Every time I cook with wild turkey, four things run through my mind: it will be gamey, it will be tough, it will be chewy, it will be dry. Those four fears not only run through my mind, but they try to dictate how I will prepare my wild turkey. I take those four things and try to construct a plan for the handling, preparation, and cooking of my turkey that avoids those four possibilities. Those four fears also lead to me half jokingly say before I set a plate down in front of an eater, “If it tastes bad, we are ordering pizza.” And every time I make something with wild turkey, the first bite shoves those four fears out of my mind and instead all I can say is “Oh man!”
While making this latest wild turkey meal, I tried to start with the idea that it was going to work. I tried to think about how I wanted to meal to taste at the end and not how I was going to try and manipulate the meal around the fact that the protein in it was wild turkey. This got me thinking about my four fears and why they were so ingrained in my head. I guess it is because they fit the myths formed when trying something new. These myths can really be used to describe any new food experience: it will taste different and the texture will be weird. So, I decided to give these four wild turkey myths a little debunking.
My Wild Turkey will be Gamey
I cannot 100% define what meat being “gamey” actually means. All I can determine is when people say something is gamey they mean “I don’t like it.” A few things I think people mean when they say something is gamey is it tastes strong, perhaps a little overwhelming to the taste buds, possibly an earthy flavor. I think people also are referring that the animal tastes like what it has been eating. For example, I have heard people say mule deer tastes like sage brush, or that wild turkey tastes like garlic.
I can’t change someone’s mind about if something taste gamey. All I can say is that all meat tastes a little different. And I think you can develop a liking of the way a meat tastes by trying it a couple of times, maybe prepared a couple of different ways. I was not a huge elk fan growing up. I didn’t mind deer, but elk was a little harder for me to try. The same goes for duck. And I am still working on developing my taste for goose, which has so far been unsuccessful. But I am working on it. With all that being said, I actually do not care for beef as much now that I do not eat it as often. Whenever I go out now and order a steak, it just tastes a little “off” to me.
I also think that the “gamey” taste many people describe comes from how people care for their harvest afterwards. There are a variety of techniques and tricks people have for cleaning and processing an animal, many of which I am still learning, and they can really help enhance the wild game dining experience. A few quick tips I have for cleaning wild turkey is to take time to carefully remove all the fascia from the meat. Remove as much as the fat as possible as well. Go over the meat rigidly a few times and inspect for bb’s (While they don’t taste gamey, nothing ruins a meal faster than biting into a bb!). Also, learn to properly clean a turkey so you don’t hit the croup or intestines (they can really makes things not smell so wonderful when pierced). Finally, if it is hot out when you shoot your tom, field dress the animal and put it on ice quickly in order to keep the meat cool.
My Wild Turkey will be Tough, Chewy, and Dry
While turkeys are tough birds (just ask my father-in-law, he has a few stories about some vicious run-ins with America’s favorite bird!), their meat doesn’t have to be! Any piece of meat can be tough, chewy, and dried out if not prepared properly, and no two meats are prepared the same. Even on a wild turkey, I prepare leg meat very differently from how I prepare breast meat.
For this recipe, I wanted to use the breast meat and keep it in larger-sized chunks. In order to keep the breasts from becoming tough, chewy, or dry, I decided to roast them first. In the past, I have also created some fantastic twists on turkey breasts that weren’t tough or dry using a variety of techniques, such as slow cooking and shredding the breasts, or grinding the meat with a little fat and forming meatballs or burger patties. There are lots of options out there, it is just a matter of handling the meat correctly in order to avoid having a tough, chewy, dry slab of meat laying in front of you.
So, with all that said and done, let’s get to the recipe!
Wild Turkey Tagliatelle!!!
For this recipe, I like to roast the turkey breast because I am going to be keeping it in large chunks for the dish. Roasting releases the natural juices of the meat, which helps flavor the turkey breast and keeps it from drying out. Roasting the wild turkey breast also kept the meat tender. I think if I had just cooked it on the stovetop in a pan, it would have resulted in a much tougher and chewier texture.
Season the breast liberally with salt and pepper, then place on a baking sheet. I like to line my baking sheet with a little aluminum foil to help clean-up go faster. You can skip this step if you want. I just thought I would mention it as a little tip to help with dishes.
Place the breast in the oven and let it roast for twenty five minutes, flipping once during the process. Once the meat is done cooking, set it aside and let it rest for a few minutes before slicing it into large, but still bite-sized, chunks.
While the turkey is roasting, heat a large pan over medium-high heat with four tablespoons of butter and one tablespoon of olive oil. Once the butter has melted, add the small diced onion and cook for about five minutes, until the onion is soft and starting to turn translucent. I just have to add right here, that I love the smell of onion cooking in butter.
Once the onions are soft, add the two crushed garlic cloves. If you don’t crush garlic cloves often, which I can’t actually say that I do, there is a quick little trick for it. There is no need to peel the clove. Instead, take your knife and place the side of the blade against the clove on a hard surface, like the cutting board. With one hand firmly pressed the knife against the garlic, use the heel of your other hand and gently give the knife blade a whack. The garlic should crush under the blade and then the skin of the clove easily falls off. Drop the crushed clove into the oil and you’re done!
Next, it is time to add the zucchini. You can slice the zucchini into thin, julienne-style strips, but I bought a new kitchen gadget that creates spiral cut noodles and I thought I would use it for this dish. These spiral cutters are really cheap, you can pick one up for about $10, and they work really well. You just insert the vegetable of your choice and twist. Easy! Here is a link for an example of a spiral cutter: Spiral Vegetable Cutter.
Add the zucchini to the dish, top with a little salt and pepper, and the minced fresh marjoram. Cook for two or three minutes and then add in the chunks of wild turkey.
Cook the turkey and zucchini mixture for eight to ten minutes.
While the turkey is cooking, bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil and season with a pinch of salt. Add the tagliatelle noodles and cook to al dente, according to the instructions on the box. If you are like me, you might not really know what tagliatelle noodles are. I did a little research before I used them, just to see what I was getting myself into. Basically, tagliatelle noodles are an egg based pasta similar to fettucinne. They are long, thin ribbons that pair great with meat sauces. Once I read they were similar to fettucinne, my fears of the pasta unknown were pretty much gone.
Anyway, add the cooked noodles to the turkey mixture, drizzle on the second tablespoon of olive oil, and give everything a good stir to make sure everyone has a little of the butter sauce on it.
To serve this wild turkey dish up, place a heap of the turkey, zucchini, and noodles on a plate. Sprinkle on some fresh shaved parmesan cheese, and then garnish with a pretty zucchini flower straight from the bush (if you have a zucchini bush it is a fun little touch to add to the dish, if not you don’t have to worry about finding a flower, the dish is designed to be amazing without it). The flower is also edible!
Before I sign off, I have to say that this dish was definitely better than ordering pizza. My fears of it being gamey, tough, chewy, and dry were quickly replaced with “Oh man!” at the first bite. The turkey was juicy and tender, not tough or chewy at all, and it paired really well with the zucchini. The very simple butter and olive oil sauce was delicious and delicate while the marjoram added a beautiful aroma to the dish. Enjoy!