Other than on a single day in November, turkeys don’t get much play as table fare, which, if you ask me, is a real shame. Though not as fat as a Butterball, an adult wild tom carries 10 pounds or more of meat. Many hunters no doubt favor the breast, but the dark, flavorful legs and thighs are great, too, when prepared correctly. To help give the wild gobbler the respect it deserves, here are seven creative and tasty recipes to try with your spring tom.
1. Greek Stuffed Gobbler Breast
An overnight brine called for in this recipe ensures that the meat stays moist throughout the cooking process, but it’s the feta and olives that give this stuffed turkey breast its bright flavor. Make your own Greek seasoning by mixing basil, dried oregano, marjoram, mint, and thyme.
1 turkey breast
½ cup kosher salt (for brine)
½ cup sugar
3 quarts hot water
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 shallot, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups, packed fresh spinach
1 cup crumbled feta
½ cup chopped black olives
1 tsp. Greek seasoning
1 tsp. kosher salt
Black pepper to taste
Make a brine by whisking the salt and sugar into the hot water until they dissolve, then let the brine cool. Next, place the turkey breast in the cooled brine, then refrigerate and soak it overnight.
After the turkey breast sits overnight, remove it from the brine and butterfly it. Do this by setting the breast flat on a cutting board. Place a sharp knife parallel to the board and slice into the side of the breast. Continue cutting the breast in half, stopping about a ½ inch from the other side, so that the breast opens like a book. Place the butterflied breast between two sheets of plastic wrap and pound it to an even ½-inch thickness.
Prepare the stuffing by heating the olive oil in a skillet set over medium heat. Add the shallot and garlic, along with a pinch of kosher salt, and cook for 3 minutes. Then, add the spinach to the pan and cook until just wilted. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the feta cheese and olives, along with the Greek seasoning, remaining kosher salt, and black pepper.
Spread the spinach and feta stuffing in an even layer over the butterflied turkey breast, leaving a ½-inch edge around the meat. Starting with the short side of the breast, roll the turkey into a tight cylinder, tucking in the edges as you go. Secure the roll with butcher’s twine, tied at ½-inch intervals.
Grill or smoke the stuffed turkey until the thickest part of the meat reaches 155 degrees. Remove the turkey from the heat and let it rest for 10 minutes before slicing. Serves 4
2. Turk-Fil-A Sandwich
In my opinion, the Southern fast-food chain’s chicken sandwiches, basic as they may be, owe their popularity to one thing: the pickle-juice marinade. The soak not only adds flavor, but plumps up the chicken—or, in this case, the turkey breast—leaving it moist and juicy, even after frying in hot oil.
1 turkey breast
3 cups dill-pickle juice
3 cups peanut or canola oil
1 quart milk
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. powdered milk
2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. dry mustard
½ tsp. baking soda
Cut the turkey breast crosswise into three to four pieces, then pound each piece into ½-inch-thick cutlets. Place the cutlets in a large bowl or zip-top bag and pour the pickle juice over. Refrigerate and let them marinate for at least one hour or, better yet, overnight.
When ready to fry the turkey, pour oil into a cast-iron Dutch oven or high-sided skillet until the oil is a couple inches deep. Set over a medium-high burner and let heat to 350 degrees.
Whisk milk and the eggs together in a bowl. Next, pour the flour in a shallow pan and whisk in the salt, pepper, sugar, paprika, cayenne, dry mustard, and baking soda.
Remove the turkey cutlets from the brine and pat dry. Dip each cutlet in the milk-egg mixture, then immediately dredge them in the seasoned flour. Place on a wire rack and repeat with remaining cutlets.
When the oil is hot, fry the turkey cutlets until golden brown and cooked through, flipping once after 3 or 4 minutes. Transfer the fried turkey cutlets to a paper-towel-lined plate.
Meanwhile, butter the top and bottom halves of the hamburgers buns, then toast them on a hot skillet. Place two pickle chips on the bottom bun and top with a turkey cutlet. Cover with the top half of the bun and enjoy. Serves 4
3. Turkey-Leg Gumbo
Whether you’re simmering the stock or stirring the roux, making a good gumbo is a slow-paced affair. Add the extra time it takes to break down the tough meat of a wild-turkey leg and this recipe may take you all day. But trust me, its spicy, piquant flavor more than justifies the wait. Just be sure to have an ice-cold Abita on hand to cool the tongue afterward.
