Thursday, December 7, 2017

Post-Thanksgiving Wild Turkey

This year we had Thanksgiving at some friends' home and I didn't get to cook a turkey. I've gotten wild turkeys the last few years and they are a very different bird than your Butter Ball. Wild turkeys can actually fly, while commercial turkeys can barely walk. Wild turkeys have a much higher proportion of dark meat and the body is structured much differently: the breast bone is more pointed and prominent, the breast less plump and the fat has a different texture, it is more thick and stiff. 

I've gotten my wild turkeys from Exotic Meat Market. Last year I got a little lazy and treated it like a commercial bird without any special preparation. I regretted that decision because it had a slight gamy taste and was a bit stiff. I've been wanting a do-over and targeted a post-Thanksgiving bird this year which I cooked last Saturday. 

Friday night I did two things to get ready. First, I got a very large pot and brined the bird. I normally put a concentration of one tablespoon of salt per cup of water, but it was requiring a huge amount of salt so I gradually decreased the salt to about a quarter-tablespoon per cup. The brine gets extra moisture into the bird and breaks down the texture a little. I also added crushed juniper berries (about 8), several cups of apple cider vinegar and about a half cup of lime juice, all of which help break down the fibers in the turkey. Because I was brining over-night and the pot was too big for my refrigerator, I got a 20 pound bag of ice that I added to the pot and it kept the turkey plenty cold over-night. 
Brining turkey.
On ice on our back patio.
Second, I made my own stock. I bought a package of turkey tails (about 5 or 6), a large turkey wing, 3 bulbs of garlic, a stalk of celery and two large onions. I boiled and then simmered all of those ingredients for about two hours and saved the broth. 
Turkey stock
The turkey recipe I followed called for 6 to 8 red potatoes peeled and quartered in the bottom of the pan along with two medium onions, sliced, two pounds of baby carrots and two cups of water poured over it in the pan. I used regular Idaho potatoes (which I microwaved for four or five minutes ahead of time because I like thoroughly done potatoes), two huge onions and passed on the carrots. Instead of water, I covered it in turkey broth. 
Microwaved potatoes, sliced onions and Mandarin orange sections. 
The turkey was supposed to be stuffed with two quartered apples. I used Mandarin orange segments instead, from our own tree. 

The turkey was rubbed with 1 1/2 teaspoons of seasoned salt, 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper. Then I coated the turkey in a sauce that included a 1/2 cup of maple syrup, 1/4 cup of French salad dressing (I used mayo and passion fruit mustard instead), 2 tablespoons of catsup, 2 tablespoons of steak sauce (I used A-1) and a tablespoon of lemon juice (I used Key West lime juice).
The bird after brining.
The top glaze.
The bird ready for the oven.
I put the bird in the oven at 325 degrees for 3 1/2 hours, covered in tin foil. I uncovered it for about 10 minutes (the instructions said you could do up to 30 minutes). 
The finished bird with onions and potatoes in the bottom of the pan. 
Some sliced dark and light meat. 
The potatoes and onions in the bottom of the pan were amazing. The maple syrup gave them a slightly sweet taste that I really loved and the potatoes were plenty done. If I do it again, I will put in more potatoes. 

The Mandarin orange sections stuffed in the turkey stayed intact and were nice little warm, sweet nuggets to toss in the mouth. They did not soak up any of the juices from the bird and did not appear to add to the flavor of the bird or the potatoes and onions.

The turkey was moist and did not have a gamy taste or or a stiff texture like I experienced last year. Brining the bird was a good idea.

I made stuffing from a commercial box of breadcrumbs, but I added in two sweet onions, about 8 quite large cremini mushrooms, and quite a few grilled and charred Anaheim chilies and poblano peppers, all sauteed. The stuffing was very good: the mushrooms added some body and the chilies and peppers added some different texture and a slight bit of heat.
Anaheims and poblanos before grilling.
Grilled peppers and raw sliced mushrooms.
Mixture of onions, mushrooms and peppers before adding breadcrumbs. 
Some of the finished stuffing. 


  1. The turkey was good--moist white meat, a rarity. The stuffing was fantastic. I think we need to put Anaheim chiles and poblano peppers in our stuffing from now on.