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Where Y'Eat: The Stuffed Wings of Destiny

Ian McNulty

How a butcher shop tradition, competitive vigor and football helped the unlikely turducken take wing across the nation's Thanksgiving tables.

Look to the Louisiana sky this time of year and you may glimpse some of the millions of birds that come pouring through the state in the natural splendor of their annual migrations. But, it’s to the table we look this time of year for a Louisiana bird of another feather altogether, and though splendid to some eyes it is not nature’s own creation. Of course, it is the turducken, once again turning up to weight down the holiday groaning board from Thanksgiving through Christmas.

The provocative name spells out the basics — a turducken being a duck stuffed inside a chicken stuffed inside a turkey, each of the birds deboned and each layered between with some meaty dressing. The preparation involves a lot of work and not a little twine to sew this Frankenfeast all together

Was the turducken created in Louisiana? Accounts of its genesis vary, with some following the tread of multiple stuffed birds all the way back to medieval feasts. But one thing is pretty clear. Louisiana is where the turducken found a roost amid the adventuresome appetites of locals and where this unlikely dish found a launching pad for its increasing national popularity — or least national notoriety. 

This stuffed with that wrapped in something else — it’s not such a foreign idea to a certain sect of Louisiana cookery, a culinary mindset that holds that if one type of food is good and another is also good, the combination of the two must be great. This is the idea that has filled cases at Cajun butcher shops with one red example after the next. Stuffed quail, stuffed rabbit, bacon-wrapped, sausage-stuffed roasts, crawfish dressing, oyster dressing, shrimp dressing all squeezed into pork and beef, and, separately, turkeys, ducks and chickens.

It was at Hebert’s Specialty Meats, a butcher shop filled with just these examples, in the small Cajun town of Maurice, where Glenn Mistich first learned to make turduckens. When he decided to open his own butcher shop in Gretna, a place called Gourmet Butcher Block, the turducken recipe was part of the plan too. It was this Gourmet Butcher Block turducken that was being discussed on sports radio one day back in the mid-1990s when the football icon John Madden was in town. He was covering a Saints game at the Superdome, heard about the bizarre stuffed bird combo and asked to try it. And so Glenn Mistich soon found his way outside the Superdome press box.

Today, he recalls that someone actually asked if he was John Madden’s nutritionist. No, he was not a nutritionist, just a Louisiana butcher bearing gifts. The upshot? Madden made the turducken a centerpiece of his Thanksgiving game broadcasts for the years that followed, and naturally some of his viewers around the country wanted some of that action too.

While the turducken is bizarre, that this creation should spread from Louisiana through football channels is not so unusual. This is the tailgating crowd, remember, and only the competitive fire to one-up one’s mates and turn cooking into a sort of sport all its own could have assured so odd a dish its place in the pantheon of extreme feasting — whether that’s outside the stadium or around the holiday table.

Gourmet Butcher Block

2144 Belle Chasse Hwy., Gretna, 504-392-5700

Ian covers food culture and dining in New Orleans through his weekly commentary series Where Y’Eat.

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