2 turkey legs
3 Tbsp. bacon grease
1 onion, quartered
4 quarts water
For the gumbo:
1 stick butter
½ cup flour
3 stalks celery, diced
2 carrots, diced
1 yellow onion, diced
Reserved turkey stock
2 quarts of chicken stock
1 14.5-oz. can diced tomatoes
1 tsp. cayenne
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. Worcestershire
½ tsp. white pepper
½ lb. andouille or smoked sausage, sliced ½ inch thick
½ lb. turkey leg meat
Preheat the oven to 275 degrees. Salt turkey legs liberally.
Add the bacon grease to a large Dutch oven or heavy roaster set to medium-high. When the grease is hot, brown the turkey legs one at a time. Add the onion quarters to the roaster and enough water to submerge the meat a little more than halfway. Place the lid on the Dutch oven, or seal the roaster tightly with foil, and place it in the oven. Braise for 3 hours, or until the turkey-leg meat pulls easily from the bone.
Transfer the legs to a cutting board and strain the stock through a fine-mesh sieve, discarding any solids. Reserve the stock for the gumbo. Separate the meat from the tendons and shred it with a fork or fingers.
For the gumbo:
Melt the butter in a Dutch oven set over medium-high heat. Once the butter is melted, add enough flour to make a thick paste. Cook, stirring constantly, until the roux turns golden brown.
Add the celery, carrots, and onion, and cook until just tender. Pour in the reserved turkey stock and enough chicken stock to make 1 gallon, then stir in the canned tomatoes, cayenne, kosher salt, Worcestershire, and white pepper. Raise the heat to nearly boiling, then lower it to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 to 30 minutes. Finish with the sliced sausage and turkey meat, and cook for another 15 minutes, until everything is hot. Serve with white rice and Tabasco sauce. Serves 4
4. Gobbler Empanadas
Meat wrapped in dough is fan-favorite street food around the world, but in Argentina, empanadas are practically the national dish. This recipe replaces the usual Argentine beef with shredded turkey-thigh meat, but keep the traditional boiled eggs and green olives for an authentic, albeit wild, take on the South American classic.
2 turkey thighs
1 quart chicken stock
2 bay leaves
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. butter
½ medium onion, grated
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
2 tsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. kosher salt
½ tsp. red pepper flakes
6–8 green olives with pimentos, chopped
2 boiled eggs, chopped
1 package puff pastry
1 egg, beaten
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Meanwhile, in a medium pot, bring the chicken stock to a light boil. Then, drop in the turkey thighs, along with the two bay leaves, and lower the heat to barely a simmer. Cook for 30 minutes, or until the thickest part of the thighs reaches 155 degrees. Remove the thighs from the stock, let cool and, using your fingers, tear the meat into shreds.
Heat the olive oil and butter in a large skillet set over medium-high. Add the grated onion and sauté until soft. Stir in the tomato paste, along with the smoked paprika, cumin, kosher salt, and red pepper flakes. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes, then add the chopped olives and pimentos, boiled eggs, and shredded turkey.
Lay the puff pastry sheet on a counter lightly dusted with flour. Using an upturned bowl, cut the sheet into 6-inch rounds. Place 1 to 2 Tbsp. of the empanada filling onto each round. Brush the edge of the pastry with egg wash and fold over. Seal the edges by pinching them together or crimping with a fork. Make a small slit in the top of each empanada, and brush it with the remaining egg wash. Arrange the empanadas on a baking sheet and cook for 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden. Serves 4
5. Turkey–Tomato Sausage
Grocery-store ground turkey gets a bad wrap as a poor alternative for beef, but making your own ground meat from a wild turkey’s legs and thighs is a great way to respect the resource. There’s a lot of meat on a bird’s lower half, and peeling the quarters off is simple. Admittedly, the toughest part is separating the meat from the many tendons on the drumsticks, but it is well worth the effort.
3 lb. ground turkey (leg and thigh meat)
2 lb. ground pork
2 Tbsp. fennel
2 Tbsp. oregano
1 Tbsp. coriander
1 Tbsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. white pepper
1 medium onion, chopped
1 8 oz. jar of sun-dried tomatoes, diced
¼ cup packed, chopped spinach
1 cup ice water, as needed
Natural hog casings
Combine the turkey and pork in a large tub. Whisk the dry ingredients together and distribute them evenly over the meat. Add the onion, sun-dried tomatoes, and spinach, and mix everything together thoroughly. Grind the meat through the grinder’s coarse plate, followed by a second grind through the fine plate.
