In 2006, I wrote a blog piece about the Legend of the Black Turkey. Every year it seems to get more random Internet hits. Last year, a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving, I was interviewed by a reporter for the Boston Herald. He had stumbled upon my blog and wanted some details on the turkey story. It was a pleasant interview, and he said the article would appear the following week. I checked online every day, well past Thanksgiving, but the piece never appeared. A full year later it shows up. Here it is:
by Kerry J. Byrne, The Boston Herald
Earlier this month we looked at the craft of smoked turkeys with barbecue champion Chris Hart; earlier this week it was the fine art of deep-fried turkeys. We close out our turkey triumvirate with the legend of the black turkey, one of the more curious food stories I’ve ever encountererd. Here’s the legend, based largely on a piece we published in the print Herald last year before Thanksgiving:
Writer Morton Thompson died long before the age of the Internet—July 7, 1953, to be exact. But he created a foodie phenomenon that percolates around the web more than a half century later.
It’s the legend of the black turkey, a charred-skin bird that’s painstakingly prepared during a day-long drunken boozefest with friends but that produces delectable, mahogany-hued meat so tasty and tender that it’s spoken of only in reverent hyperbole.
“Thompson’s turkey is to turkey as Miss Monroe is to women, as (Bobby) Jones was to golf,” wrote Richard Gehman in his 1966 book, “The Haphazard Gourmet.” Versions of the story are found in seemingly random places, from the website of an Australian Christian missionary, to more typical food blogs, to the best-selling 2003 novel, “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” which was turned into a movie in 2009.
Thompson wrote about the black turkey in a 1945 collection of short stories called “Joe, the Wounded Tennis Player.” He had served it at some point to famed essayist Robert Benchley (the grandfather of “Jaws” author Peter Benchley), who kept alive the story after Thompson’s demise.
“It’s far from a hoax,” said Craig Smith, who’s written about the history of black turkey at his blog (sewayoleme.wordpress.com). “Anybody who’s ever tried it said it creates the most amazingly tender, delicious turkey they’ve ever had.”
Here’s the short version of how to prepare the allegedly delectable black turkey, with links to recipes below:
Take a “huge” turkey, simmer the giblets with herbs, spices and cider to create a basting liquid.
Start drinking, preferably a gin cocktail called the Ramos Fizz.
Then make an elaborate stuffing of fruit, herbs, spices, bread crumbs, ground veal, ground pork and butter. Fire the oven to 500 degrees and create a “stiff” paste of egg yolks, lemon juice, onion juice, spices and flour.
Now move on to martinis.
When the oven’s red hot, add the stuffed bird and keep drinking martinis until it starts to brown. Lower the oven to 350, remove the bird, coat it with paste, return to oven, let the paste set, and continue the process until all the paste is used. Then baste the bird with the liquid every 15 minutes, enlisting drinking buddies in the effort.
The skin will darken until it becomes a black, cindery crust. The fall-off-the-bone tender meat will range in color from golden brown to mahogany.
You will be very drunk by this time.
“It’s like cooking a turkey in crockery or clayware. It creates its own casing and locks in all the juices,” said Smith, the black turkey historian. “It’s a legend that’s only grown and that people talk about with awe.”
If you ever actually attempt to make one, shoot us a note and let us know how it goes…you know, after you sober up.