wild turkey in a field
Suzy Brooks
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Mario Batali has joked that he’ll roast a whole turkey and then throw away the breast. Why? Because the dark meat is the best part, with the most flavor. The same applies to wild turkey, but most gobbler hunters are firmly and only breast men, tossing everything but the white meat. This is a mistake. Not for ethical reasons or hippy-dippy love-your-food logic, but because if you’re not eating the legs and thighs, you’re missing a hell of a good meal. Wild turkey legs are tough buggers, so you don’t want to eat them right off the drumstick like you’re at a Renaissance Fair. The secret is in braising or parboiling them, then forking the dark meat free of cartilage and bone. Here’s how we do it, with a few of our favorite turkey leg recipes to boot.

Turkey Leg Recipes Food Prep

After you’ve butchered the birds for the breast meat, keep peeling back the feathers and skin until the thigh is exposed. Push the legs down against the joint until you hear a snap, then work your knife into the hip joint, cutting across where leg meets body. We freeze all our breast meat by the half—one turkey—but try to batch a season’s worth of legs in one package when possible. In the middle of summer, when we get that hankering for pulled pork, we pull out all the legs and make a giant batch of dark meat, used over the course of a week or so to make variations on our favorite shredded turkey, chicken and pork recipes.

For the Pre-Cook:

1. Thaw the legs and thighs, then cut them at the joints as is necessary to fit into your pot. We use a large sauté pan.

2. Cover the meat with water so no part of the turkey is exposed. For every pound of meat, add two tablespoons of salt and one tablespoon of whole black peppercorns.

3. Cover the pan and place it in the oven at 250 degrees. Every hour, flip the turkey pieces and add water as needed.

4. The turkey is ready when it comes apart easily with a fork. When in doubt, cook it longer. We’ll often leave it in for four to six hours on a lazy day around the house.

5. Remove the meat, giving it a light rinse with cool water in a colander, then transfer it to a butcher block and shred it with a fork and tong. Separate the cartilage and bone from the tasty bits.

6. You can store this shredded meat in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three days. We’ll often make a meal that night, then divide up the rest for different recipes, letting it marinade in the intended sauce or rub.

JAMAICAN JERK TURKEY

This jerk chicken variation started from a recipe on chowhound.com. A traditional jerk rub is applied to a solid piece of meat, but it works great with shredded gobbler.

Ingredients

The Rub:

  • Olive oil
  • 1 pound shredded wild turkey leg
  • 1 Tbsp. ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp. ground allspice
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1½ tsp. ground nutmeg

Marinade:

  • ½ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • ½ cup dark molasses
  • 1/3 cup white vinegar
  • one-third cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • 10 peppercorns
  • 5 medium garlic cloves, smashed
  • 3 medium scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced
  • 1½ cups cilantro, coarsely chopped
  • 1 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 3-inch piece fresh ginger, sliced
  • 1 habanero pepper, sliced into rounds
  • 1 cup water

Directions

  1. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet at low heat.
  2. In a bowl, combine the cinnamon, allspice, salt and nutmeg to form the rub. Mix in the turkey.
  3. Add to the turkey to the pan, stirring frequently until it browns, generally about 15 minutes.
  4. Combine marinade ingredients in a bowl, adding them to the pan once turkey has browned. Lower the heat and cook until reduced, stirring occasionally, for about an hour.
  5. Serve over rice, or with fried plantains for an island feel.

TEX-MEX PULLED TURKEY

Originally a recipe for barbecue pulled chicken from eatingwell.com, this one called for a slow cooker, but we can skip that step since we’ve done all the tenderizing in advance. It cooks faster on your stovetop and makes for a wicked good sloppy joe.

Ingredients

  • Olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pound shredded wild turkey leg
  • One 8-ounce can tomato sauce
  • 1 4-ounce can chopped green chilies, drained
  • 3 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp. honey
  • 1 Tbsp. paprika
  • One Tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tsp. dry mustard
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 cup water

Directions

  1. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil, adding more as needed, in a 2-quart pot. Toss in the onions and cook on low heat until they’re translucent (about 8 to 10 minutes), then add the garlic.
  2. Add turkey to the pan and cook about 10 minutes until it’s slightly browned.
  3. In a bowl, mix together the remaining ingredients and add these to the pot.
  4. Cook on low heat for about an hour. Add more water as necessary to keep the turkey submerged in the sauce for a delicious sloppy joe mess.
  5. Serve on soft rolls or hamburger buns.

