Like a team of surgeons with Ginsu knives, the butchers here at Hebert's Specialty Meats in Maurice, LA can bone a turkey by hand in four minutes.
That still isn't fast enough for owner Widley Hebert.
Business is brisk because of demand for a dish unique even by Cajun culinary standards: the turducken.
This Frankenstein of fowl is fast finding acceptance on holiday dining tables in the South and across the US.
Though it sounds like a genetic engineering test gone awry, it's really a deboned turkey, stuffed with a deboned duck, stuffed with a deboned chicken.
Layered between each bird is a choice of seasoned stuffing.
Here in south Louisiana, turduckens are flying off the butchers' shelves.
"We just can't keep up with orders," says Mr.
Hebert, using a four-foot steel spoon to stir a 150-gallon cauldron of crawfish tails, which allong with 20 trays of cornbread will be turned into turducken stuffing.
An underground turducken railroad of sorts is spreading North, and now stretches from the Bayou State to the Rockies and beyond, as local patrons mail the fowl concoctions to friends and family.
"You have to taste it to believe it," says Hunter Trahan, a car salesman at Lafayette Motors who ordered 60 turduckens to give to loyal customers for Thanksgiving.
"It's quite a blend of birds.
" "The seasonings are what makes it" says Rick Tavernia, a restauranteur in Valhalla, NY, who recently ordered two turduckens for a party with 16 guests.
"It's the perfect way to cook a turkey," declares Louisiana chef Paul Prudhomme, whose own recipe for a turducken can be found on the Internet.
"All the juices stay in the bird as it clow cooks.
It's 100% better than plain turkey.
" But making a turducken, or chuckey as they are sometimes called, isn't easy, and folks may not want to try this at home.
At Heberts, a team of highly trained carvers bones the birds, breast down, gingerly shaving a layer of meat wawy from the rib cage.
The result is a flat boneless blob of bird, with wings attached.
After the birds are seasoned with salt and black and red pepper, a choice of stuffing goes between each layer of poultry: cornbread, rice, alligator, shrimp, andouille sausage or crawfish.
"Cornbread is our most popular," Mr.
Next the birds are stitched together so that only a small hole is left open at the breast.
A tube is inserted through the hole to start squirt more stuffing intot he birds.
The finished product, ranging from 12 to 16 pounds, resenbles a deflated Butterball, and is soft to the touch, oozing spices beneath a clear wrap of vacuum-sealed plastic.
Cooking time: anywhere from 4 to 6 hours.
Cost: $45 to $65.
About 40 miles south of Heberts, another Cajun poultry expert, Charlie Faul is gearing up to fulfill his dream of putting a turducken on every table in the US.
He's convinced the birds will be a hit, particularly when it comes to carving them at the table.
"No bones, and three different meats in one slice," says Mr.
Faul, who spent years test-tasting various combinations of poultry and stuffing.
Faul's store, Charlie's Specialty Meats in Franklin, LA, is now churning out about 30,000 turduckens a year from a shiny new $2.
million poultry processing plant.
The creations are shipped to the largest supermarket chains in Louisiana, and even some local Kmarts.
His turduckens are also trickling into stores in nearby Mississippi, Alabama and Texas.
"We want to go nationwide with the turducken," says Phillip Faul, a vice president at Charlie's and a distant relation of the boss.
First, he plans to change the packaging, moving away from the rubber-chicken-wrapped-in-plastic effect to boxes with tinuy windows, like those used for bacon.
"We think it's more appropriate for retail," he says.
The newfound popularity of the dish has chefs and butchers clamoring to claim credit for its invention.
Prudhomme says he first made a turducken in Wyoming in 1962 when he was working as a young beef carver at a ski resort; he says he later introduced the recipe on a Louisiana radio show in 1982.
Faul also takes credit, as does Mr.
Hebert, who says that 12 years ago an elderly gentleman simply walked intop his shop and asked if he could make one.
The next year, Mr.
Hebert says he sold a few more, and the novelty spread until "it just got out of hand.
" His most memorable creation was for a customer from neighboring Texas: a pigturducken, which is basically a turducken in a boneless pig.
Here in Cajun Country, the turducken is just one of several creative ways to serve a turkey.
Besides grilling and smoking the birds, families employ that tried-and-true Southern culinary technique: deep-frying.
The 40-minute dunk in a vat of peanut oil seals in the flavor, which is enhanced through the use of a Cajun injector, basically a hypodermic needle used to pump marinades into the boiling bird.
The result is suprisingly nongreasy.