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(post, Judith Klinger)
One of my life’s greatest pleasures is wild turkey. Another one of life’s pleasures is having a hunting friend who shares. Our dear friend, the award winning Field & Stream editor, Jay Cassell, shared one of his birds with us and as always it’s a flavor revelation. Wild turkey tastes good. Really good. Now, I’ve heard some people say its too lean and tough, and it’s true that the legs and wings are inedible. These turkeys actually run around, so their legs are tough, it’s not like a raised turkey that just stands around waiting to be fed. But the breast meat has a distinct, delicate, non-gamey flavor. And no, it doesn’t taste like chicken. It tastes like turkey. I’ll share this cooking technique with you because even if you don’t have a wild turkey sitting in the freezer, this should taste just as good using a farm-raised turkey. The other advantage of farm raised is that they are usually well plucked. Not that I’m saying Jay’s a lousy turkey plucker. I’m just saying…. The basics: Brine for 4-6 hours Lard with bacon, fill cavity with 1-2 tangerines Roast for 1 hour Baste with maple syrup/rum glaze and keep roasting & basting until done Eat The secret is to brine, baby brine. It makes all the difference with a lean meat, and turkey qualifies as lean. Guidelines for brining are here. Brining is not the same as marinating because the large amount of salt used in brining actually causes a protein melt down and osmosis. One of the few times in life when a melt down is desirable. Due to my nomadic life style, I don’t have any spices left in the cabinet, so I headed on over to the A&P where I had a small heart attack over the price of dried herbs. $250 a pound for parsley?? $263 for marjoram? Not that I was buying a pound, but still. I wound up buying some roast meat spice mix that was about 50% salt and since I was brining anyway, this would do the trick to season the brine. I’m also a fan of the garbage bag method. Put the birdie in a doubled garbage bag, add the cooled brine to it and a bag of ice, or two bags of ice, just be sure you have enough water and ice involved to keep the bird submerged. Then it goes into an old cooler, with a good lock and onto the back porch. Raccoons can be very inquisitive so a seal on the cooler is essential. If you have a small turkey or chicken, then you can probably make room in your fridge, but the key here is to keep the bird at 38F/3.3C, or practically freezing, if you catch my drift. A few hours in the brine, a nice warm shower to start bringing the birdie up to room temp and its ready to roast. I pierced a few tangerines and filled the narrow bird cavity with the citrus fruit. This particular turkey had a strange physique, and that’s another difference between wild and unwild. The wild guys come in all shapes and sizes and this guy had the narrowest rib cage.There was no way I could get him to lay on his back in the roasting pan. I finally got him balanced and then I larded him with a full blanket of bacon, and carefully slid it into the over. Then it was basting time and it kept tipping over and now it was HOT and HEAVY and the bacon was sliding off. So finally giving into Newton’s Law of Gravity, I tipped the bird over and each time I basted it, I turned it over and moved the bacon along with it. Why am I telling you all this? Because one day you may have a tipping bird on your hands and instead of coming up with some elaborate propping up system that surely will involve scorched fingers, you now know that you can use the tip method Just make sure you are using a roasting rack in the pan or you will no longer be tipping you will be ripping that bird’s skin off. About halfway through the roasting process, I started glazing the bird using a milder variation of my maple syrup bourbon glaze. This glaze was 6 oz of maple syrup, 3 oz of rum and a stick of cinnamon. Turkey is a delicate flavor so you don’t want to overpower the turkiness of the meat. After about 3 hours, the turkey was probed for doneness and with clear juice literally bursting out of the probe hole; I knew we were in good shape. I drained the turkey juices, mixed them with the remaining maple glaze, brought to a rolling boil and just like that we had our ‘gravy’. Use a probe thermometer on a turkey, ok? I have my hands over my ears and I’m singing LaLaLA if you tell me about a pop up thermometer. Turkeys have a lot of angles, creases, crevasses and they have more mass than a chicken, so even though I can eyeball the skin on a chicken, shake its leg, check to be sure the body juices are clear and free of blood, and pronounce it done, I don’t trust those methods with a big turkey. The rest was easy. I turned over carving to the Intrepid Carving Duo, while everyone else got the veggies onto the table. There was much grousing about how long it took to take the picture, but all in all, a fine time was had by all. Rumor has it there is some more wild fowl in my immediate future. What good luck!