HONEY SESAME TURKEY WITH RAINBOW SLAW

This sticky, sweet and tangy Asian-inspired turkey dish started with an idea from parsleysagesweet.com. First, make the out-of-this-world slaw, as the longer it sits, the better it tastes. The original recipe called for separating the sauce and thickening it before adding back the meat. We thickened the sauce with the turkey right in it, letting it sit on the stove a while for extra tenderness.

 For the rainbow slaw:

  • 1 small red bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • One small yellow bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1 small orange bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • ½ a small head of red cabbage, shredded
  • 1 small red onion sliced thin
  • ¼ pound snow or sugar snap peas
  • 5 peanut oil
  • 3 rice wine vinegar
  • 1 soy sauce
  • One clove garlic, very finely minced
  • 1 tsp. freshly grated ginger
  • 1¾ tsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. sesame oil
  • lime juice
  • pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Cut and combine all of the vegetables in a bowl, then toss with all the liquids.
  2. Mix well, cover and store in the refrigerator while you cook the turkey.

For the honey sesame turkey:

  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 pound shredded wild turkey leg
  • ½ cup honey
  • 2 rice wine vinegar
  • ½ cup chicken stock or broth
  • 2 soy sauce
  • 2½ tomato paste
  • 3 cloves garlic finely minced
  • 2 tsp. fresh, grated ginger
  • 2 cornstarch mixed into 2 Tbsp. of warm water
  • 1 toasted sesame oil
  • Sesame seeds

Directions

  1. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a pan on medium heat. Add the turkey and cook until browned.
  2. Mix all of the other ingredients except the cornstarch, water and toasted sesame oil in a bowl, then add to the pan.
  3. Simmer covered until sauce has reduced. This will take about 20 minutes.
  4. Once the sauce has reduced, add the cornstarch that’s been dissolved in two tablespoons of warm water and the sesame oil. Stir and keep cooking on low heat until sauce has thickened. The mixture should be thick and glazed.
  5. Top with sesame seeds to taste and serve alongside rainbow slaw.

BEER-BRAISED TURKEY TACOS

This was another recipe that called for separating the sauce—first found on foodandwine.com. It also required a blender-made vegetable puree and a few other tricks we didn’t have time for. (We like to chew our vegetables, not drink them.)

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 pound shredded wild turkey leg
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 medium white onion diced
  • 1 large oregano sprig
  • One large jalapeño, coarsely chopped
  • 1 medium tomato, coarsely chopped
  • 1 ancho chile, coarsely chopped
  • One 2-inch cinnamon stick
  • One 12-ounce bottle of dark beer
  • 1 cup water
  • Corn tortillas
  • 2 Tbsp. toasted sesame seeds and cilantro sprigs, for garnish

Directions

  1. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large cast-iron skillet and brown the turkey before moving it to a plate.
  2. Add another tablespoon of olive oil, the onion, garlic, oregano and jalapeno. Cook on low heat for about 8 minutes.
  3. Add the tomato, ancho chile and cinnamon stick, cooking for another five minutes.
  4. Return the turkey to the pan and add the beer and water. Cover and simmer on low heat for one hour.
  5. Uncover your pot and keep it to flame until sauce reduces and thickens to your preference.
  6. Serve on top of warmed corn tortillas, garnished with toasted sesame seeds, diced onions, cilantro and a glass of good beer.

WILD TURKEY FRITTATA

A great way to start the day, this twist on a Spanish classic comes from a creative cleanout of our refrigerator.

Ingredients

  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 large white onion, diced
  • One large red pepper, diced
  • 1 bunch of red kale, deveined and chopped into 1-inch bits (nearly any leafy greens will do)
  • 1½ cups shredded wild turkey
  • 1 baked sweet potato, peeled and diced
  • 1 Tbsp. dried rosemary
  • 2 Tbsp. dried thyme
  • 6 eggs

Directions

  1. Heat a frying pan and add a tablespoon of olive oil.
  2. Add onions and cook on a medium flame until they’re translucent.
  3. Add diced peppers, and more oil as needed, cooking until the peppers and onions have browned.
  4. Slowly incorporate the chopped greens so they don’t splash oil on your stove. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
  5. Cover the pan for about 5 minutes to encourage reduction.
  6. Add the turkey. If using turkey from another recipe (as we often do) then don’t season. If you’re using plain shredded turkey, add the herbs.
  7. Add the diced sweet potato.
  8. Gently stir the ingredients together.
  9. Simmer on low heat for 10 minutes.
  • Whisk together six eggs and add them in, shaking the edges of the pan gently to cover all nooks and crannies. Do not stir.
  • Cover with lid and put it over low heat.
  • Cook until eggs are just solid throughout, generally about 10 minutes.
  • Slice into quarters, and serve directly from pan.
  • Garnish with parsley.

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