The Shell Game: Eating Turtles
The evidence is clear: Man has been eating turtle for a long time. But which turtles and how?
While land turtles might be easier to catch you are safer off — gastronomically — with aquatic turtles. Land turtles eat mushrooms, and there is one case of suspected mushroom poisoning after eating a box turtle that had eaten mushrooms toxic to man (but not the land turtles.) This can be solved by capturing the land turtle and feeding it for a while until any toxin might be gone. Just remember some land turtles are protected so don’t land in jail.
Aquatic turtles do not eat mushrooms but they can often bite, and in the larger species, remove a finger or two, even after their head is severed. Some turtles, including one ocean going species with a hawk-like beak, have a poisonous sack in their neck or chest. These are the exceptions not the rule.
Whether oneth by land or twoeth by sea most turtles (and eggs) are edible. My great uncle, Arthur Blake, had a passion for turtle eggs. He also had a prodigious appetite, was always skinny, and very mean. That he was murdered over a keg of whiskey explains a lot. At least once he ate a dozen and a half turtle eggs at one sitting. The rest of the family found them … rubbery. Among fresh water turtles look for eggs in warm sand banks.
Almost the entire turtle is edible except the lungs, gall bladder, skeleton, skull and nails. The legs and tail are particularly esteemed, but remove the skin before eating. What you might also want to do is take the fresh water turtle home live and put it in a wash tub with water. Change the water every day for three days which helps to clean the turtle’s system out.
Now, how to cook a turtle? As one might expect, and a point not lost on ancient man, the turtle comes inside his own cooking pot. After killing turtles can be placed directly on hot coals, bottom side down, and left until cooked. The turtle is done when the shells separate. The shell will also be brittle. However, that is primitive cooking yielding an edible meal but not the best possible taste.
While cooking methods vary most cultures have learned to follow one of two general procedures. Kill the turtle and drain of blood (which with some large turtles like snappers can take overnight.) Drop it into boiling water for about 10 minutes, smaller than a plate less time, larger than a plate more time. Take it out, let it cool to the point you can handle it. Clean the outside, which will probably turn bright green. A lot of foul tasting stuff is on the outside of the turtle and the more you get rid of the better your turtle will eventually taste. Now the methods vary. One way is to put it in new boiling water and cook until done (the feet will be tender.) Remove meat, eat.
The second method does not do a second boil but goes instead directly to butchering. Once cleaned on the outside separate the top and bottom shells. The tail, neck and all four legs come with the top shell but there is still some other meat in the top and bottom shells. There are two little strips under the ribs of the top shell. Cut ribs to get them out. Remove the head (if still on) claws, the intestines, and gall bladder, the latter very carefully or a sour taste will pervade the meat. You now have several cuts of meat that can be cooked in a variety of ways. Some of it is choice, some tough, and some fatty. Opinions vary if you should removed any fat you see as it affects taste. It’s a personal preference. The meat then can be cooked like chicken though it does respond to slow and moist heat, particularly snapper. If you fry snapper it gets tough so soups and stews are best. But if you want fried turtle it is best to cook it by boiling first, drying, spicing and then lightly browning it in the frying pan.
As mentioned before, as reptiles turtles, especially snapping turtles, can be dangerous even after decapitation. You may also find the heart still beating in a parboiled turtle. They die hard. And while this is off the topic but related a headless, skinned, gutted venom snake can still wiggle and try to strike. This is not unique. My grandmother liked fresh eel but my mother hated to watch her cook it because the pieces would wiggle in the pan.
Primitive cooking methods for turtle vary as well. Some will cook the turtle on its back until nearly done, flip it over, cut off the bottom half with the entrails and then eat the meat out of the inverted top shell, a meal in its own plate. Others, as above, put to bottom down and cook throughly then separate, picking out the meat. I think bottom down is best if cooked whole. The different approach depends whether you are a roughing it on the trail, shy on time, cooking for others, or flavor. I prefer viscera cooked below choice meat. Incidentally, that same turtle can be cooked whole in your kitchen oven as well. (Put a pan under it.)
In Australia the Aboriginals have their own way of cooking a huge turtle. First they decapitate it and remove the entrails from where the head was. Meanwhile they’ve made large fire. Then they fill the cavity with hot coals from the fire and put the turtle on top of the rest of the coals. When done they cut off the upper shell and enjoy.
