The Drunken Legend Of Thompson's Black Turkey

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Nov 21, 2012

We're not sure if this recipe works below. But it's a great story and sure looks like one hell of a time. In the meantime, football fans and tailgaters in New England can watch our holiday TV special "A Thanksgiving Tailgate" Thursday at 10 a.m. on New England Cable News, broadcast across the six-state region. You can also see our recipes here for deep-fried turkey, homemade mason-jar cranberry sauce and our culinary masterpiece, deep-fried stuffing.

By Kerry J. Byrne Cold, Hard Football Facts turkey-in-residence

Ever hear of the legend of the black turkey?   It's a fascinating story and a perfect tale for your typical booze-and-food loving CHFF troll.

(The story never appeared on the Herald web site, so I'm offering a version of it here.)  

The legend of the black turkey is attributed to humorist Morton Thompson, who died in 1953, long before his bird became an internet phenomenon.  

Basically, a black turkey is a giant turkey that you coat in a paste of eggs yolks, lemon juice and mustard and then baste all day while boozing heavily with your pals.

The paste-and-baste process encases the turkey in its own skin, producing a mahogany-colored meat so tasty and tender that it's spoken of with religious fervor and 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."

Cryptic versions of the story are found all over the web.   Thompson wrote about black turkey in his 1945 collection of short stories called "Joe, the Wounded Tennis Player."

He had served it at some point to famed essayist Robert Benchley (grandfather of "Jaws" author Peter Benchley), who kept alive the story after Thompson's demise.   

The full recipe is below. This is a long, long recipe! So don't try it on Thanksgiving. Maybe give it a test run over a long weekend with friends.  

You start with with a large bird and then create the basting liquid, paste and the most elaborate stuffing I've ever seen. Then it's time to lubricate your own system.

According to Thompson's legend, you start with a tall glass of a cocktail called the Ramos gin fizz (recipe below ... does not look good), then move on to martinis, and by the time the amazing turkey is done you're so liquored up you'd probably eat just about anything.  

The skin will darken until it becomes a black, cindery crust. It will look like it's ruined, but the fall-off-the-bone tender meat will range in color from golden brown to mahogany. Basically, you create a casing and the turkey cooks and tenderizes in its own juices.  

There's a great quote about the black turkey on the web: "Several years ago I ate a turkey prepared and roasted by Morton Thompson. I didn't eat the whole turkey, but that wasn't my fault. There were outsiders present who ganged up on me."  

Morton Thompson's Black Turkey

1 "huge" turkey (16 to 30 lbs.) with giblets Salt and pepper  

Clean bird and pat dry. Rub inside and out with salt and pepper.  

For the basting liquid


1 clove of garlic

1 large bay leaf

½ t. coriander

Salt to taste

32 ounces cider or white wine  

Chop heart, gizzard, liver and put them in a stew pot with the neck, garlic, bay leaf, coriander and however much salt looks right. Cover with about 5 cups of water and simmer on stovetop. Cider or white wine will be added just before basting.  

The Ramos Fizz

Four egg whites (save yolks, which you'll need later)

An equal amount of whipping cream Juice of half a lemon (minus 1 t. juice, which you'll need later)

½ t. confectioners sugar

An "appropriate" amount of gin

Club soda

Dash of orange flower water  

Blend egg whites, cream, lemon juice, sugar and gin with a few ice cubes. Pour soda water in a talk cocktail glass, then add blended gin mixture. Add some more ice and orange flower water. Start drinking.  

For the stuffing

1 apple, diced

1 orange, diced

1 large can crushed pineapple

Grated rind of 1 lemon

3 T. preserved ginger

2 cans drained Chinese water chestnuts

2 t. hot dry mustard

2 t. caraway seed

2 t. celery seed

2 t. poppy seed

1 t. black pepper

2½ t. oregano

½ t. mace

½ t. turmeric

½ t. marjoram

½ t. savory

¾ t. sage

¾ t. thyme

¼ t. basil

½ t. chili powder

1 T. poultry seasoning

4 T. parsley

1 T. salt

4 headless crushed cloves

1 well crushed bay leaf

4 large onions, chopped

6 good dashes Tabasco

5 cloves garlic, crushed

6 stalks celery, chopped

3 packages unseasoned bread crumbs

¼ lb butter

¾ lb. ground veal

½ lb. ground pork

Turkey fat  

Mix together apple, orange, pineapple, lemon rind, ginger and water chestnuts in a large blow. In a second bowl, mix together all the spices, herbs and vegetables (from dry mustard to celery). In a third bowl, mix together bread crumbs, butter and meat. At this point, switch to martinis and take a big swig. Mix together all the ingredients in a fourth, larger bowl, by hands until well blended.  

For the paste

4 egg yolks (reserved when making cocktail)

1 t. fresh lemon juice (reserved when making cocktail)

1 T. onion juice

1 t. dry hot mustard

1 garlic clove, crushed


Mix together yolks, juice, mustard and garlic, and then slowly add enough flour to form a "stiff" paste.  

Baking the turkey

Preheat oven to 500 degrees while making the paste. When oven reaches temperature, add bird, breast-side down on a rack. When the bird has begun to brown all over, remove from oven, reduce heat to 350, and paint the bird all over with the paste.

Return bird to oven until paste sets, and then repeat this process until all the paste has been used. During this process, add the cider or white wine to your basting liquid.  

Then baste the turkey every 15 minutes, without fail, starting with basting liquid on your stovetop, but using liquid in roasting pan when possible. However, you must make sure that the juices in beneath the bird neither dry up nor burn, but that it doesn't become to thin and weak to make a flavorful gravy. Roast turkey about 12 minutes per pound.  

Turkey will darken in color and after about 2 hours will turn black, eventually becoming a cindery crust. It will look as if you have ruined it, but the meat beneath should turn to a mahogany color and will fall apart when you start carving.

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