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The weird, wild history of the holiday's oddest food, the turducken 

click to enlarge THE WHOLE TURDUCKEN Thar she blows! Witness a baked turducken, awaiting carving, which could grace your table through any number of online retailers, including Goldbelly, Hebert's Specialty Meats, the Cajun Grocer, and others.

Photo Courtesy Of Getty Images

THE WHOLE TURDUCKEN Thar she blows! Witness a baked turducken, awaiting carving, which could grace your table through any number of online retailers, including Goldbelly, Hebert's Specialty Meats, the Cajun Grocer, and others.

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Somebody somewhere thought it would be a good idea to stuff a deboned chicken inside of a deboned duck inside of a deboned turkey. Who? That's somewhat open to debate. Why? Why not. When?

According to late celebrity chef Paul Prudhomme, a Louisiana legend, the "who" was he, and the "when" was in the late '60s when he worked at a Sheraton Hotel buffet carving station in Wyoming.

click to enlarge THE ORIGINATOR? Now-deceased Cajun celebrity chef Paul Prudhomme claims to have invented the turducken at a Wyoming lodge in the late '60s, trademarking the name in 1986 and including a recipe in a 1987 cookbook. - PHOTO COURTESY OF MAGIC SEASONING BLENDS
  • Photo Courtesy Of Magic Seasoning Blends
  • THE ORIGINATOR? Now-deceased Cajun celebrity chef Paul Prudhomme claims to have invented the turducken at a Wyoming lodge in the late '60s, trademarking the name in 1986 and including a recipe in a 1987 cookbook.

What's not in dispute is that Prudhomme trademarked the name "turducken" in 1986 and featured the recipe in his 1987 cookbook, The Prudhomme Family Cookbook: Old-Time Louisiana Recipes by the Eleven Prudhomme Brothers and Sisters and Chef Paul Prudhomme, later putting the dish on the menu at K-Paul, his New Orleans restaurant.

click to enlarge CLAIM TO THE THRONE? Hebert's Specialty Meats owners, brothers Junior (now retired) and Sammy Hebert, claimed to have invented the turducken in 1984—before the name was trademarked—after a Louisiana farmer asked them to stuff a chicken, duck, and turkey inside each other. - LOGO COURTESY OF HEBERT'S SPECIALTY MEATS
  • Logo Courtesy Of Hebert's Specialty Meats
  • CLAIM TO THE THRONE? Hebert's Specialty Meats owners, brothers Junior (now retired) and Sammy Hebert, claimed to have invented the turducken in 1984—before the name was trademarked—after a Louisiana farmer asked them to stuff a chicken, duck, and turkey inside each other.

But hold your horses stuffed with donkeys stuffed with Shetland ponies because two other Louisianans—brothers Junior (now retired) and Sammy Hebert, who own Hebert's Specialty Meats, a butcher shop in Maurice—claimed to have invented it in 1984 (before Prudhomme took credit for the dish) when a farmer requested to have a chicken, duck, and turkey stuffed inside of each other. Hebert's still sells turduckens—about 3,500 a year, mostly during holiday time.

But wait a cotton-pickin' minute stuffed with seconds stuffed with nanoseconds because Gourmet Butcher Block has its own story, this one featuring former Cal Poly football player turned pro football coach turned sportscaster John Madden (There's the local connection you've been waiting for!), who supposedly gets credit for turning the turducken from a Louisiana oddity into a national craze.

Apparently, Gourmet Butcher Block owner Glenn Mistich, who's married to the Heberts' sister, Leah, and whose label is called Goldbelly, presented "the original turducken" to Madden before the Rams-Saints game on Dec. 1, 1996, and Madden went bonkers for it, praising it relentlessly during the broadcast and igniting the Turducken Fever that's been sweeping the nation ever since ... well, sort of.

I mean, have you ever tasted a turducken? I've heard of it but never seen one in person, much less put it in my mouth hole.

Naturally, I turned to social media to ask friends about their turducken experiences. Etta Mae Maino told me her "entire family has mocked it for years," so she was precisely zero help. But another friend, Samuel Gauna, ordered it twice for Thanksgiving: "The best one is the only one I really remember. It had pork sausage stuffing between each layer. It was absolutely amazing."

Kelly Lewis loved his turducken experience: "Yes! My friend Kathy invited me to her home in Morro Bay Heights. Her friend had come from Kentucky with, reportedly, 'The best turducken in the world.' That was the occasion. Nowhere near Thanksgiving. It was moist and tasty AF!"

Cody Hartwell said he "did one with jam instead of duck. Fantastic!"

click to enlarge INNER SECRETS You can custom order your turducken, but most are stuffed with pork and cornbread stuffing, like this beauty from Hebert's Specialty Meats. - PHOTO COURTESY OF HEBERT'S SPECIALITY MEATS
  • Photo Courtesy Of Hebert's Speciality Meats
  • INNER SECRETS You can custom order your turducken, but most are stuffed with pork and cornbread stuffing, like this beauty from Hebert's Specialty Meats.

Former Louisianan Michael McGee explained, "We ordered turducken for a gourmet dinner many years ago. It was OK, but I didn't feel it justified the cost. Also, it fell apart trying to slice it.

Anne-Marie Strohman admitted, "Not a turducken, but we did have a 'PieCaken" once, at Thanksgiving or Christmas, I think, just because my husband thought it would be fun."

Now I know what I'll write about next year—a donut stuffed in a croissant stuffed in a pie stuffed in a cake. But I digress.

It's easy to order a turducken. Hebert's ships them nationwide as does Goldbelly and other retailers. They ain't cheap. Hebert's "regular" turducken starts at $119 and comes "standard" with two layers of pork dressing and one layer of cornbread dressing. For ten bucks extra, you can add three layers of crawfish dressing, shrimp dressing, cornbread dressing, or rice dressing. Goldbelly's "The All-Madden Turducken" will set you back $199.95. They sell about 5,000 a year! I hope Madden's estate gets a kickback.

So, who should really get credit (or the blame) for the turducken? The truth is people have been stuffing one animal inside of another for a while now. It's called engastration, and it's been taken to outlandish extremes. The turducken? Child's play!

Allow me to introduce you to rôti sans pareil—the roast without equal—created by French gastronomist Alexandre Balthazar Laurent Grimod de la Reynière in the 1807 cookbook L'almanach des gourmands. Rôti sans pareil stuffs 17 birds inside each other: a bustard, chicken, duck, garden warbler, goose, guinea fowl, lapwing, lark, ortolan bunting, partridge, pheasant, plover, quail, teal, thrush, turkey, and woodcock ... plus all this other stuff like an olive stuffed with an anchovy stuffed with a single caper, plus pork stuffing—it's ridiculous! Exactly 18 animals have to die to make it.

So go ahead, get your turducken. There are weirder dishes out there. Δ

Contact Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey at [email protected].

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