Seven turtle recipes from the collection of Keith Patton
A turtle has about 4-5 different kinds of meat. Some is tough and some is fatty like turkey dark meat. I had turtle in the S. Pacific and have cooked it that way at home. Simmer it in coconut milk, the kind in the can, not the water from the shell. Season it with:
Two cups coconut milk
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 onion, sliced
1 ounce ground almonds
1 tablespoon ground coriander
3 tablespoons oil
1 teaspoon minced ginger
2 stems lemon grass, trimmed and fleshy part bruised
3 teaspoons lemon/lime juice (substituted from 3 lime leaves)
2 curry leaves (substituted from 2 bay leaves)
1 teaspoon sugar
Salt, to taste
Grind the garlic, onion, almonds and corainder to a fine paste. Heat the oil and fry the paste to bring out the flavor. Do not allow to brown. Add the turtle, ginger, lemon grass, lemon juice and curry leaves, salt, sugar and coconut milk, and bring to boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until tender without cover and the coconut sauce has reduced to desired consistency. Serve serve over rice.ou can add more sugar for a sweeter dish.
Here are a few more. If the recipe calls for pounded meat, use a meat mallet and pound it to about 3/8 inch thick.
In the Cayman’s they serve a turtle dish where it is pounded and then sauteed in butter kind of like a weinerschnitzel then served with a sauce over it. Some of the following recipes are cajun and the sauce will tend to overwhelm the delicate flavor of the turtle. For the Eutoffee you can use one or two bags of the eutoffee mix you can get at the grocery store, or make your own which is basically onions browned in butter with flour.
1 or 2 turtles (skinned, cut into serving pieces)
1 cup flour
1 tbsp. lemon pepper
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. salt
1/4 cup bacon grease or shortening
Wash turtle pieces in cold water, drain. Mix flour, lemon pepper, salt and pepper together. In an iron skillet, heat bacon grease over medium heat. Dredge turtle pieces in flour mixture, lightly brown slowly on both sides. Remove from heat. Cover and bake in preheated 275 degree oven 2 1/2 to 3 hours or until tender.
SNAPPING TURTLE IN A POT
1 to 2 lbs. turtle meat
1/4 cup dry sherry wine
2 tsp. minced onion
2 carrots, sliced
1/8 tsp. dried basil
2 cups water
2 celery stalks cut into pieces
8 small red skin potatoes, halved
Salt turtle meat well and place in your slow cooking pot. Add all other ingredients. Then cover and cook on low heat for 6 or 7 hours or until turtle meat is tender. Remove turtle meat and cut into bite size pieces. Return meat to slow cooking pot, cover, and continue to cook on lo heat for an additional 2 hours or until vegetables are done.
2 lb. turtle fillet
1 cup potatoes, chopped
1 cup carrots, chopped
1/2 cup onions, chopped
1/2 cup green peas
1/2 cup green olives, sliced
1/4 cup oil
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1 cup dry white wine
2 cans beer
2 tbsp. lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced
Salt & pepper
2 jalapenos, sliced for garnish
Beat fillets lightly to tenderness and grill to medium. Cut fillets in julienne strips. Sprinkle with lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper. Place in casserole dish. Saute all vegetables separately in oil and add to turtle. Mix tomato sauce, wine and beer. Pour over casserole and bake covered for 45 minutes to 1 hour. At serving, garnish with jalapenos.
10 lb. turtle meat, cleaned
8 large onions, chopped well
3 bell peppers, chopped well
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 cup fresh parsley
Salt and pepper
1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
Wash and drain turtle meat. Salt and pepper and brown in oil. Put in heavy pot and add all other ingredients. Cook on low heat from 6 to 8 hours until meat is tender. Note: The only juice in this recipe is the natural juice of the vegetable ingredients – do not add water, wine, or any other juice.
TURTLE SAUCE PIQUANT
5-6 lb. turtle meat
1/2 cup flour
3 medium onions, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 medium bell pepper, chopped
4 tbsp. Kitchen bouquet
1 cup green onions, chopped
4 cup tomatoes, stewed, crushed or whole
1 large can mushrooms, optional
1/2 cup oil
Seasoning, creole or cajun
4 cloves garlic
Cut turtle in small pieces and season. Brown in cooking oil. (Most meat especially turtle gives up a lot of water. Cook until all water is gone and turtle is brown.) Set meat aside. To oil and drippings add flour and make roux. (Not too dark.) To roux add onions both yellow and green, celery, bell pepper and garlic. Cook until wilted. Add turtle, mushrooms, Kitchen Bouquet, tomatoes and bring to low boil. Then simmer for 2-2 1/2 hours or until turtle is tender. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking.
