The Surprising Origin Of Turducken

Turducken is one of those portmanteau foods whose name reflects its ingredients — the name, and the dish, combines turkey, duck, and chicken (or hen, since edible birds tend to be of the female variety). Although it sounds like some kind of bizarre modern invention like the cronut or the ramen burger, oddball foods expert Andrew Zimmern says turducken is actually part of an ancient tradition of "nested" foods that dates back to the Roman Empire.

While the Romans themselves may not have stuffed deboned chickens into ducks (or limes into coconuts, for that matter), 18th-century chefs were definitely down with stuffing birds into birds. One culinary genius in France managed to fill something called a bustard (a biggish bird, we presume) with 16 increasingly smaller ones, ending with a garden warbler. Um, yum? British cooks toned the dish down a bit, eventually settling on the three-bird roast which is their term for turducken. UK magazine The Field, however, notes that some ambitious chefs stretched the bird count to eight, also including goose, pheasant, partridge, pigeon, and woodcock. (This last-named is a type of bird! Stop giggling.)

The man who made turducken famous

Turducken was (maybe) introduced to the U.S. in the 1960s by Cajun chef Paul Prudhomme, and first made commercially available by Louisiana butcher Hebert's Specialty Meats in the 1980s. It owes its place in popular culture and on many people's holiday tables to one man: NFL Hall-of-Famer (and video game inspiration) John Madden. As For The Win tells it, a man named Glenn Mistich, who was related to the family who owned Hebert's, sold turduckens in his own New Orleans butcher shop. He didn't sell too many of them, though, only about 250 per year of what was then strictly a regional specialty. In 1997, however, the PR guy for the New Orleans Saints introduced the dish to broadcaster Madden, and the next day Madden called Mistich to say: "I really loved it. Can you send one to me in California?"

Madden went on to select turducken as the official "All-Madden Team" food, and he continues to eat these every year for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. With Madden's endorsement, sales naturally soared, and as of 2017, Mistich estimated he was selling between 5000-6000 per year of the Frankenbirds. While the turducken isn't exactly threatening to replace more traditional turkey preparations on everyone's Thanksgiving table, it has become sufficiently mainstream as to be featured on a popular YouTube cooking program and there's even a turducken competitive eating event (8 pounds in 12 minutes, in case you're looking to beat the record).