In a prior post I blogged about making peacock and vegetable pie. When I was at the Exotic Meat Market warehouse in Grand Terrace to pick up the peacock, I learned that they had some red-eared slider turtle meat available and I had to get it. I've only tasted snapping turtle (turtle soup and grilled turtle) and wanted to try some other variety.
I picked up a package that include four pairs of back legs and a package that included quite a few front legs.
|Red-eared slider turtles. Picture from here.
|Four sets of back legs that include the pelvis.
|Many front legs that were not connected.
I read that turtle could taste kind of swampy and I wanted to take every precaution to remove any objectionable taste. I've also had turtle that was very tough and wanted to break it down to make it as tender as possible. The use of a combined brine and marinade can help with both of those concerns. By immersing meat in brine, the brine that has a higher concentration of salt than the moisture in the meat is absorbed into the meat by osmosis and any flavoring in the brine is carried into the meat. The osmosis also removes much of the blood in the meat and reduces the gamey taste. The salt denatures (alters) the chemical structure of the proteins in the meat causing them to unwind and form a matrix that traps the water and allows the flavoring agents to permeate the meat. Marinade uses acidity to break down the texture of the meat and make it more tender. Acid, like citrus or apple cider vinegar, can give a mushy exterior to meat which is perfectly acceptable when you are dealing with wild game.
For my brine/marinade mix, I used 1 tablespoon of salt for each cup of water, adding enough of the mix to fully cover the meat. Then I squeezed the juice from two Meyer lemons into the brine and added a fair amount of apple cider vinegar, probably five or six tablespoons. Finally, I crushed about 8 juniper berries into the brine and also added some crushed ginger. I added the turtle meat, sealed it in Tupperware and put it in the refrigerator overnight.
|Turtle legs in the brine/marinade. The black specks are pieces of juniper berry and the yellowish/white specks are lemon seeds.
The next morning I poured out the brine/marinade and thoroughly washed the turtle meat and patted it dry. The meat turned a gray color because much of the blood was removed.
|The turtle legs are now gray because much of the blood has been removed. Using kitchen shears, I cut off the claws.
I wanted my soup to be thick with vegetables. So I cut up two red peppers, 2 poblano peppers, 6 Anaheim chiles, 1 large onion and 1 bulb of fennel and fried it quite slowly in a frying pan in olive oil and some wagyu beef fat and a little bit of wagyu beef. I sprinkled it liberally with cayenne pepper, sage and sweet basil and added, added four large tablespoons of chopped garlic and a quarter package of frozen sweet white corn near the end. Then I added the mixture to a crock pot, along with the turtle legs, 32 ounces of chicken stock and 14.5 ounces of chicken broth. I also added two heaping spoonfuls of vegan chicken bouillon, then cooked the mixture on low for six hours.
|Turtle soup mixture in crock pot.
I couldn't have hoped for it to turn out any better. The vegetables were nice and plentiful and the broth was flavorful. Best of all, the turtle was very tender and moist and came right off the bones. It had no gamey taste at all.
|My first sample of soup to see how the turtle turned out. I hold a front leg. The meat came right off the bone.
|A bowl of the soup full of vegetables.
|One of the meatier back legs.
|Left over bones from a bowl of the soup. Note the bare bones - evidence that the meat came right off.
The combination of brine/marinade followed by crock pot cooking has given me the desire to try snapping turtle again, a larger and meatier turtle. I believe that this same process will help transform that meat into a more pleasant product.