BATTER FRIED TURTLE
Soak turtle meat in cold salt water about an hour. Drain, add fresh water to cover and add 1/2 teaspoon soda. Simmer until nearly done (or pressure cook 20 minutes at 10 pounds with salt water, not soda). Remove from juice and wash in cool water, debone it and set aside. Make a thin batter of 1 1/2 cup pancake mix, 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder, 1/4 teaspoon onion powder, and water. Coat pieces of meat in batter and deep fry until golden brown. Drain on paper towel. Handle with tongs and meat does not come loose from batter.
April’s Turtle Soup
Thanks to April Barkulis for the recipe.
~ 2 lb’s turtle meat, cubed
~ 2 sticks unsalted butter
~ 1 cup all purpose flour
~ 1 cup diced celery
~ 2 cups diced yellow onions
~ 1 1/2 cups tomato puree
~ 1 quart beef stock
~ 6 hard boiled eggs, chopped fine
~ juice of one lemon
~ 3 bay leaves
~ 1/2 tsp oregano
~ 1/2 tsp thyme
~ 1 tsp black pepper
~ 3 tbsp minced parsley
~ salt and pepper to taste
In a heavy saucepan melt the butter. When melted, add the flour and cook until the flour turns the color of a penny. This roux must be stirred at all times so it will not burn. When roux reaches the desired color add the celery, onion and turtle meat. Cook until turtle is brown and vegetables are clear. Add the tomato puree and simmer for 15 minutes.
In a stock pot, heat the beef stock to a boil. When stock is boiling, add the mixture from your saucepan and stir until soup is mixed and roux is dissolved. Stock should be smooth and have body. Simmer soup until turtle becomes tender. Add the lemon juice, diced eggs and parsley. Stir together.
Thanks to R. Moore from Michigan for this recipe.
~ 1 turtle, cut into serving pieces, bone in okay
~ 1 carrot, chopped
~ 1 onion, chopped
~ 1 rib celery, chopped
~ garlic powder
~ 2-3 eggs
~ cracker crumbs, make your own from saltine crackers
~ butter, enough for browning
Place the meat, onion, carrot and celery in a large pot. Add enough water to cover. Cover pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Let set in juices to cool. When cool, drain and discard everything but meat.
In a shallow dish, beat the eggs. Season the flour to taste with salt, pepper and garlic powder or use your favorite seasoning. Roll the meat in the flour. Dip in the eggs and then roll in the cracker crumbs. Melt the butter in a large skillet. Brown the meat on all sides. Place meat in baking dish. Cover and bake at 325F for 30 – 40 minutes.
Dano’s Turtle Tips and Mushrooms
Many thanks to Dano Williams for the recipe.
~ 1 – 2 lbs turtle meat
~ whole milk
~ 1 – 2 sticks butter
~ 1 cup chopped onion
~ ½ cup chopped red bell pepper
~ 1 lb sliced or whole fresh mushrooms
Soak meat in salt water overnight. Drain. Soak the meat in milk for 3 hours. Drain. In a dutch oven or large pot, melt ½ stick of butter. Add the onion, bell pepper, mushrooms and meat. Simmer over medium low heat adding more butter as it cooks down. Continue to simmer until done stirring occasionally.
Southern Twice Fried Turtle
Our thanks to Bruce R. for sending this recipe.
~ 1 medium sized soft shell turtle, cut into serving size pieces
~ 2 cups flour
~ 1 tbsp black pepper
~ 1 tsp salt
~ 1 tsp garlic salt
~ 1 tsp onion powder
~ 1 tsp paprika
In a large bowl, combine all of the dry ingredients. Fill a large cast iron skillet half full of oil. Heat to 325F. Coat the turtle pieces in the flour mixture and place in the hot oil. Once turtle is browned, reduce heat to medium. After the oil has cooled to a slow fry, remove skillet from heat and add 1 cup of water. BE CAREFUL!!! Remember to remove the skillet from the stove in case of boil over. Remember oil and water don’t like to mix. USE CAUTION! Return the skillet to the stove. Cover and cook until all of the water has cooked out. Uncover and fry turtle until it starts to get crispy. Remove and drain. Serve with your favorite side dishes such as gravy, grits and biscuits.
Turtle Soup I
Our thanks to Jason Hunter from Texas for adapting a Paul Prud’homme recipe.