Using a meat mixer or your hands, mix the sausage thoroughly, adding ice water as needed, until the ground meat starts to get sticky and bind. You may need to add more water, a little at a time, until a fistful of meat squeezes through your fingers.
Rinse and soak the hog casings, following the directions on the package.
Load the meat into a sausage stuffer, or a grinder fitted with a stuffing tube, and stuff the meat into the hog casings. Measure the sausage into 6-inch lengths, twisting every other 6 inches to form links. Hang or place the links on racks in a refrigerator overnight to dry and to let the flavors develop.
Poach or grill the sausages to an internal temperature of 155 degrees. Serves 4
6. Tom Scallopini
When cut and pounded into thin medallions, turkey breasts are a natural for a light breading and panfry. Cultures around the globe have perfected this way of preparing chicken, veal, and, yes, even turkey, whether for schnitzel, piccata, or parma. But an Italian scallopini is tough to beat. If you’re lucky enough to have morels on hand, sub them in here, but any edible mushroom will do.
1 turkey breast
½ cup sugar
½ cup salt
3 quarts hot water
1 cup flour
4 Tbsp. olive oil
2–3 shallots, chopped
1 lb. mushrooms, sliced
3–4 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup Madeira or other dry cooking wine
¼ cup venison stock
Juice of 1 lemon
Fresh thyme and parsley, chopped
Make a brine by whisking the sugar and salt in hot water until dissolved. Let the brine cool. Place the turkey breast in the cooled brine, then refrigerate and soak overnight.
Cut the turkey breast crosswise into three to four pieces about inches thick. Wrap each piece of turkey in plastic wrap and use a meat mallet, rolling pin, or the bottom of a heavy skillet to pound them into cutlets about ¼ inch thick.
Set a cast-iron skillet, or a heavy ovenproof skillet, over medium heat. Add 2 Tbsp. of olive oil to the pan. On a shallow plate or pie pan, whisk the flour and salt and pepper to taste. Then, dredge the turkey in flour, shake off the excess, and place each piece in the hot pan. Cook, turning once every 8 minutes or so, until both sides are lightly browned. Cook in batches, adding more olive oil as necessary. Transfer the cutlets to a plate in a warm oven.
Add 2 Tbsp. of olive oil to the pan, along with the garlic, mushrooms, and shallots. Stir and let cook for about 2 minutes.
Add the wine and stock to the pan. Raise the heat to a simmer, scraping browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Cook for about 5 to 8 minutes, or until the liquid has reduced by half. Stir in the lemon juice and chopped herbs. Add the cutlets back into the pan, making sure they are covered in the liquid. Serve over cooked pasta and top with shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Serves 4
7. Saffron-and-Yogurt Turkey Skewers
The sweet grassiness of the world’s most exotic spice pairs perfectly with the smooth tang of Greek yogurt. As a bonus, the dairy’s enzymes help break down tough muscle fibers as the meat marinates overnight. If you don’t have saffron, a teaspoon of turmeric will do in pinch.
2 lb. turkey breast and thigh meat
1 small pinch saffron threads
2 Tbsp. hot water
1 medium onion, grated
1 Tbsp. olive oil
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
2 tsp. salt
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
In a medium bowl, crush the saffron and dissolve it into the hot water. Add the onion, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and yogurt. Whisk to blend well.
Cut the turkey breasts and thighs into 1-inch square chunks. Place the meat in a zip-top bag and pour the saffron-yogurt mixture over. Seal the bag, removing as much air as possible, and refrigerate overnight.
Start a pile of charcoal briquettes, or pre-heat your propane grill to medium-high. As the grill heats, thread the turkey onto skewers. Oil the grill grates with a paper towel soaked in vegetable oil, then place the skewers on the hot grill. Cook, turning occasionally, until the turkey is cooked through, for about 10 minutes. Serves 4
Grilling tip: The sugar in the yogurt can burn quickly and make a mess of your grill. Do as they do in the Middle East and suspend the skewers over the fire by placing each end on a brick.
Tess Rousey is a Nebraska-based photographer.