Wednesday, January 23, 2013

How to cook a wild turkey

Wild turkey (1)
Wild turkeys are nothing like their fat commercialized cousins. They live in the forests around New England like kings, and indeed, they are rather majestic. They can fly and are very impressive when in flight. They don't need help from a farmer to produce offspring. They're decidedly NOT fat, either. Cooking a wild turkey is similar to cooking a commercial one, but very different at the same time. You have to be more careful with a wild turkey, and the cooking time is shorter, too.

Ready for roasting
We were lucky enough to get two wild turkeys just after the season ended, from a friend who had more turkey than freezer space. I gladly took them off his hands, because nothing beats the flavor of wild turkey. It's so different from the pale, big breasted things you get at Market Basket!

The first thing you'll notice is that our turkey looks a lot more like a chicken than a turkey from the grocery store. Wild turkeys do not have massive breasts. They also don't have any white meat, so be aware of that. The breast meat is much lighter in color than the rest of the bird, but it's all dark meat, make no mistake. The skin is a bit more yellow than store-bought birds, and in this case, the wings were removed before we got it into our pan. The bird itself weighed about 10lbs or so, and this one was male, so I'm told (the other one we have was female).

Bread for stuffing
We like stuffed birds, and so I made a bread stuffing for our wild turkey. You may prefer a rice stuffing, or something entirely different. When cooking wild bird, however, never leave the cavity empty or you will end up with a terrible gamey flavor throughout your meat. Stuff it with a quartered onion, if nothing else, then discard the onion when ready to serve.

Add butter and an egg or two
For my stuffing, I used the bread ends from a 12 grain loaf that were starting to go a bit stale. I cut the bread into cubes about an inch in size, then mixed in a couple tablespoons of butter and two eggs. Some people like to add in the liver of the bird, or even beef liver, and I have done this in the past for a very delicious stuffing. Since I didn't have the liver, I couldn't do that this time. I added a variety of spices (celery seed, salt, pepper, paprika, minced fresh garlic, and dehydrated onion flakes).

Add the spices
Stir it around a bit, then add in just enough freshly boiled water to moisten the entire thing. It should look a bit mushy without having standing liquid. If you add too much water, you can toss in a few more bread cubes. Not enough water is solved by pouring in a bit more. Mix it all up very well until it's quite mushy but sticking together almost like a thick, lumpy batter. Allow the stuffing to cool enough to put your hands into it, because it's much easier to stuff a turkey with your hands than with a spoon!

Making it self-basting
Wild turkeys do not come with pop up timers (although you can buy them) and are not self-basting. However, you can easily make your turkey mostly self-basting by adding bacon to the top of it! Once your turkey is in the pan, breast up, and you've stuffed it, spice up the skin however you like. Then carefully lay three or four slices of bacon (I used three, split in half) over the majority of your turkey. As the turkey cooks, the bacon will drip grease, basting your bird for you. The bacon also adds a touch of flavor and seems to pull out any gamey taste, as well. And... well... it's BACON.

I roasted my turkey in the Westinghouse cooker for several hours. I cooked it at a very low temperature, about 250F, for just about six hours total. For the last half hour, I put the pan into the oven and finished it off at 350F, to brown the breast skin and crisp it up. I wish I had photos of the finished product, because it was quite lovely and moist, but we gobbled it up so fast that I forgot to take pictures.

By cooking the turkey with the bacon over it, I avoided most of the basting. I did go and baste about twice or three times, right near the last hour. I wanted to make sure the flavors were distributed well. When I put the bird into the oven to brown, I shoved the bacon off, exposing the skin underneath. It crisped up beautifully.

Wild turkey has a much more earthy flavor than commercial turkey. You know it's wild. It isn't offensive at all, but the flesh has a different texture. It's a bird that lived a free life, not one in a cage or a small box, and its meat reflects that life.

When cooking any game, always double-check before you begin cooking. Make sure the innards are fully cleaned, and salt it if you feel it necessary. This bird still had a bit of lung in the upper cavity, which isn't unusual (it happens with commercial birds, too!) but would taste pretty funky if left in to cook. Even deer steaks or roasts should be rinsed very well and patted dry with a towel. With a bird, you want to get inside with your hands and feel around for anything that doesn't seem right.

What's your favorite game meat? How do you prepare it?

NOTE: Don't forget about the Freehold giveaway! The contest is open until January 29th, so enter now!

This post was shared at the Homestead Barn Hop #96 (click here to enter).
We're also listed on the Old Fashioned Recipe Exchange 1/29 (click here to enter).

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1) Image by imagefactory / morgueFile free photos