Making complete use of your turkey

Jim CasadaApril 13, 2008 

Another approach with the dark meat is taking a skinned and breasted carcass, with the legs, thighs and wings still intact, and placing it in a large stew pot. Cook until the meat comes away from the bones easily. The result is a meaty, first-rate stock for use in soups, wild turkey bog or similar dishes.

As for the breast, it is the culinary piece de resistance. With the possible exception of quail, there's no finer tasting wild game bird. You can breast out the gobbler and make fried turkey tenders, leave it whole for deep-fried turkey or use any of dozens of recipes for the breast. My wife and I must have at least two dozen of these in one of our cookbooks, "Wild Bounty."

Along with providing great pleasure on the sportsman's table, there are so many uses for the inedible portions of a turkey as to be almost mind-boggling. Here, in rapid-fire order, are some of them:

• Save the wing bones to make suction yelpers. There's something singularly satisfying about using the bones of turkeys past to lure turkeys present within range.

• Use the feathers for decorative purposes. They can be fashioned, along with other items from the wild, into wreathes, door decorations or dining room table center pieces. I've also seen feathers used in earrings, dream catchers and as book markers or a way of giving a personal letter a distinctive touch (a breast feather glued to the bottom of a sportsman's stationery.

• Feathers also have more practical purposes. These include use in all sorts of trout flies, with the very finest grasshopper patterns utilizing primary wing feathers. Similarly, you can make fletching for arrows from wing feathers.

• The lower legs of a gobbler have multiple uses. Straightened, bronzed and glued to pieces of wood weighted with some lead, they make attractive bookends. You can also make a fine knife handle, with the spur forming a no-slip hold fitting between your middle and ring finger, from a leg bone (use the portion from the joint at the bottom of the thigh to the turkey's foot).

• Spurs have a whole host of uses. A single spur can be fashioned into a nice tie tack. A pair of spurs makes lovely pendant earrings for the ladies, tips for a bolo tie or striking cuff links. In each case you may need some help from a jewelry maker, but the process is a comparatively simple one. For a truly impressive hatband, save up enough spurs to reach all the way around a hat (and if all of them are long, sharp and curved, so much the better). You can fashion a distinctively different key chain with a chain or ring attached to a spur (cut away the section of leg with the spur).

• Finally, don't overlook the fan. Fully spread and carefully dried, a fan can make a fine backdrop atop a gun cabinet or display case in a sportsman's den. Or, taking matters one step further, cape the turkey and include not only the fan but the feathers of the bird's back all the way to the lower neck. This produces a lovely wall hanging.

In short, the possibilities for use of your turkey, beyond the promise of fine table fare, are many and varied. Those listed above are but a sampling, and with some thought you can probably come up with other projects which will provide a full measure of pleasure along with considerable sense of inner satisfaction at having truly utilized a glorious bird to the fullest.

We are now well into the turkey season, and some thoughts in that regard are worth mentioning. Just because the season is well along doesn't mean the hunting can't be good. Some years peak gobbling occurs late in April. Similarly, don't think that all the action is limited to the first two weeks of the season. Persistence and patience, including staying afield through the day, can and often does pay dividends. Get a bird going in mid-afternoon and you are much more likely to close the deal than with one that gobbles on the roost at dawn.

For starters, the bird is a source of mighty fine food. Far too many hunters breast out their turkey and discard the rest. That's a shameful mistake. Admittedly, the legs, thighs, wings and back (the dark meat portions of the turkey) are tough, but they can form the makings of excellent pate. Just cook the dark meat, remove it from the bones, and then mix in black pepper, salt to taste, capers, fresh chives and chopped hard-boiled eggs. Run through a blender until it is thoroughly minced and you have a scrumptious spread. Better still, combine this with the organ meats (heart, liver and gizzard). Alternatively, keep the organ meats separate, hoping you will take two or three birds, and turn them into a richer pate.

proach with the dark meat is taking a skinned and breasted carcass, with the legs, thighs and wings still intact, and placing it in a large stew pot. Cook until the meat comes away from the bones easily. The result is a meaty, first-rate stock for use in soups, wild turkey bog or similar dishes.

