December 2017

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
          1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30

« Toronto's best Brit-Mex fusion cuisine | Main | World's best Jewish pork rib recipe »

December 27, 2005

Morton Thompson is a sick bastard!


Gobble, gobble!  Canadian Thanksgiving is near, so what better time to revisit one of Hungry In Hogtown's first posts, Thompson Turkey.  If you're dreading the usual turkey dinner this weekend, or are just looking for a kitchen challenge, why not give this a try?  If you do take the plunge, please let us know how it goes.  Happy Thanksgiving!

I've never been one to shy away from a challenge, especially when that challenge involves food.  Several years ago I found just such a challenge, and this Christmas I finally organized myself enough to try it.  Now, I'm not talking any ordinary challenge; no, I'm talking ten hours of work, pain, frustration, and ultimate disappointment at the hands of one of gastronomy's most sadistic cooking traditions.  I'm talking Thompson turkey.

I first came across this gastronomic oddity several years ago in Jeffrey Steingarten's wonderful book, The Man Who Ate Everything, one of the most enjoyable, and useful, food books I've ever had the pleasure to read.  Steingarten identifies roast turkey as one of North America's least satisfying culinary traditions and concludes its meat is "nearly always bland and stringy."

I couldn't agree more.  I've enjoyed turkey, sure, but when I review the roster of edible fowl -- from chicken, to duck, to quail -- I find them all immensely more enjoyable, regardless of preparation, than the ubiquitous Thanksgiving and Christmas roast turkey.  Let's be honest, is there another meat that even remotely approaches the dryness and tastelessness of a turkey breast?

Steingarten's quest to find a better turkey eventually led him to Morton Thompson's eponymous bird.  There is no easy way to describe a Thompson turkey, so I'll let Thompson explain it himself:

As it cooks, it will alarm you. The paste will begin to turn black very early in the process, but don't worry about it until the end. "You will think, 'My God! I have ruined it.' Be calm. Take a tweezer and pry loose the paste coating. It will come off readily. Beneath this burnt, harmless, now worthless shell the bird will be golden and dark brown, succulent, giddymaking with wild aromas, crisp and crunchable and crackling. The meat beneath this crazing panorama of skin will be wet, juice will spurt from it in tiny fountains as high as the handle of the fork plunged into it; the meat will be white, crammed with mocking flavor, delirious with things that rush over your palate and are drowned and gone as fast as you can swallow; cut a little of it with a spoon, it will spread on bread as eagerly and readily as soft Wurst. You do not have to be a carver to eat this turkey; speak harshly to it and it will fall apart.

Paste? Tweezers? Juice as high as the handle of a fork?  As if that weren't incentive enough, Steingarten described the turkey as "the most flavorful and moist that you will ever taste."  I had to try this.

The first obstacle to making a Thompson's turkey is shopping for all the ingredients.  The stuffing alone contains twenty-nine ingredients, many of which may have been staples in Harriet Nelson's pantry (crushed pineapple?), but certainly aren't the kind of things I keep stocked in my cupboards.  Moreover, the turkey itself has to be extremely large, at least sixteen pounds.  Our eighteen pound, free range, organic bird was more than $70, which is a lot to pay for the cooking equivalent of jumping the shark.

Dsc00144_2 The night prior to cooking the turkey, my wife and I spent almost an hour prepping ingredients for the stuffing.  The next morning, I awoke at seven, to pull the turkey out of the fridge to let it come to temperature.  An hour later I was up for good, finishing the prep work in a mild stupor.  Two hours later, I finally had the stuffing ready. Now, most people would say that five pounds of stuffing made with pork, veal, onions, pineapple, apple, water chestnuts, preserved ginger, and no fewer than fifteen herbs and spices constitutes a meal on its own. Not Morton Thompson; for him it's just step one.

Dsc00146_2_1 Having stuffed the bird, I then had to confront trussing the damned thing.  I hate trussing, and in this case, it's about as enjoyable as, ohhh... a night of bondage and discipline with Big Bird.  Nonetheless, truss I did.  And sew.  By the time I was done, the bird resembled a victim of some strange dungeon ritual involving an immensely skilled dominatrix.

After almost another three hours of prep, at 10:39 I finally put the turkey into my screamingly hot oven in order to properly brown its skin.  By 11:00, my wife was opening every window in our Dsc00147_2 apartment and frantically fanning the air around our smoke detector. Through all of this, I also had to prepare the paste for the turkey, a mustard coloured sludge composed of egg yolks and, amongst other things, onion juice.  Now, I don't know about you, but collecting a quarter cup of onion juice is a task about as futile as herding kittens, the latter being by far the more tolerable experience as it does not induce crying.  Things got so bad that my sunglasses-clad wife eventually made "onion juice" by processing two whole onions on the liquefy setting of our blender.

Dsc00149_2_1 I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy the pasting the bird.  By the time I was done I was left with something straight out of the avian version of Goldfinger.  Let's call her... Jill Gobblerson.  I was even more encouraged when the paste started hardening and darkening, exactly per my expectations.  Before I knew it, I had begun basting the bird every fifteen minutes -- as per Thompson's instructions -- in a liquid composed of a generous dose of apple cider simmered with giblets, garlic, and spices.  At this point I was feeling pretty good about things, and had begun to believe that all my hard work was about to be reward with a bird exceeding mine and my wife's wildest expectations.

