a duck stuffed into a turkey. It involves deboning three birds and stuffing any gaps with a variety of dressings. Its inventor is disputed, but credit belongs somewhere in Louisiana Cajun country. The process seems eccentric, but it isn’t especially novel. Britain has its three-bird roast (goose, chicken, pheasant), and in 19th-century France, a roti sans pareil was produced in which a bustard was stuffed with 16 successively smaller birds, until the final—a garden warbler—could be filled with a single olive. Watch the queen of comfort food cooking, Paula Deen, make a Turducken below:

If this makes your traditional roast turkey seem dull, read on: The turkey is a fascinating bird that’s traveled thousands of miles over several millennia to reach your plate. Native to America, it was domesticated in Mexico in the second millennium BC. By the time Spaniards arrived, Aztec royalty feasted on turkey tamales and turkey mole. Most New World foods were slow to catch on in Europe, but they gobbled up the turkey. By the early 1500s, France’s Queen Marguerite maintained sizable flocks, and Italian chefs were encasing them in pastries with their heads exposed.

We call the turkey “turkey” due to sheer confusion. Levant merchants brought the bird to England, and the English assumed it came from Turkey. European breeders had greatly increased the size of the turkey by the time English colonists brought it back across the Atlantic and bred their stock with the wild turkey of the colonies—further complicating the family tree, since the wild turkey of the United States is a breed apart from Mexico’s. Later settlers from continental Europe brought their own favorites, eventually producing the broad-breasted bird that’s common today—an edible melting pot that can grow to 70 pounds and would be hard pressed to recognize its cousin in the wild.

However you prepare your bird, you won’t be alone. In the United States, we consume more than 500 million pounds of turkey at Thanksgiving alone. But we’re not the world’s biggest per capita consumers. Those honors go to Israel.

—By Jo Marshall, a food writer in Deephaven, Minn.