I can probably get most turkey hunters to agree the sport satisfies nearly all the five senses – the smell of pine and dew in the early morning, the throaty gobble of a tom, the sight of his majestic strut, the texture of your heart in your throat as he draws nearer. However, when it comes to taste, most turkey hunters wouldn’t rate the bird’s culinary merit any higher than shoe leather. This is where we disagree.
Last fall season, my friend, Kevin Russell, and I hunted a piece of private land north of Spokane, Wash. Among 40 acres of stone ridges and pine forest, we set up beside a pond that sits between two common roost locations. In this particular Game Management Unit, our daily and possession limit was two beardless turkeys. Ambling hens were our target.
We took our seats in a couple bushes a half hour before sunrise, and waited. Shadows began to take shape. The western sky before us softened. Geese flew overhead, honking as they passed, and their noise spurred the yelps of hens roosting nearby. We sat in the intersection of their conversation. Hens in the ravine behind us carried on with clucks and yelps while hens off to our left, overtop the pond, did the same.
I called only a few times – enough to keep them interested in our spot, curious, but not so much so that they might become suspicious, or even spot the motion of my hand on the slate.
The yelps grew louder to our left. Within minutes the sounds were quieter, off in the distance. I swear, sometimes, it seems turkeys can enter the wraith world, and pass by unseen, unheard.
Once we were certain they were out of range, we stood and assessed our options. While one group of hens had headed elsewhere, we knew there was a good chance we could change spots and try to call in the second group of hens from the ravine.
Certain to stay low and keep ridges between us and the next path or patch of flat land, we spotted a group of hens a couple hundred yards away. Because they were frolicking and moving about, instead having their heads bent to the grass, we knew they would be moving soon. There were only two directions they could go, since we knew they wouldn’t head out to the field where there was no cover and no food or water source.
Kevin and I confirmed the spots where we would post up behind a ridge. Knowing each other’s location, we sat backs against a rock, facing the direction of the turkeys, waiting. A few minutes later, I heard a gunshot. Hunt over for the day.
I wouldn’t know until I met Kevin in the field that he had taken two hens with his one shot. Because he is a generous fellow, after tagging both birds, he gave me one to take home.
I butterflied both breasts and lightly pounded them to a 1/8- to ¼-inch thickness. I brined them in six cups of water and one tablespoon each of sugar and black pepper, quarter cup of non-iodized salt. After 24 hours, it was dinner time.
For the gravy, I sautéed my onions on low heat in butter until they were soft then added my sliced mushrooms, salt and pepper, and garlic. I let those simmer for a few minutes then deglazed them with marsala cooking wine. Don’t skimp when it comes to marsala. There is a big difference between the cheap stuff and the quality $12-a-bottle stuff.
While the wine simmered and reduced, I started the canola oil to fry the breaded turkey breasts and also turned the oven on to 425 degrees. I mixed two cups of flour with a tablespoon each of salt and pepper. I beat three eggs and mixed in a half cup of buttermilk.
Once the wine had reduced, I added my beef stock and cream and continued to let that simmer. I took each turkey breast, rinsed and pat dried, and tossed it first in the flour, giving it a nice coat, then threw it through the egg mix and finally, a bowl of panko breading.
With panko now covering square inch of both sides, I laid each breast in the oil and let it cook until the edges and the facedown side were golden brown. I flipped the turkey breasts and placed them in the oven, still in the pan of oil, for two minutes.
I added my tablespoon of flour to my lightly bubbling gravy pan. (Do not add flour unless pan is slightly bubbling, otherwise you’ll get clumps of flour throughout.) Feel free to add an extra tablespoon of flour if you prefer a thicker gravy. Stir often.
After two minutes in the oven, I placed two slices of swiss cheese overtop each breast and let them cook for another two minutes. One finished, I ladled on the gravy, garnished with chives and served with potato pancakes and sour cream.
Never let another hunter tell you turkey just isn’t good eating. My friend likes to cook his wild turkey while never revealing the dish’s true identity. When his friends and family respond with enthusiasm, only then does he reveal the secret.
2 turkey breasts, 8 to10 ounces each.
1 yellow onion sliced bi-julienne (julienne stylei n half)
1 ½ cups brown mushrooms, sliced
1 cup Marsala cooking wine
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 Tbl freshly minced garlic
Butterfly both breasts and lightly pounded them to a 1/8- to ¼-inch thickness. Brine in 6 cups of water and 1 tablespoon each of sugar and black pepper, 1/4 cup of non-iodized salt. Let breasts sit in brine, covered in refrigerator for 24 hours.
To make gravy:
Sauté onions, cut bi-julienne, on low heat in butter until soft then add sliced mushrooms, salt and pepper, and garlic. Let simmer for a few minutes then deglaze with marsala cooking wine. Let wine reduce to half, add beef stock and cream, continue to reduce and simmer. Reduce to one third. Add 1 tablespoon of flour to lightly bubbling gravy. Stir often. Keep on low heat until ready to serve.
To cook turkey breasts:
Rinse and pat-dry breasts. While liquids reduce, heat 1/4 inch of canola in large sauté pan to 350 degrees and preheat oven to 425 degrees. Mix 2 cups of flour with a tablespoon each of salt and pepper. Beat three eggs and mixed in 1/2 cup of buttermilk. When liquids have reduced, take each turkey breast and toss first in flour, then egg mix and finally, a bowl of panko breading. Place breast in oil and let it cook until edges and facedown side are golden brown. Flip the turkey, then immediately place in oven, still in pan of oil, for two minutes. After two minutes, place two slices of Swiss cheese overtop each breast and let cook for another two minutes.
Remove from pan, let sit in bed of paper napkins for couple minutes to dry oil. Place on serving plate and douse in gravy, garnish with chives and serve with potato pancakes and sour cream.