Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Epicurean Adventures: A Cajun/LI Thanksgiving

One of the hardest things, as you know if you've been following this now-sporadically updated blog (umm ... yeah, sorry about that!), of moving away from a geographic area with a lot of culinary character, is knowing that the luxuries that you took for granted and the novelties that became commonplace over the course of the years, is no longer accessible. As Boy and I are nearing the time for our first family festivities both a) as a married couple and b) as homeowners, we were presented with the internal conundrum of incorporating what we've grown to love as New Orleanians into our New York/Long Island family traditions. This year would be pivotal since it'll be the first of many warm holidays at our waterside refuge, and we wanted to do it up in style and introduce our families to New Orleans things we enjoyed at this time for the past few years.

It was actually Boy's idea, the stroke of genius of how best to incorporate Big Easy novelty into a traditional Northern gathering. I wasn't sure if he'd go for this, so I didn't mention it, so was doubly pleased when he came up with it himself. But what better way to bring Thanksgiving in with an exciting, exotic bang than with an animal as unheard of on Long Island as the Texan jackalope?

Turducken was the answer.

A turducken, for those unfamiliar, is essentially a PETA-disapproved Cajun classic; a smorgasbord of unnecessary overuse of meat. It is, my friends, a chicken stuffed inside a duck inside a turkey, with layers of stuffing to help differentiate. The chicken and duck are fully deboned, and the turkey is partially deboned, usually, so it's actually super easy to carve and serve.

I was intrigued by this when I first heard of it back at my old workplace, the Mudbug office in downtown New Orleans, and upon further research, became determined to try it. My enthusiasm and Boy's penchant for meat and gluttony embarked us on a mission to find this fabulous fowl(s), and so last year, we enjoyed Thanksgiving at John Besh's Luke in the CBD. Served in a cast-iron skillet atop oyster and jalapeno cornbread, with gravy and plenty of collard greens, this was worth the search and as the featured entree for the 3-course prix fixe menu they offer daily, also worth every penny.

Granted, most families head out to K. Paul's Louisiana Kitchen for their turducken Thanksgiving out, but we were young, poor, and looking for quieter ambience, hence our decision to patronize the brasserie instead.

Anyway, this year's hunt for our Thanksgiving bird(s) has been considerably more difficult, due to our distance from Cajun country, and the obstacles presented by cross-country shipping. The price of the turduckens themselves aren't too bad, with full 15-pound birds ranging from $39-89, but the shipping is astronomical. Because it's a very large, perishable item, certain guidelines for shipping must be adhered, and many distributors are wary of shipping anything longer than 3 days. Special packaging is needed, dry ice, and et cetera all get factored into the cost. Therefore, some of the cheapest shipping I was looking at was for $33-98 for shipping alone. And obviously, the places with the cheaper turduckens had the more costly shipping, and vice versa, so an average price of around $120 became the norm in my searches.

Well, having a decent-sized mortgage on our heads, 20+ people attending our first family shindig, and bills, bills, bills, $120 for a novelty bird in addition to the traditional baste-and-roast turkey, was a bit much. Especially since the one that I wanted, with the chicken and andouille jambalaya stuffing, would have cost $138 or so. No oyster cornbread stuffing was to be found, unfortunately, and regular cornbread or pork sausage and dirty rice were the most common options. We were getting kind of saddened and stressed by this since half of each of our respective families were looking forward to trying this mythical animal, and we didn't want to disappoint. It seemed that our only option was to go ahead and order a mass-manufactured Tony Chachere's frozen turducken from Sam's Club (!).

However, at the last minute, I stumbled back upon a web site called Cajun Grocer, who was willing to ship their Lafayette, Louisiana-made turduckens ground! Huzzah! Plus, the Wall Street Journal was quoted as calling them a best value site, and they were on Fine Living Network, so double huzzah for creds! And with a discount code found on (bigeasy2, if you're curious), we saved 10% on top of that, putting in an order for a shrimp and crawfish jambalaya stuffed turducken for $89.

Hopefully, all's well that ends well, and it will be delicious. My expectations aren't so lofty as to expect our well-traveled turducken to rival the deliciousness that was turducken at Luke, but I do hope that the shrimp are properly deveined, the crawfish relatively fresh and juicy (which I'm wary about since it's not crawfish season ... another reason I'd have preferred oysters!), and the meat moist and flavor-rich by Louisiana standards.

For those of you who are interested in where my research took me before I made my final decision, here's a list of places where you can buy a real Cajun turducken and have it shipped:
Happy feasting, everyone! And enjoy your turkey or turducken day, depending on where you are :)