Here’s a way to make that tough, old tom a little more palatable
Many regular readers look to April for a recipe for wild turkey. You might be disappointed that it doesn’t come from my buddy Robert Cardwell this year, but I think this recipe of mine for cooking one side of a wild turkey breast will be one you’ll love.
Sometimes, wild turkey breasts can get dry and even a little chewy, especially if you manage to outsmart an elder-statesman longbeard. This recipe is any easy way to prevent drying out, and it doesn’t require a lot of actual prep time. Eliminating issues without adding prep time or difficulty is one of the purposes of this column. This recipe hits those marks and tastes good, too.
April has finally arrived, and sportsmen across the Southeast are beginning to creep though the woods searching for Mr. Tom Turkey. Fishing is kicking off, too, with plenty of opportunities, but turkey season is only open for a month or so, and each year, we try to have a turkey recipe for successful hunters to enjoy the bounty of their hunt.
Turkey hunting has grown exponentially as opportunities have increased. As they have flourished, April has become a special time for hunters.
Not only are turkeys the largest non-migratory game birds in the Southeast, they are delicious and can be prepared in a variety of ways. Younger turkeys are typically more tender, but older turkeys — wily, smarter and much more difficult to coax within shotgun range — can be a bit tough on the table. That’s where this recipe shines.
This is a very simple and easy way to prepare a single breast, and works well with all turkeys. However, it may be just the thing to make one of those tough, old birds a welcome addition to the table. The one in the photos was a wily old bird, at least 4 years old, and even my wife commented on how tasty and tender he was.
If you aren’t aware of the magic of oven bags, this is a great example of how well they work. The big secret of oven bags is keeping the meat moist, which helps keep it tender. This is best served right out of the bag, and it often dries out and may toughen up a bit if allowed to cool. If there are leftovers, don’t try to warm them, make turkey salad.
Oven bag turkey breast
I may get shot for saying this, but that young turkey with a barely legal beard is going to be most tender on your table. It’s true, but sometimes they can act so stupid there isn’t much challenge in luring one within range. I can’t speak for all hunters, but as much as I enjoy eating game, I enjoy the challenge of outsmarting it too. I let a bunch of small deer and turkeys walk every year.
My personal best turkey is a big, old tom that weighed 23 1/2 pounds, with a 10 3/4-inch beard and 1 5/8-inch spurs. I remember every detail of that hunt, and I remember the first time I bit into a piece of that bird, which was as tough on the table as he had been in the wild. I chewed my way though a small serving and made some finely chopped turkey salad a couple of hours later. This began a quest to find a better way to prepare those older, wiser and tougher toms.
I tried a bunch of things, including a pressure cooker, but my success was limited. One day, talking with an old goose-hunting buddy, he asked whether I still ate as much duck and goose as I did in college, and the light bulb appeared over my head. I was a late-bloomer and an older, non-traditional college student. My winter college diet wasn’t tons of fast food, but a lot of ducks, geese most years. I skinned them rather than plucking them and cooked them in an oven bag so they wouldn’t dry out and get tough.
It was a great memory, and I soon found that cooking in an oven bag works well with wild turkey. I use a small oven bag and cook a breast at a time and save the legs, back, neck and other pieces for soups, stews and pot pies. Every now and then, an old bird still holds on to some of its toughness, but this works well most of the time.
I use sangria, specifically Duplin Winery White Sangria. Another wine will probably work fairly well, but I believe the citrus juices in the sangria and the vinegar in the Zesty Italian dressing combine to penetrate and tenderize the breast. This may not be important with a younger, bird, but if you’re cooking a tough, old gobbler, anything that helps tenderize it is welcome.
Cooking the vegetables in the bag seems to help, too. Regular readers know I encourage experimenting and adding or removing things to suit your personal tastes. You can vary everything but the apple slices. I don’t understand exactly how they react with this, but it’s definitely different without them.
Give this a try the next time you want to cook a wild turkey breast. It works for young and old turkeys alike, and so far, all the folks that have eaten mine like it. I believe you will too.
- 1 wild turkey breast
- 2 slices bacon
- 2/3 cup Zesty Italian salad dressing
- 2/3 cup white Sangria
- 1 small, sweet onion
- 1 bundle fresh asparagus
- 1 apple
- Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning (Substitute Cavender’s All Purpose Greek Seasoning for a milder taste)
- 1/2 stick butter
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1 tbsp flour
- 1 small oven bag
Mix the dressing and wine and use a Zip Lock bag; marinate the turkey breast in it for at least 12 and up to 24 hours. Shake the bag and turn the breast several times. Remove the breast, allow it to drain and sprinkle it all over with the Tony Chachere’s seasoning. Less seasoning will be milder, and more seasoning will be spicier.
Cut the onion and apple into slices and trim the asparagus. After removing the turkey breast, marinate the onion and asparagus for 30 minutes to an hour, turning the bag several times.
Pre-heat the oven to 350. Put the tablespoon of flour in the oven bag and shake it well, then lay it in a 9-inch baking pan. Remove the onions and asparagus from the marinade and use them to cover the bottom of the oven bag. Melt the butter and mix it with the olive oil and pour half over the vegetables. Place the breast on the vegetables in the oven bag. Pour the rest of the olive oil and butter over the turkey breast. Lay the apple slices on and around the breast. Lay the bacon slices across the apple slices on the breast. Seal the bag and cut several small vent holes in the top to allow steam to escape.
Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 75 to 90 minutes. Allow to sit for several minutes. Open and serve immediately.
Serve the breast and vegetables together. A baked potato or baked sweet potato is a good addition, as is beginning the meal with a green salad or lettuce wedge. I like to save my salad for dessert, but those who like sweets should find a warm piece of apple pie, with or without a scoop of ice cream, is an excellent way to complete the meal.
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