John Madden was one of the driving forces behind the NFL’s surge in popularity during his decade as a coach and three decades as a broadcaster, but football wasn’t the only thing to which he brought attention.
Madden also helped the turducken to rise in national prominence after he discovered it late in the 1990s.
Before Madden, turducken was a little-known dish that was largely prominent in Louisiana and other parts of the south. Now, it’s much better known and the word turducken has been added to the dictionary.
What exactly is a turducken? And how did Madden help it become a well-known dish? Below is everything you need to know about one of John Madden’s favorite foods.
BENDER: How John Madden made football fun for every generation
What is a turducken?
A turducken is a dish that combines turkey, duck and chicken into one, as its name would suggest. It is made when you stuff a deboned chicken into a deboned duck into a deboned turkey. Typically, there are layers of stuffing in between each bird as well.
MORE: How Madden’s fear of flying led to the “Madden Cruiser”
Who invented the turducken?
This is up for debate. There appear to be two strong candidates for its creation, one of which is Cajun chef Paul Prudhomme. He claims that he invented it in the 1970s, as detailed in a NOLA.com article.
The original Turducken was introduced here in the 1970s by chef Paul Prudhomme. He invented the concept a decade earlier in Sheridan, Wyo., while working on a restaurant buffet line carving meats. Everything looked pretty except the turkey, he said. So the inventive chef set out to create something smashing. He eventually ended up with three birds, each with its own dressing. After moving back to New Orleans, Prudhomme gave it its name, then copyrighted Turducken in 1986.
“It’s that wild imagination I have and the physical abuse I give myself to make it happen,” he said, explaining the creation. “One of the greatest pleasures of my life has been to be able to do things like the Turducken that make people happy. It’s a huge effort but once you taste it, it is literally the best.”
However, Hebert’s Specialty Meats in Maurice, La., claims that they invented it in 1985 after a customer came in and asked to combine the three birds into one. The Hebert family has continued to lay claim to that space, as Glenn Mistich, whose wife Leah comes from the family that owned Hebert’s, opened Gourmet Butcher Block in 1994. Turduckens are one of their holiday specialties.
So, there are a few potential inventors of the dish, but it’s impossible to know exactly who created it. That said, it can’t be denied that Prudhomme helped to popularize it before his death in 2015.
MORE: Sports world reacts to death of John Madden
How John Madden popularized the turducken
Prudhomme wasn’t the only one to popularize the turducken. Madden took on a big role in that as well.
Madden was first introduced to the turducken during a Rams-Saints game at the Super Dome in 1996. The dish was brought to the booth where Madden sampled it. He was hooked right away and admitted that he “just started eating it with [his] hands” after getting the turducken, per NOLA.com.
And after the game, Madden called Mistich and asked if Mistich could send him one.
“I really loved it,” Mistchich said of what he remembers Madden telling him on their phone call. “Can you send one to me in California?”
Madden would go on to speak fondly about the turducken in the booth during the NFL’s Thanksgiving games and “Monday Night Football” contests throughout the rest of his career. That gave national attention to the dish and Mistich’s shop in particular.
“I’m very grateful,” Mistich said of Madden’s promotion of the turducken. “I can’t say enough about what he’s done for our business. He’s definitely put it on a national level. Turducken is even in the dictionary now.”
MORE: How John Madden started NFL’s Turkey Leg tradition
John Madden turducken video
Madden made countless references to the turducken during his days in the booth, but one that stands out is when he completely tore one apart with his bare hands on “Monday Night Football” in 2002. Al Michaels got a kick out of watching Madden explain how to cut up the bird and then doing it by using only his hands.
That was Madden’s best turducken moment caught on camera, but another great moment occurred at the Superdome. Again, he ate some of the turducken with his bare hands and then had to make a decision about whether or not to shake Saints owner Tom Benson’s hand when he came in to greet Madden, as NOLA.com detailed.
“I’m there eating this turducken with my fingers,” Madden recalled. “(Saints owner) Tom Benson comes in and I have all this stuff on my fingers and I’m doing that thing in my head where I’m wondering, ‘Do I shake his hand?’ “
(For the record: Madden did shake Benson’s hand, sticky fingers and all, and he said the two haven’t spoken since.)
For more of Madden’s best Thanksgiving moments with Pat Summerall, Al Michaels and plenty of turduckens, you can check out the video below.