In the culinary world, not many items surpass the awe-inspiring grandeur that is the turducken. For those unfamiliar, turducken is a whole chicken inside a whole duck inside a turkey with stuffing and sausage — a pseudo Frankenstein monster.
The history of the turducken is widely debated. Its origin may have come from southern Louisiana in the 1970s but it remains a bit of a culinary mystery, with many claiming to have created the iconic holiday dish.
The first mention of the turducken concept comes from ancient Rome where multibird roasts, in varying combinations, were common. The most fascinating account, even if fiction, comes from the Satyricon, a novel written by ancient Roman author Petronius, where he describes a feast of roast boar filled with roasted thrushes, doves and sausages. In the Almanach des Gourdmands, a French cookbook published in 1807, there is a description of a dish known as the Roti Sans Pareil (“roast without equal”), prepared for a royal feast. The chef started with some capers, stuffed them in an olive, put the olive in a tiny garden warbler, and then proceeded to add 16 birds to the creation.
Competitors have tried to steal the spotlight. The “gooducken,” a chicken inside a duck inside a goose, has become popular for people looking for something even further outside the box for the holidays. For vegetarians, there is a meatless version that replaces the three birds with combinations of tofu, soybeans and wheat gluten.
Turducken slipped into pop culture during the traditional Thanksgiving Day NFL game in 1997, when legendary coach and commentator John Madden announced his love for the dish and awarded it to the winning team. Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert called his 2008 Peabody Award the turducken of awards — like winning the Oscar, Emmy and Pulitzer all in one. Although still a rare find on the holiday table, the turducken and its legend grow in popularity each year.
At Kenrick’s Meats & Catering in St. Louis, the turducken is a holiday superstar. Kenrick’s started as a small, rolling butcher shop in 1945, serving German-style sausages to patrons in the south side of St. Louis. In 1975, current owner Joe “The Butcher” Weinmann turned Kenrick’s into a one-stop shop for meats and catering as well as some unique culinary creations such as chicken cordon bleu balls, burger patties made of bacon and pork, and brat-seasoned hot dogs.
“We don’t like to stick with the standard cuts,” says vice president Tim Weinmann.
With such a reputation for experimentation, it is no surprise that Kenrick’s took on one of the culinary world’s most complicated undertakings: the turducken.
“We love specialty products,” Weinmann says, “and we wanted to offer something different for people who are a little more adventurous. When we decided we wanted to do turducken, there was a lot of trial and error with the seasoning and cooking methods.”
Eventually, Kenrick’s found just the right seasoning; the shop will prepare a turducken roasted or fried, or sell the creation ready-to-cook, deboned and netted so all you have to do is cut. Kenrick’s sells hundreds of the complicated creations for Thanksgiving and Christmas every year.
“Some people buy a turkey or ham and a turducken, just so they can try it,” Weinmann says.
Making a turducken requires almost surgical precision. In fact, one of the supposed inventors of the dish, New Orleans surgeon Gerald LaNasa, used a scalpel to make his.
The traditional turducken starts with deboning the turkey, duck and chicken. Recipes vary after this point; some call for the birds to be parboiled just enough to cook the birds before being roasted to avoid under cooking, and others call for searing just the duck to render the fat slightly. Variations aside, turducken is comprised of a chicken stuffed with your choice of meat or vegetarian stuffing, then a layer of sausage, then a duck, another layer of sausage and then a turkey. The assembled dish is stitched together with butcher’s twine and roasted in the oven for around two hours, depending on the combined weight of the birds.
The result? A treat that will leave your guests returning to your house for the holidays for years to come. If you are not feeling up to making your own turducken, they can be ordered from select specialty meat shops ready to be popped in the oven.
Learn more about the turducken at Kenrick’s Meats & Catering on the episode of “CHOMP” airing on MyZouTV.