~ 3 lb’s boneless turtle meat
~ 5 bay leaves
~ 1 tbsp salt
~ 2 tsp white pepper
~ 1 3/4 tsp garlic powder
~ 1 3/4 tsp ground red pepper
~ 1 1/2 tsp onion powder
~ 1 1/2 tsp ground thyme
~ 1 tsp dry mustard
~ 1 tsp black pepper
~ 1 tsp dried basil
~ 1/2 tsp cumin
~ 4 tbsp unsalted butter
~ 4 tbsp margarine
~ 1/2 lb finely chopped spinach
~ 2 cup finely chopped onion
~ 1 cup finely chopped celery
~ 3 1/2 cup tomato sauce
~ 2/3 cup flour
~ 1 tsp minced garlic
~ 11 cups broth (preferably from turtle bones) or chicken broth
~ 1 cup lightly packed fresh parsley
~ 1/4 seeded lemon
~ 2 hard boiled eggs, cut in quarters
~ 1/3 cup sherry
Combine the bay leaves, salt, white pepper, garlic powder, red pepper, onion powder, thyme, mustard, black pepper, basil, and cumin together. Set aside.
Chop the turtle meat into bit size pieces. In a large dutch oven, melt the butter and margarine over medium heat. Add the meat and cook for 5 minutes. Add the seasoning, spinach, onion and celery. Cook for 15 minutes. Add the tomato sauce and cook 15 minutes. Add flour and garlic. Stir. Add 9 cups of broth and cook for 1 hour. Chop the eggs, parsley and lemon together. Add to the soup along with the last 2 cups of broth and the sherry. Cook 10 more minutes.
Turtle Soup II
Thanks to Jo Hampton for this recipe.
~ 1 lb turtle meat, diced
~ 3 tbsp chicken fat or butter
~ 1 1/2 quarts strained chicken broth
~ salt and pepper
~ 1 medium onion, chopped
~ 1 tbsp chopped parsley
~ 5 – 6 thin slices lemon
Prepare a richly flavored chicken broth seasoned only with salt. Set aside. In a skillet, melt the chicken fat or butter. Add the meat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the onion and saute over medium heat until onion is soft. Add the meat/onion mixture and any fat to the chicken broth and heat to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Dip servings into bowls and sprinkle with parsley. Top with a paper thin slice of lemon.
Many thanks to Jeanne Smith for sending this recipe.
~ turtle meat
~ your favorite seasonings, seasoning salt, pepper, garlic powder, etc
~ chopped onion, optional
~ minced garlic, optional
Season the meat to taste with your favorite seasonings and then roll in flour. Heat a little oil in a large skillet. Add the onion and garlic if desired. Add the meat and brown on all sides. Remove. Place the meat in a baking dish. Add about a 1/4″ of water. Cover and cook at 300F for 3 hours. Add water as needed.
Green Turtle Soup I
* 1 ten pound turtle, already prepared for cooking
* 4 qts. cold water
* 1 tablespoon salt
* 1/3 cup butter
* 4 tablespoons flour
* 1 cup Madeira wine
* 10 whole cloves
* ½ teaspoon peppercorns
* 2 bay leaves,½ bunch herbs
* 2 onions
* 2 tablespoons parsley, minced
* 8 hard boiled eggs
1. Place the upper and lower shell in a large kettle with 4 quarts of cold water, simmer gently until bones fall apart.
2. Put into soup kettle the head, fins, liver, heart, and all the meat; add all the seasonings, cover with liquor in which the shells were boiled and simmer until meat is thoroughly done; strain the mixture through a fine sieve.
3. Melt the butter and brown the finely chopped onion in it. Add the flour and cook together until brown.
4. Add a pint of the soup, a little at a time, and cook until smooth. Combine with rest of the soup.
5. Add the cut meat, the hard boiled eggs chopped fine, and lastly the wine.
Green Turtle Soup II
* One turtle,
* two onions,
* a bunch of sweet herbs,
* juice of one lemon,
* five quarts of water,
* a glass of Madeira.
After removing the entrails, cut up the coarser parts of the turtle meat and bones. Add four quarts of water, and stew four hours with the herbs, onions, pepper and salt. Stew very slowly, do not let it cease boiling during this time. At the end of four hours strain the soup, and add the finer parts of the turtle and the green fat, which has been simmered one hour in two quarts of water. Thicken with brown flour; return to the soup-pot, and simmer mildly for an hour longer. If there are eggs in the turtle, boil them in a separate vessel for four hours, and throw into the soup before taking up. If not, put in force meat balls; then the juice of the lemon, and the wine; beat up at once and pour out.
