Spring turkey hunting season lasts the whole month of May in New York State, and a couple of weeks ago, I went upstate to try for a few birds with Hunstman Wayne. I’d already gone on a turkey hunt with Wayne in 2011, but I had missed my chance, mostly because of my lack of experience. This year, I was back with a vengeance, and, hopefully, better confidence in my shooting skills — all those hours at the Westside Rifle & Pistol Range have to bear fruit at some point, right?
The first day didn’t bode well. We didn’t see or hear a single gobbler (you’re only allowed to kill males in the spring), despite Wayne’s efforts. And believe me, Wayne is a hell of a guide. First off, he used to work for New York’s Bureau of Wildlife as a Senior Fish and Wildlife Technician, and he’s been hunting turkey for over 35 years. He’s lived all his life in Tully, and knows every plot, every turkey spot, and every hunter or landowner in the area. He has access to enough private land that you’re unlikely to run out of possibilities when looking for birds. Finally, you almost get two guides for the price of one, as it’s not rare for his brother to help him locate turkey at sunset and sunrise, thus covering twice as much ground. Also. throughout the hunt, he’s in contact with other professional outdoorsmen in the area, getting near real-time updates on the day’s hits and misses!
In the evening, as we were roosting the turkeys, we finally located one. The idea is, around nightfall, to make an owl call to try to get the birds to “shock gobble” (the equivalent of “Shut up, I’m sleeping!”). The tom only gobbled once, but that was enough for us to know where to try our luck the next morning. We went to bed early in anticipation of an early start, as we had to be absolutely sure we’d be the first ones taking positions in that spot the next morning.
Day 2, 4:30 AM. We’re already set up against a tree and are waiting for sunrise. Everything seems to go by the plan: the gobbler gobbles, flies down the roost, does his little number… and then we spot five hens following him. At this point of course, the male’s more interested in getting the orgy started than looking for a hypothetical sixth partner (us) that he can’t see. In a desperate attempt, we even try to move to a new spot between their current location and the “bedroom” (a nice hay field nearby), but that’s easier said than done. It’s after 9 AM now, and the chase is over.
So we move to another spot after being tipped off by Wayne’s brother. Almost immediately, we hear gobbles coming from various directions. In less than half an hour, we take position by a tree, call one of the toms, get him within gun range, and I promptly shoot him as he turns his head in response to Wayne’s seductive hen call. Amazing!
The unlucky gobbler turned out to be a quite respectable bird, according to Wayne. A 3 year-old tom weighing about 22 pounds and sporting a 10″ beard. If you’re interested in how to skin a wild turkey in the field, check out my video. Here’s the result once brought back into the kitchen:
I ended up making three different recipes out of the various parts of the bird: a plov, schnitzels, and sausages. The plov is the one I’m sharing with you today. You may remember my Uzbek Lamb and Green Pea Plov. This one’s made in a similar fashion, with bomba rice — a Spanish variety commonly used in paella due to its absorption power — just with different vegetables, and with wild turkey prepared two ways — as meatballs and as leg confit. Note that the confit yields twice as many servings as the rest, so you can either invite the neighbors and double the proportions of the plov, or keep the drumsticks for another meal.
Wild turkey confit
Yields about 8 servings
2 wild turkey thighs and legs (about 3 lb)
kosher salt (see below)
6 oz chicken fat
4 black garlic cloves, thinly sliced
4 peppercorns, crushed
- Separate the legs from the thighs at the joint, and wrap the tips of the legs in foil (if they’re pointy, they might pierce the sous-vide pouch they’ll be cooked in).
- Weight the meat, then weigh 2.5% of that weight in salt. Cover the turkey with the salt, then place into sous-vide pouches with the chicken fat, black garlic, peppercorns, and cloves. Cook in a 166 F water bath until tender, for 20 to 30 hours. In my limited experience, the time depends on the age of the bird — a young tom will probably be ready after 20 hours. You should be able to feel the meat giving in when you press on it through the sous-vide pouch.
- Let cool and refrigerate. The confit will keep several days in the fridge.
Wild turkey meatballs
Yields 4 servings (8 meatballs)
1.5 oz diced shallot
1 tbsp chicken fat
1 oz rice
4.5 oz carrot juice
10.5 oz wild turkey meat (taken from the wings and carcass)
1 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp Urfa pepper
canola oil (for deep-frying)
- In a small saucepan over medium heat, sauté the shallots in the chicken fat until translucent. Stir in the rice, and cook for about 1 minute. Add the carrot juice, bring to a simmer, then cover with a lid and cook on very low heat, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is fully absorbed. If the rice is not fully cooked, add a little bit more carrot juice and cook some more. Remove from the heat, let cool, and refrigerate.
- Grind the turkey meat using the large die of a meat grinder. Measure 2.1 oz of the cooked rice. mix into the meat with the egg, ground coriander, salt. and Urfa pepper, then grind again with the small die. Either refrigerate, or proceed with the next step immediately.
- Shape the forcemeat into 8 balls. Heat the canola oil to 375 F in a deep-frier, then deep-fry the meatballs until just golden brown — don’t fry them for too long, or they’ll get dry.
- Take the meatballs out of the oil, drain on paper towels, and let cool. Wrap in plastic film, and reserve.
Yields 4 servings
4 oz carrot juice
4 oz Flame raisins
wild turkey confit
4 oz julienned scallions (white part only)
8 oz julienned butternut squash
2 oz chicken fat
1/2 tsp ground star anise
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/8 tsp black pepper
5 oz bomba rice
12 oz turkey stock
wild turkey meatball
4 tsbp thinly sliced scallion greens
- Bring the carrot juice to a simmer, then poor over the raisins, and reserve.
- Open the wild turkey confit sous-vide pouch, and measure 12 oz cooking liquid, including some fat (when coming out of the fridge, both the liquid and fat will be congealed, which makes it easier to measure). The proportion of fat you want to include is up to you, but I would shoot for 20-25%. Reseal the pouch, and heat the wild turkey confit in a 140 F water bath.
- Heat a wok over high heat. Sauté the scallions and butternut squash in the chicken fat until brown. Mix in the ground star anise, cumin, and black pepper. Add the rice and the turkey stock without stirring, and cook until the liquid is fully absorbed.
- Add the raisins with the carrot juice, and arrange the meatballs around the wok, pushing them down so that they barely pop out. Pour the reserved liquid from the confit, lower the heat to medium, then simmer until the liquid is almost completely gone. You’ll notice that we haven’t added any salt: the confit liquid should be salty enough to season the whole dish!
- Turn off the heat, cover with a lid, and let stand for about 15 minutes.
- Arrange the confit meat (and the accompanying black garlic) on top of the dish, pour a couple tablespoons of the confit liquid on top, and sprinkle with scallion greens. Serve immediately.