Fowl Play If it quacks like a duck, gobbles like a turkey and walks like it a chicken, it's probably turducken.

December 10, 1997|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,SUN STAFF

On the outside, it looks like a turkey. It's stuffed like a turkey, and it roasts like a turkey. But inside, it's another story.

It's a turducken, the latest gourmet trend wending its way, not from California, where most trends are born, but from the South, where there's a long tradition of stuffing poultry with other poultry.

In the turducken version, a stuffed chicken is tucked inside a stuffed duck and both are then tucked inside a stuffed turkey.

Devotees and recent converts say the taste "just blows your mind."

Skeptics consider the whole idea "disgusting."

Paranoics note the concoction quadruples your chances for bacterial contamination.

Never heard of it? Well, neither had Leo Denisuk, of Victor's Meats at Eddie's of Roland Park, until he got an inquiry a few weeks ago about whether he could produce one. Never one to pass up a challenge, Denisuk said, "Sure I can." (Last week he proved it for a Sun taste test. See results on page xx)

Turducken was a well-kept Southern secret for years, but recently it has gotten a lot of media attention, appearing on televion morning shows, in a segment on National Public Radio's "Morning Edition," and proliferating all over the Internet.

Most sources attribute any current awareness of turducken to Louisiana, where the technique is also a feature of Cajun cooking. Noted Cajun chef Paul Prudhomme claims to have been preparing turducken since the '60s -- the lengthy recipe is on his Web site. (Using a search engine and typing in "turducken" should bring up Prudhomme's site and others.)

However, what put turducken on the big culinary map was an article last year just before Thanksgiving in the Wall Street Journal, featuring, among others, Charles Faul and his Charlie's Specialty Meats, now All Cajun Food Co., in Franklin, La.

"We were getting 10,000 calls a day" after the story appeared, Faul said. "We weren't prepared for that."

Faul said he made his first turducken in 1972 and sold two of them that year. This year he sold 25,000 for Thanksgiving and "we'll probably go into 50,000 for the holidays."

Originally, Faul said, his small specialty meat and catering company was simply looking for something different, something that would allow him to compete with supermarkets. And besides, he said, "People around here don't care much for turkey by itself," because it's too dry and too bland. "It's the duck that keeps it moist and juicy."

And it's the stuffing that packs a flavor wallop. Faul offers six different stuffings from which customers can choose: corn bread, rice, shrimp, crab, spinach and crawfish. He said people are generally astounded to find that the most popular one is the spinach. "It has cheese and some jalapeno peppers," he said. "It's real good."

The tradition of stuffing poultry with other poultry and forcemeat, however, is far older than the last three decades.

Christmas pie

There's a recipe for a "Christmas Pie" in the 1803 edition of Mary Randolph's "Virginia Housewife," a compendium of recipes and household advice, that wraps quail or game hen in duck or chicken and then in turkey.

"It was called a Christmas pie because once you do all this deboning and make the forcemeat, which is the stuffing, the whole thing would be wrapped in pastry and baked," said Christy S. Matthews, director of operations and programs for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Williamsburg, Va.

About 10 years ago, Matthews prepared the dish at Baltimore's 1840 House, where she was working with Colonial culinary expert Sue Latini. (The house is part of the City Life Museums, now closed.)

"It was during the holidays, and I was doing a series of workshops on hearth cooking," Matthews said, "just to get them comfortable with it. As they got better and better, we decided to try this."

Matthews and the 1840 House staff used a Colonial tin device called a reflecting oven to roast the Christmas pie over the hearth. It has a spit running through the center so the roasting meat can be turned.

"It worked out pretty well," she said. "It has a wonderful taste. Because all the bones are taken out, you don't carve it, you just slice it. And you can see all the different layers. The different meats infuse each other with their flavors and that smoky roasted flavor [from the fire] just adds immeasurably to it."

Matthews said she still cooks the dish for her family at holiday time, but only every other year. "It takes a lot of work. You have to be conscious of contemporary contamination problems, so you have to work quickly" and not leave any of the meat sitting out for long periods of time. "And the deboning can be dangerous. You have only one incision, along the backbone of the bird, and you have to get all the bones out, the wings and the legs, through that one incision."

As for why the dish would become popular again now, Matthews said, "I have always thought that we in the South tend to be more history-oriented, and there are a lot of foodways coming back -- once people get over their low-fat diets."

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