Dsc00153_2_2 Then it all went pear shaped on me.  The biggest problem was trying to turn the turkey, a maneuver for which Thompson offers absolutely no advice.  There is no good way to flip a scorchingly hot, twenty-plus pound turkey, especially when said flipping must be done with minimal damage to the bird.  I tried by grabbing the front and back of the turkey.  The minute I tried to lift, the stuffing-filled area around the neck literally separated from the rest of the bird.  After cursing Thompson and his offspring, I tried flipping by gripping the side of the bird, around its wings.  This worked.  My wife and I then tried as best we could to MacGyver Humpty-Dumpty together again using a poultry sewing needle and some trussing twine.  This was not especially successful.

After three and a half hours in the oven, I decided to take the turkey's temperature.  Given that the recipe calls for at least fours hours of cooking at 325F after the high heat browning, I was shocked to  discover that my turkey was already over 170F in the breast.  I immediately declared the turkey done, and, boy, it sure looked like it had been through hell: carbon black, and literally held together by a string.

By my calculations, I'd already invested approximately ten hours in this turkey, so I was expecting a major payoff.  You can imagine my chagrin when I discovered that, despite a slightly overdone bird, Dsc00161 I had stuffing that was no where near cooked.  I removed the stuffing, and stuck it back in the oven.  As for the bird... it was underwhelming.  The meat, though juicy, was no more moist than previous birds that I had brined.  The flavour, especially in small pockets of the legs, was by far the tastiest turkey I've ever had: it was actually sweet, and redolent of the cider with which I'd basted the turkey.  The breast, however, was no tastier than other turkey meat, and there was virtually no skin as most of it had peeled off with the shell.

By far the best part of this bird was the stuffing.  Understand that I do not generally enjoy stuffing, as it's usually nothing more than a predictable mixture of bread, onion, and sage.  The stuffing that emerged from this turkey was something of a revelation, particularly given the skepticism with which I approached Thompson's recipe, with its emphasis on pineapple, water chestnuts, and a slew of other ingredients that have no apparent affinity for each other (I would be remiss, however, if I didn't mention that, as per Steingarten's instructions, I replaced all the dried herbs with fresh).  This stuffing has recognizable fruit flavours, not to mention moments where the preserved ginger really shines through.  Texturally, the water chestnuts add a noticeably pleasant crunch, but, for the most part, the ingredients seem to meld together.  The stuffing is, without doubt, the star that steals this show.  Before I knew it, I had forsaken the turkey and was busy stealing bites of a stuffing I was actually enjoying.

Intrigued?  Want to try it yourself?  The recipe is widely circulated on the internet (try here, here, and here), and there is, oddly enough, a semi-Canadian version of the recipe which was popularized by Pierre Berton and revisited in a Globe & Mail column in 2004.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Morton Thompson is a sick bastard!:



"Mocking flavour" indeed. As part of the team that prepped this bird, I am convinced that Thompson's turkey is a complete hoax. The people who have invested 10 hours of work probably feel compelled to declare it the best turkey ever for fear of looking a fool, and their guests likely concur out of politeness. We will break this cycle! (But how could Steingarten let us down?!?)

Rob fails to mention we had 3 pounds of stuffing left over that didn't fit into our 20-lb bird. And that he's sworn never to cook a turkey again, even though we've had delicious results with brining.

Saying that this turkey resembled the work of a skilled dominatrix is a definite misnomer. And I find the reference to Big Bird strangely troubling. It puts the Xmas gift of yellow feathered lingerie in a whole new light...


I took another look at the photo of the final, de-coated, turkey, and can't help thinking it looks like an Orc. Tastes better than it looks, ladies and gentlemen!


We had a similar problem cooking the bird, and had a terrible time getting the coating off.
But you are right - the stuffing was magnificent! It has become our family stuffing and is well worth the effort no matter how you cook the bird.

Harim Lee

I'm thinking about making this for thanksgiving this year... and I was wondering where you got the original recipe, I can't seem to find it online.


This recipe has been our standard thanksgiving turkey since the early 1970's - but we skip the paste coating, make the stuffing as described and cook conventionally. In my view, the stuffing is worth the work, the pasting / blackening process is not.

Ray Powell

Read about this turkey in "The Time Traveller's Wife" and decided to try it.
It wasn't as black as in your photo and the stuffing was ok, but it was way too much effort for so little gain! Next time we'll stick to our old way!

It was fun trying it though!


First heard about this in Time Travelers Wife and was slightly intrigued. Got around to trying it this year for TG. Results? Perfectly edible, the stuffing excellent (though I used lamb, not veal), juiciest ever, meh - good, but not quite as advertised. Definitely a hit with the crowd though. Would I try it again? Probably, but I think I'd brine the turkey first. Mods to the recipe - one version calls for 2 egg yolks, one calls for 12 - I ended up using 8 and a lot of cornflour to thicken the paste up to where it'd stay where you wanted it.

Handicap ramps

I want to try that recipe to cook a turkey.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Food &
Drink Blog Top Sites Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.