After an exciting week of looking for turkeys, waiting for turkeys, and ultimately harvesting a turkey in the course of three exciting hours, it was time to eat the turkey! I got my turkey a little before 8 am, and since I hadn’t planned to be in to work until 10, I went right home and worked on butchering it. I took some pictures, and I’d love to show them to you, but they might gross some people out, so I won’t. There are some pictures of fresh wild turkey meat below, though, so if you are squeamish about seeing what your food actually looks like, you might not want to read too much farther.
The reason I took the pictures was not only to document the occasion, but because the inside of a young wild turkey is really beautiful! The dark meat is verydark, but there were two different shades of dark in there, one more burgundy and the other nearly purple – and the strands of fat along the legs and thigh were bright yellow! There were all sorts of other colors in the turkey, as well, including a bright green that was revealed once I had the meat cut out – something like the spleen must have been ruptured either by a piece of shot or perhaps by the death throes.
At any rate, I cut out the breasts, which were enormous (hubba, hubba), and then the thighs and legs as one piece with the bones still in. This was a lot easier than the effort that goes into preparing a whole turkey for roasting – plucking, singing, gutting, etc. – and I got most of the meat out. However, without the protection that the skin and the layer of fat next to it provide, I was going to have to be creative in cooking it to make sure that it didn’t dry out.
Creativity in cooking is not tough for me – in fact, it is much more difficult for me to stick to a recipe than to play around a little with the ingredients. But, as I imagine is the case for most of you, I really only cook turkey once a year, and I always do it the same way – I roast the bird whole with some stuffing and serve it with gravy and cranberry sauce! I guess I cook it two ways, actually, because I use the leftover carcass for soup, as well. Neither of those would work for what I had now, though – I didn’t have the skin to keep the juices in while roasting, and I didn’t want to turn all of my lovely meat into simply a soup addition. I looked around for some turkey recipes, but most of them involved cutting it up into pieces, or adding a thick sauce. I wanted to make sure that I could taste the flavor of the wild game, and I also wanted to get a good sense of the texture of the meat in its whole form, so I had to do a little more thinking.
I decided on baking it, and was planning to marinade it in a light mixture to add some moisture. However, when I whipped up a marinade from ingredients on hand in my kitchen (a couple different oils, cider vinegar, some red wine past its prime, honey, mustard…), it turned out disgusting! As much as I hate throwing food away, I couldn’t see ruining my one chance at cooking this turkey on something I didn’t think would work, so I poured it down the drain. Looking through the cupboards for inspiration, I came upon a package of “organic creamy Portobello mushroom soup” that I had forgotten I had. I wasn’t sure what it would taste like (I had bought it on clearance on a whim), but I opened it and sampled it, and it seemed mild enough. Plus, it wasn’t super-thick “cream of mushroom” soup, so I felt like I could use it and not feel that I had made the traditional Mid-western turkey casserole! I poured it over the turkey and vegetables in the roasting pan, and poured more on as the turkey cooked (essentially basting with it). Meanwhile, I cooked up a batch of wild rice that my roommate had harvested the year before as a side dish. When I was sure the meat was done, I took it out of the oven and let it cool briefly. When I went to slice the meat, it didn’t seem juicy at all, and I was afraid that it would be too dry, but I served up a couple plates of it and hoped for the best.
Mmmm… delicious! I usually prefer dark meat to light, but it was a toss-up on this turkey! The breast meat was extremely tender and mild – almost like a store-bought chicken breast, only better. The dark meat was not dry, but it was a little tough, and there wasn’t much of it once it had been sliced free of the bones and tendons. It had a lot of flavor though, still mild but rather unlike domestic turkey or chicken. That makes sense, though – who knows how many miles that jake was walking each morning to find a hen who would even give him the time of day!
I wound up making the second leg and the bones of the first into a soup after all – cooking it with some vegetables, herbs, and spices and topping it off with baking powder dumplings. That made a nice dinner the following week and a couple good lunches, as well. I still have one breast in the freezer, waiting for a special occasion or a culinary inspiration!
How do you like to cook wild turkey? Suggestions for me for that second breast?