Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Turd-ucken

There are some things humans might never have eaten if not for lack of money or resources.

Take vegetable stew, for example. Back in the Middle Ages, root vegetables were seen as being unfit for the English upper classes – food from the dirt fit only for commoners – so the poor found ways to use these relatively accessible items. What better way than to mix and match them in a big pot of contaminated water from the nearby stream and blend their flavors together over a low simmer?

The rich also harbored a distrust of certain raw foods like nuts and fruits. They ate cheese but avoided milk. These were also times when most people (including children) drank mead because it was safer to risk alcoholism than to trust the quality of the local water supply.

Anyway, you get the idea. Long story short, the poor ate meager yet relatively healthy meals while the upper class died of scurvy, gout and rickets from seasoning, salting, drying and boiling the beneficial nutrients and vitamins out of everything they put in their mouths. The whole raw food diet craze never would have caught on 1,000 years ago.

These days, food snobbery is more about trying everything than about avoiding any particular ingredient.

There are dozens of shows on television in which people wander the world to find the most bizarre food customs, and the more disgusting the main ingredient the better. I’ll bet if I really pushed hard enough I could get Travel Channel or Food Network to fund a one-hour special about the best recipes for hamster testicles from around the globe. Just to tie it in with their other programming, it could air right after a new Iron Chef America featuring Rocky Mountain oysters as the secret ingredient.

Now, I don’t want to rag on my brother, because he really was acting out of a sincere desire to give us all a memorable food experience. After all, who doesn’t like to try new things?

Our palates don’t stop developing when we reach a certain age. If so, I never would have learned to love shrimp, or Mexican food, or oatmeal. Okay, so maybe I can't say I like oatmeal. For me it’s more like a bowl of heated brown sugar, honey and cinnamon with a few soggy oats thrown in for fiber.

But back to my brother and that turducken. Whoever dreamed up the idea of stuffing a deboned turkey with a deboned duck stuffed with a deboned chicken clearly had too much time on his or her hands. Maybe this is the kind of meal that results from bored culinary students getting high before their finals.

That said, I was willing to approach the meal with an open mind. I like turkey. I like chicken. I think I ate duck once and liked it. There was no reason to suspect this meal should be any less than the sum of its parts.

The first red flag popped up when I was advised to try a spoonful of the drippings to taste for myself how spicy it was. Call me old-fashioned, but I’ve never been much of a five-alarm turkey kind of guy. Sure, Buffalo chicken is one of the greatest inventions known to man, but a kick ass hot turkey really doesn’t lure me to the table, let alone a spoonful of hot and spicy turkey grease.

I initially believed the excessive heat came solely from the liberal seasoning of the turkey skin. That was a false assumption.

The real fire didn’t break out until we reached the spicy sausage dressing. Yes, you didn’t misread that or suffer a sudden astigmatism. Spicy sausage dressing. I can just imagine someone sitting around thinking: “You know what this chicken inside a duck inside a turkey needs? Pork and cumin.”

By the time the meal was finished, I was cured of any curiosity I might have had about turducken. A few of us tried politely to find nice things to say about it, but even my brother was beginning to offer qualifying statements about the meal before the table was cleared. I felt bad for him, but I have to admit he did give us an unforgettable experience.

In the end, the best single word I can think of to relay the lingering impression of turducken can be found by shortening the name of the meal to its first four letters.



© 2011 Mark Feggeler

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