As for the breast, it is the culinary piece de resistance. With the possible exception of quail, there's no finer tasting wild game bird. You can breast out the gobbler and make fried turkey tenders, leave it whole for deep-fried turkey or use any of dozens of recipes for the breast. My wife and I must have at least two dozen of these in one of our cookbooks, "Wild Bounty."

Along with providing great pleasure on the sportsman's table, there are so many uses for the inedible portions of a turkey as to be almost mind-boggling. Here, in rapid-fire order, are some of them:

• Save the wing bones to make suction yelpers. There's something singularly satisfying about using the bones of turkeys past to lure turkeys present within range.

• Use the feathers for decorative purposes. They can be fashioned, along with other items from the wild, into wreathes, door decorations or dining room table center pieces. I've also seen feathers used in earrings, dream catchers and as book markers or a way of giving a personal letter a distinctive touch (a breast feather glued to the bottom of a sportsman's stationery.

• Feathers also have more practical purposes. These include use in all sorts of trout flies, with the very finest grasshopper patterns utilizing primary wing feathers. Similarly, you can make fletching for arrows from wing feathers.

• The lower legs of a gobbler have multiple uses. Straightened, bronzed and glued to pieces of wood weighted with some lead, they make attractive bookends. You can also make a fine knife handle, with the spur forming a no-slip hold fitting between your middle and ring finger, from a leg bone (use the portion from the joint at the bottom of the thigh to the turkey's foot).

• Spurs have a whole host of uses. A single spur can be fashioned into a nice tie tack. A pair of spurs makes lovely pendant earrings for the ladies, tips for a bolo tie or striking cuff links. In each case you may need some help from a jewelry maker, but the process is a comparatively simple one. For a truly impressive hatband, save up enough spurs to reach all the way around a hat (and if all of them are long, sharp and curved, so much the better). You can fashion a distinctively different key chain with a chain or ring attached to a spur (cut away the section of leg with the spur).

• Finally, don't overlook the fan. Fully spread and carefully dried, a fan can make a fine backdrop atop a gun cabinet or display case in a sportsman's den. Or, taking matters one step further, cape the turkey and include not only the fan but the feathers of the bird's back all the way to the lower neck. This produces a lovely wall hanging.

In short, the possibilities for use of your turkey, beyond the promise of fine table fare, are many and varied. Those listed above are but a sampling, and with some thought you can probably come up with other projects which will provide a full measure of pleasure along with considerable sense of inner satisfaction at having truly utilized a glorious bird to the fullest.

We are now well into the turkey season, and some thoughts in that regard are worth mentioning. Just because the season is well along doesn't mean the hunting can't be good. Some years peak gobbling occurs late in April. Similarly, don't think that all the action is limited to the first two weeks of the season. Persistence and patience, including staying afield through the day, can and often does pay dividends. Get a bird going in mid-afternoon and you are much more likely to close the deal than with one that gobbles on the roost at dawn.

For starters, the bird is a source of mighty fine food. Far too many hunters breast out their turkey and discard the rest. That's a shameful mistake. Admittedly, the legs, thighs, wings and back (the dark meat portions of the turkey) are tough, but they can form the makings of excellent pate. Just cook the dark meat, remove it from the bones, and then mix in black pepper, salt to taste, capers, fresh chives and chopped hard-boiled eggs. Run through a blender until it is thoroughly minced and you have a scrumptious spread. Better still, combine this with the organ meats (heart, liver and gizzard). Alternatively, keep the organ meats separate, hoping you will take two or three birds, and turn them into a richer pate.

Jim Casada would welcome information on upcoming events of interest to area sportsmen. He can be reached through his Web site, jimcasadaoutdoors.com, or at (803) 329-4354.

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