The Myth, The Legend, The Bird: Morton Thompson’s Crazy Black Turkey

published Nov 20, 2013
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(Image credit: Rachel Joy Photos)

There are a lot of things that can make a Thanksgiving turkey turn out rather underwhelming. The bird can be dry, flavorless, or just plain boring compared to the rest of the sides and salads that typically accompany the meal.

The infamous Thompson’s turkey, however, is said to have magical powers that put it, stunningly, in its rightful place as the star of the table. The people who have made this legendary bird claim it is by far the best turkey they have ever had. The story of how this turkey came to exist and the actual recipe itself change from person to person, but it is always incredibly labor-intensive and shrouded in an air of mystery.

The recipe changes a lot depending on who’s recounting it – but it’s always consistently crazy. What makes this turkey especially unique is the grandiose stuffing and the thick paste that turns the whole bird black as it roasts.

The stuffing of the bird usually has between 29 and 32 ingredients, including unexpected ingredients like crushed pineapple and an insane amount of spices. You could probably throw just about anything in there.

The paste is made out of a mixture of egg yolks, onion juice, mustard, lemon, chili flakes, and flour and slathered on to the bird. This paste burns quickly, so the turkey turns black as it’s cooking. But the paste is then peeled off of the bird (with tweezers) revealing a dark, crackling skin and incredibly juicy bird.

Morton Thompson, the inventor of this insane turkey, was an American writer and journalist, best known for his 1954 novel Not as a Stranger, which was also turned into a movie. Thompson supposedly made the turkey for his friend and famed humorist Robert Benchley. Benchley in turn wrote about the turkey.

The turkey has maintained its lore through two great writers: Richard Gehman in his 1966 The Haphazard Gourmet and Jeffery Steingarten’s 1998 The Man Who Ate Everything. Both claim that this turkey is the stuff of legend.

Although it’s probably too late to attempt to make this incredible turkey this year, I definitely want to try my hand at it next year. Have you ever made or tried this gastronomic wonder?

Recipe for Morton Thompson’s Bird →
Recipe for Morton Thompson’s Bird →
Chicago Tribune