It surprises me that exactly two weeks before Thanksgiving, the Turducken King has two hours to spare to sit down and talk. Shouldn’t he be busy stuffing chickens into ducks into turkeys, making sure that there are turduckens aplenty for his hungry subjects to enjoy on Thanksgiving weekend? The King has a philosophical answer.
“Thanksgiving just isn’t as big a deal as Christmas in Canada,” he says. “Canadians tend to remember Thanksgiving at the last minute, and for that meal, they’re satisfied with the typical turkey. But they’ll be planning for Christmas for weeks. I’ve already heard from people about placing orders for their Christmas turduckens.”
Although he’ll make a few turduckens for Thanksgiving celebrations around Halifax, it’s not until the end of November that the Turducken King (known to his family and friends as Mike Chaisson, a chef and caterer from Fall River) will swing into full-time turducken-production mode. Come the Yuletide season, he’ll be working with another chef and two assistants in a rented commercial kitchen, turning out up to 40 turduckens a day. Perhaps it’s the thought of being surrounded by more than 100 raw, deboned turkeys, ducks and chickens, dozens of pounds of bread and sausage stuffing, and metre upon metre of butcher twine every day for six weeks that makes him seem so content to be sitting with a cup of tea in his kitchen on a nice September morning.
A turducken is a Louisiana specialty which food writer Calvin Trillin, who’s known for the zest with which he searches out and enjoys delicious, unusual food, calls “something Cajuns make that seems to go against the laws of nature… that cannot be criticized for lacking complexity.”
The complexity Trillin’s referring to is the fact of the turducken’s construction. Even for an experienced chef like Chaisson, it’s a time-consuming challenge to bone, stuff and combine three birds into one. Each turducken is made of a boneless turkey, stuffed with a boneless duck, stuffed with a boneless chicken—each of which is also stuffed with spicy cornbread or sausage stuffing. Each turducken takes about two “person hours” to make. Each bird is split down the back of the breast plate and the bones are removed; then it is spread open like a book and covered with stuffing and another layer of poultry. Imagine hiding Mad magazine inside Cosmopolitan inside your grade 10 history textbook, and you’ve got the idea. The longest stretch of time is devoted to sewing the turkey closed around its five tasty inner layers.
“We always thought the de-boning would be the hardest part,” says Chaisson. “But that’s actually pretty easy. It’s sewing the whole thing back together that’s the challege.” He likens the experience to stitching a very heavy, cold, slippery football—with butcher twine. He chuckles. “Each one is a labour of love.”
Chaisson holds a business degree from the University of New Brunswick, but he has been working as a chef and caterer since 1985. He didn’t begin this annual labour of love until three years ago, around the time Aliant was holding a promotion that involved giving away turduckens to customers. The jingle for the promotion, “It’s a turkey and a chicken and a duck, it’s a turducken! It’s a turkey and a chicken and a duck, it’s a turducken,” was not a complicated song, but it seemed to speak to something in Maritimers’ souls. Response was greater than Aliant had anticipated, and the phone company started calling people in the food industry—caterers and suppliers—looking for people who could help them supplement their turducken supply. Those caterers, knowing about Chaisson’s experience in cooking challenging Cajun cuisine for southern-based companies working offshore around Halifax, passed the request along to him.
He kept refusing—until his wife heard about it.
“Before I knew it, she was telling everyone we knew that I was making a turducken for Christmas dinner,” Chaisson says. Always up for a challenge, it didn’t take much to convince him to give it a try for his own family’s holiday celebrations.
“As a chef, the first thing I say when someone asks me if I can cook something is always, ‘Yes, of course I can make that,’” Chaisson says. “But the first thing I think is always, ‘Oh boy, I hope I can figure out how to make that.’”
Chaisson did what many of us would do—turned to the internet for help. There, he found chef Paul Prudhomme’s website. Prudhomme, the man who helped popularize Cajun cooking throughout North America in the late 1980s and early 1990s, has a comprehensive website which offers all sorts of recipes for traditional and not-so-traditional Cajun dishes, including several pages about the preparation and enjoyment of turduckens. A little bit of reading later, Chaisson was cooking.
“I started with a 35-pound turkey,” says Chaisson. “By the time I was finished with the chicken and the duck and all the stuffing, I had a solid mass of meat that weighed more than 50 pounds.”
It took 18 hours to roast the monster turducken, which had been adapted for local tastes by making the bread stuffing less spicy, and replacing the traditional shrimp-and-oyster stuffing with sausage. It fed about 20 people on Christmas Day—and another 40 on Boxing Day. Everyone loved it. That was the beginning of the Turducken King’s reign.
Now, three years and hundreds of turduckens later, Chaisson has a thriving turducken-making business, which, he says, dovetails with his other catering work—work like catering supper for the Louisiana governor during last year’s Congrès Mondiale Acadien—quite nicely. He markets the poultry delicacy from his Turducken King website and delivers Nova Scotia’s newest holiday favourite to dozens of homes around HRM—and across the country—in time for Christmas. What will be on his Christmas table? A turducken, of course. But maybe not for Thanksgiving.
“When is that again?” he asks. “Two weeks away?”
A typical turducken weighs about 20 pounds and costs $179. Depending on their appetites, a turducken will feed between six and 20 people. To order a turducken, visit www.turduckenking.com, or email email@example.com.