After first gaining popularity in New Orleans, the Turducken—that’s a chicken stuffed inside a duck inside a turkey-- has made its way onto some of the more adventurous Thanksgiving tables in Iowa. For two restaurant owners in Oxford, it’s a way to share the cuisine of a city they left years ago. Iowa Public Radio’s Durrie Bouscaren reports.
If you’ve decided to take on the challenge of cooking a Thanksgiving turducken—it’s a long and complicated process involving more meat than most people eat in a whole month. But New Orleans expatriate Ben Halperin knows his way around a stuffed turkey.
The kitchen at Augusta Restaurant in Oxford can’t be more than 200 square feet and is filled with the smell of woodsmoke—That’s where head chef Halperin has spent the past week filling 87 turducken orders.
"I decided to do the turducken for the family one year, then somebody said we should try it as a special, so we tried it," Halperin said. "Next thing you know, I think we sold 100 of them the first year. It was a little bit crazy."
Each turkey has to be carefully deboned without breaking the ski. Then, with a nod to his training in New Orleans kitchens, Halperin adds layers of cornbread stuffing with Andouille sausage, cuts of duck, more stuffing, and finally, chicken breasts.
"This is some of the New Orleans stuff we like and miss, and this is some of the stuff I know from growing up in the Midwest," he said.
Halperin has sold Turduckens every Thanksgiving for the past three years—and now, he makes them for Christmas and the Superbowl, too.
While Halperin commands the kitchen at Augusta, his wife Jeri manages the front of the house.
In 2004, Jeri and Ben met while working in restaurants in New Orleans. A year and a half later, their homes and their city were destroyed in Hurricane Katrina.
"It was rough," Jeri said. "We went to each other’s house and got what little we had left and what could be salvaged. It wasn’t very much."
They moved back to Chicago, where Ben had grown up. But on a road trip through Iowa to visit friends and family, they heard about an old building for rent in the town of Oxford—population 800.
"[A friend] told me about an older building that was just adorable, I said let’s just check it out. Not investors, or anything like that. The rent was very reasonable to startup," Jeri remembers.
"We're kind of gamblers, I guess," Ben agrees.
The Halperins will celebrate Augusta’s sixth anniversary in January. Ben says Oxford is the smallest town he’s ever lived in, but the community here keeps them going.
"They’ve supported us over the years which is why we’ve been here so long. Otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to stay. That works too—you can get snowed in to this town."
Even though the snowy months ahead are a lot colder than winters in New Orleans, the Halperins say they’ll continue to serve up Cajun fare off of Highway 6 in Eastern Iowa, as long as the travelers keep coming.