Some cooks add the finer meat before straining, boiling all together five hours; then strain, thicken and put in the green fat, sliced into lumps an inch long. This makes a handsomer soup than if the meat is left in.
Force Meat Balls for the Above: Six tablespoonfuls of turtle meat chopped very fine. Rub to a paste, with the yolk of two hard-boiled eggs, a tablespoonful of butter, and, if convenient, a small amount of oyster liquor. Season with cayenne, mace, ½ a teaspoonful of white sugar and a pinch of salt. Bind all with a well-beaten egg; shape into small balls; dip in egg, then powdered cracker; fry in butter, and drop into the soup when it is served.
Chinese Stewed Turtle
live soft-shelled turtle about 2 lb. (1 kg)
1/2 tsp. garlic , chopped
1 lb. (500g) boned chicken
5 whole Sichuan peppercorns
3 1/2 oz (100ml) vegetable oil or lard
3 1/2 tbsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp. scallions, chopped
4 cups (1 litre ) clear stock
1/2 tsp. fresh ginger, chopped
2 tsp. rice wine
Cut off the turtle’s head and drain off all the blood. Place in a pot of cold water to cover and bring to a boil. Remove the turtle and scrape off the black skin. Remove upper shell and gut. Chop off the claws. Wash the turtle well and chop into 3/4 inch (2cm ) squares. Chop the chicken into 3/4 inch (2cm ) pieces and blanch briefly in boiling water for 2 minutes.
2. Heat oil or lard in wok over high heat to about 350F (175C), or until a piece of scallion or ginger sizzles and moves around quickly when dropped into the oil. Add the scallions, ginger, garlic, and peppercorns, and stir-fry until fragrant. Add the turtle, chicken, and soy sauce, and stir-fry for 3 minutes. Add the stock, and simmer over low heat for 1 1/2 hours. Then turn the heat to high and bring to a full boil. Skim off the foam and add the rice wine. Remove and serve.
Note: This fish features tender and succulent meat in a subtly-flavored clear soup.
Greek Turtle Soup
1 1/4 sticks unsalted butter
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 pound turtle meat, medium dice
1 cup each minced celery, white onion, green bell pepper
1 1/2 teaspoon garlic, minced
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon thyme
1 cup tomato puree
1 tablespoon hot sauce
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 quarts beef stock
1 lemon, juiced
4 eggs, hard cooked and finely chopped
4 tablespoons spinach, chopped
4 tablespoons dry sherry
Melt one stick of butter in a heavy saucepan. Add flour and cook, stirring frequently, over medium heat until the roux is a light brown. Set aside. In a 10 quart saucepan, melt remaining butter and add turtle meat, veal and beef. Cook over high heat until meat is brown. Add celery, onions, garlic, bay leaves and oregano and cook until vegetables are transparent.
Add tomato puree, hot sauce, Worcestershire and black pepper and simmer for 10 minutes. Add stock and simmer for 30 minutes. Add roux and cook over low heat, stirring until soup is smooth and thickened. Correct seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. Add lemon, eggs, spinach and sherry. Remove from heat and serve. If desired, at the table add one teaspoon of sherry to each soup plate.
Louisiana Turtle Soup
2 Pounds of Turtle Meat (cubed)
3 Bay leaves
2 Sticks Butter (unsalted)
1/2 Tsp. Oregano
1 Cup All Purpose Flour
1/2 Tsp. Thyme
1 Cup Celery (diced)
1 Tsp. Course Black Pepper
2 Cups Yellow Onions (diced)
1 1/2 Cups Tomato Puree
Juice of One Lemon
6 Hard Boiled Eggs (chopped fine)
Salt and Pepper to Taste
In heavy saucepan melt butter. When melted add flour and cook until the flour turns the color of a penny. This roux must be stirred at all times so it will not burn. When roux reaches the desired color add your vegetables and turtle meat and cook until turtle is brown and vegetables are clear. Add the tomato puree and cook for about 15 minutes on low fire. In stock pot simmer beef stock. While boiling add the mixture from your saucepan and stir until soup is mixed and roux is dissolved. Stock should be smooth and have body. Simmer soup until turtle becomes tender at which time you may add your lemon diced eggs and parsley. Each plate should be served with a shot of sherry on the side.