THIBODEAUX, La. -- Rouses Markets has rigged itself to be its shoppers first and only stop for deep-fried turkeys and that regional favorite, turducken.
The 20-foot flatbed sits out in the parking lot of one store, under a red-and-white banner, proclaiming, "Rouses Bayou Boys' Fried Turkeys." Radio and television ads are alerting consumers to the retailer's having the "largest turkey-frying rig in the country."
That's certainly something that Wal-Mart isn't doing. Neither is Winn-Dixie, Albertsons or A&P, which are all right here, "some just down the street," said Donald Rouse, president of the 16-unit independent.
"None of the chains are frying turkeys. We consider this a real service to our customers because everybody around here loves fried turkey, and this is in addition to our traditional turkeys and boneless, stuffed turduckens," Rouse said.
The family-owned company has been building itself an ever-higher, competitive edge with homemade, regional favorites for a long time. The only problem has been keeping up with holiday orders, Rouse said. This year, in preparation for the busy season, a Rouses team designed the rig on top of a flatbed utility trailer, with all the safety features necessary, Rouse pointed out.
"We've been frying turkeys for years, so we knew what we needed. We've just never been able to fry enough at a time. In fact, we'd have to stop taking orders. But now, we can do [up to] 48 at a time. Whatever it is, it's a lot of turkeys at one pump," Rouse said.
The mobile production center features burners and pots along each side and steel mesh, and tall, vertical baskets that hold a double-high stack of turkeys ready to be dropped into hot oil.
"One of our guys walks along a walkway [in the middle of the flatbed] lowering turkeys into the oil on both sides," Rouse explained.
Taking into account unaccountable weather, the rig's designers put a roof over it. This week, the mobile production center is getting a workout in the parking lot at the company's newest store.
Anybody not familiar with fried turkey might wonder what the big deal is, but Rouse assured SN it's the best kind of turkey, "crispy on the outside, and moister and juicier on the inside than a baked turkey."
It takes just about three and a half minutes per pound to fry them up, he said.
"We rub them with a Cajun seasoning mix and inject them with a marinade of olive oil, butter and seasonings -- our recipe."
Rouse said he expects the rig, which will produce for several of Rouses' units, will enable the company to at least double the number of fried birds it sold last year.
Before it got into frying turkeys, the company was already making turduckens.
That's a boneless turkey, stuffed with a boneless duck, stuffed with a boneless chicken, which is then stuffed with Rouses' homemade, green onion dressing. When it's served, the creation is sliced like a jelly roll. Sounds exhaustingly labor-intensive? Rouse said his associates are so adept after years of experience that they can turn out a turducken in 30 minutes.
The unusual item, which other regional independents and caterers now make, was not Rouses' invention, Rouse said. It seemed to have happened all at once that several people started making the triple-stuffed birds, he said. He does, however, take some credit for naming it.
"I remember being on a plane going somewhere, and thinking what would you call a thing like that?" Turducken seemed to say it all, Rouse said.