I wasn’t sure what to do with the rather ambiguous dark-ish white meat of the wild turkey that had been in our freezer downstairs since is was harvested in April. Not one to shy away from unusual game meats (squirrel pot-pies, anyone?), I remain not so fond of any turkey, wild or otherwise and Google searches between then and now suggested that it would be stringy, tough, dry, (insert unflattering adjective here) and that my best bet might be to grind it. So, I’m pretty darn proud of these recipes. While not entirely of my own creation (both recipes are adaptations), I believe that I took a notoriously difficult to cook bird and made it good, actually.
Anyway, brining was the obvious first step. I had had great results with boar meat we brined earlier this year so I was excited to see what would happen with another game meat that, supposedly, can be drier and “gamey-er” than wild boar. What to do with the turkey after it had been given its nice salty bath wasn’t so obvious. I was still worried about the breast meat drying out, so baking, frying or roasting seemed out of the question. But a slow braise with low heat provided the answer to my questions. Now, honestly, braising doesn’t actually keep the meat any moister than other cooking methods. What it does do, however, is to provide a little more control and even cooking. We were happy with the results and I think you will be too.
Turkey Brine *adapted from Georgia Pellegrini
In a large saucepan combine:
- 12 cups water
- ½ cup apple cider vinegar
- ½ cup brown sugar
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 3/4 cup kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon ground mustard seed
- 4 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 tablespoon crushed black pepper
- 1 tablespoon dried thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon dried orange peel
- Peel of 1 lemon
1. Bring all ingredients to a boil.
2. Remove from heat and let cool, preferably to room temperature to avoid cooking the turkey.
3. Add meat and submerge, cover with a weight so it stays completely submerged in liquid.
4. Brine breasts for up to 12 hours.
5. Remove, rinse, pat dry and refrigerate for 3 to 24 hours before cooking.
Simple Braised Wild Turkey *adapted from Mark Bittman
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 boneless breast (2 halves)
- 1/2 pound bacon or pancetta, diced (optional)
- 1 large onions, diced
- 1/2 pound shiitake or other mushrooms, sliced
- 5 large carrots, peeled and diced
- 1 bunch celery, diced
- A few branches fresh rosemary
- 3 cups turkey stock or water, or more
- Chopped fresh parsley for garnish (optional)
1. Put the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Season the turkey and brown the breasts in the skillet, mostly on the skin side; remove and keep them separate.
2. Heat the oven to 300, and cook the bacon or pancetta (if using) in the remaining fat in the skillet until nearly crisp; remove with a slotted spoon. Cook the onions, mushrooms, carrots, celery and herbs, in batches if necessary, until beginning to brown and soften, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer with the bacon or pancetta to a large roasting pan, then nestle the breasts in among the vegetables. Add stock or water to come about one-third to halfway up the sides of the breasts.
3. Place the breasts in the oven, and cook, uncovered, until tender, 30 to 45 minutes or until done. (They should register 155 on an instant-read thermometer.)
4. Slice breast meat and serve on a platter with the vegetables garnished, if you like, with parsley.