Diner: Talkin' Turkey

All or nothing with two new approaches to the Thanksgiving feast


If Christmas is all about the presents, then Thanksgiving is definitely all about the eating. The menu is literally the meat and potatoes of the day. No one wants to mess with the blessed turkey, dressing and cranberry combination, the holy trinity of the holiday. This year, let how about giving thanks with something new? One of these turkey extremes might even please your guests and their distinctive palates.

Turkey Lovers Turkey
For true turkey lovers, the agonizing choice of the holiday isn't white or dark meat: It's life or death. Instead of celebrating the holiday with the slaughter of the gobbler, they prefer a golden statue sculpted in its honor. Well, not exactly, although tofu could be considered vegan's gold.

The tofu-replica turkey became available commercially in 1995. Oregon-based Turtle Island Food's Tofurky was one of the first to enter the market. Company representative Seth Tibbot explains, "After 20 years of personal Thanksgiving nightmares, we launched the first Tofurkys, selling 500 in about two dozen stores in the Pacific Northwest."

How many do they expect to sell this year? "In 2001, 105,000 Tofurkys were sold in the fall quarter of the year. This year we've already sold that many and expect to sell about 20,000 more by January 1st," Tibbot says.

It's easy to find a recipe online to make your own tofu turkey, a fairly simple process. Hollow out a lump of tofu and stuff it with vegetarian-friendly dressing. Once it's sealed up, work it into an oblong shape and add drumsticks sculpted from tofu on the sides for further effect. Turkey flavor comes from the basting. The tofu only has to cook for approximately one hour. Served with mushroom gravy, it becomes a suitable turkey substitute for vegetarians, as well as those watching their fat and cholesterol intake.

Tibbot suggests buying their product, noting that their research indicates Tofurkys are usually cooked by people already preparing a real turkey for other guests. They find it easier to pop the Tofurky in the oven than spend time shaping the tofu.

"Even all-vegetarian tables enjoy the convenience afforded by the Tofurky because they have tons of tasty vegetarian side dishes to prepare and wish to spend some time with their friends and family out of the kitchen," he adds.

But the most important question about Tofurky: "What does it really taste like?" According to Tibbot, it's very similar in flavor to white meat turkey, but he admits the tofu drummettes don't taste anything like real drumsticks. On the plus side, the leftovers are supposed to be even more delicious than the first serving.

Meat Lovers Turkey
Let's shift gears. For some, the turkey is Poultry 101 and, when they pass it, they need something more. Enter the "turducken." That's right: tur (turkey) duc (duck) ken (chicken). This dish gives a whole new meaning to holiday stuffing.

To create this meat monstrosity, start with three deboned birds. In short, take the chicken stuffed with dressing, and stuff it, along with more dressing, into a duck. That, along with yet more dressing is stuffed into an oversized turkey. Bake for 13 hours.

Though often described as a Cajun recipe, it's actually not, although it did start with a Cajun. Louisiana-based Chef Paul Prudhomme says the seeds for this recipe were planted early in his cooking career when he worked a restaurant buffet table offering ham, beef and turkey. After a few slices of turkey came off the bone, it would begin to get dry and stringy until, as Prudhomme describes it, it looked like a hippie.

"I was frustrated with the drying turkey pieces, and I started experimenting," he says, speaking from his working kitchen in New Orleans. He knew he needed to debone the turkey, but that by itself resulted in an unnaturally slumped shape. Finally, he began stuffing smaller birds into the turkey. "The result was a turkey that looked natural from the outside, but you could just slice it and get three kinds of meat and three kinds of dressing," Prudhomme said. "It's just monstrously good."

A local New Orleans TV show got the first showing of the then unnamed recipe 20 years ago. Prudhomme gives credit for the name to the TV show's host, who put together parts of the names of each bird. Prudhomme can't remember the host's name, but "turducken" stuck.

Shawn McBride, president of Prud-homme's food line, Magic Seasonings, understands why the dish has grown in popularity. "People are always looking for something new, and it's unusual and it sounds unique," she says.

McBride gets e-mailed pictures of turduckens made by small groups of people at cooking parties. If you're thinking of trying this recipe, you will need a small group of people or at least a few days off. It requires deboning three birds and making three kinds of dressing — Prudhomme recommends cornbread, andouille smoked sausage and oyster dressings — not to mention the assembly. The good news is, once it comes out of the oven, there is no carving: Just slice and eat.

The company encourages making, not buying turducken. They don't sell pre-made turduckens and are cautious about companies that do. "Many say to cook for two to three hours, and that's not enough. It will make people sick," McBride says. Prud-homme's recipe calls for a minimum of 12 hours in the oven.

Prudhomme is revising the recipe this year to make it a little simpler for everyday people to create. Printed from his Web site, it fills 10 pages but, once finished, it fills at least 25 carnivorous bellies.

Find Chef's Prudhomme's recipes at www.chefpaul.com/ turducken. Order your Turtle Island Foods Tofurky online at www.tofurky.com

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