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It’s one of those holiday dishes folks shake their heads at, chalking it up to the crazy culinary people of South Louisiana.
Even the name brings forth a laugh.
The portmanteau word “turducken,” a mash-up of its key ingredient names, takes a well-seasoned, deboned turkey and stuffs it with boneless chicken that’s been stuffed with boneless duck. In between are layers of well-seasoned Cajun-style dressing and pork stuffing.
The novelty doesn’t come cheap—many times it’s priced at $100 and up—due to it being labor intensive to create with numerous products, but the turducken’s popularity has soared since its inception. Today, a variety of online groceries sell the dish, ready to ship a taste of South Louisiana far and wide.
There’s debate over who invented the multi-stuffed dish. Famed Chef Paul Prudhomme, who hailed from Cajun Country but achieved fame from his once–popular restaurant, K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen in New Orleans (which closed in 2020), took credit for its creation. (A quick primer: Cajun cuisine refers to cooking styles that evolved in the parishes surrounding New Orleans and stretching west toward Texas, where Cajuns have settled since the 18th century. New Orleans cuisine is considered Creole, a combination of many nationalities residing in the city. Chef Prudhomme brought Cajun to New Orleans in 1979 with K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen and it became immensely popular. Today, many people erroneously credit New Orleans with Cajun cuisine, although Cajun and Creole are close cousins.)
While Prudhomme and others have laid claim to creating turducken, most people look to Hebert’s(pronounced A-Bears) Specialty Meats in Maurice, just outside Lafayette, for bringing the dish to public consumption. The market known for a delicious variety of stuffed meats had an unusual request back in the 1980s, one that would develop into a holiday staple.
Photo Credit: Chere Coen
“One day, a friend came in and brought a turkey, a chicken, and a duck they killed in their yard,” explains Quinn Hebert, second generation owner of Hebert’s. “They asked my dad to have one stuffed inside each other.”
Hebert’s father, Sammy Hebert, decided to try the engastration, a cooking method dating back to the Middle Ages where one animal is stuffed inside another. He enjoyed the process so much, he started selling the “turducken” in his market. Hebert’s turducken uses a stuffing of ground pork, onions and bell peppers in between the turkey and duck and a cornbread dressingaround the chicken. Naturally, it owns a lovely spice due to being a dish hailing from Cajun Country.
Word of mouth spread about Hebert’s unusual dish, followed by media attention, including a prime National Geographic article published in November 2005. TV sportscaster John Madden raved about turduckens in his early 2000 broadcasts—once dramatically tearing apart a turducken made by the San Francisco Four Seasons hotel during a 2002 Eagles-49s game—to show fellow sportscasters what was inside.
Hebert’s now sells 1,500 to 2,000 turduckens a year, mostly during the holiday season, and this year is no exception. In fact, the pandemic may have worked in Hebert’s favor.
“We’ve actually been really fortunate,” he said. “Everybody is not eating out, so they need to cook in their homes.”
While turduckens may be a modern fad in the culinary world, Louisiana TV personality, author and Chef John Folse believes the dish has rootsin the Old Country.
“While turducken is gaining popularity as a holiday dish, the idea is not new,” Folse writes in The Encyclopedia of Cajun & Creole Cuisine. “Medieval banquets featured similar creations as piece motif. These edible centerpieces often featured swans and geese stuffed with a succession of smaller birds such as chicken, pheasant, or quail.”
Whatever its origins, the holiday threesome may be found on tables across the nation. Hebert’s routinely ships throughout the United States and other online grocers have taken up the cause.
Consider pairing turkducken with “Cold Turkey,” a new smoked ale brewed with poultry seasoning, salt, and lactose from Bayou Teche Brewery. The holiday culinary craziness of South Louisiana continues.
Multiple online grocers make it possible to have a turducken shipped direct to you, including: