Text by John D. Folse
GOTTA LOVE THAT WILD TURKEY! I’m talking about the bird, not the beverage. Interestingly enough, the ancient Mayan people created a drink called “balché” for their wild turkeys. Made of fermented honey and tree bark, the drink was ceremonially given to turkeys to cheer them before being dispatched.
While working on my After the Hunt cookbook several years ago, I included a chapter of recipes for Louisiana’s land game birds. Of the many options we can hunt, Louisiana’s wild turkey is probably the best known and certainly the largest.
Shortly after the season begins in April, you’ll find sportsman magazines and newspapers filled with hunters showing off their tom turkeys, tails fanned, beards and spurs proudly displayed. Bag limits are small: one gobbler per day, two per season.
I was lucky enough to turkey hunt at Giles Island several times. I quickly learned that if you miss your shot, you lose your shirttail, literally. In the spirit of full disclosure, one of my brand-new chef coats had its feathers clipped after an unfortunate miss.
There is a huge difference in flavor between a store-bought bird and a wild turkey. I’m not knocking supermarket birds; goodness knows I’ve eaten my fair share. However, a wild turkey properly prepared is worth its weight in Mayan gold.
While shooting my PBS television series, Frank Harris III, a dear friend of mine who is now deceased, invited me to lunch at his Pecan Brake Lodge in Jonesville. He prepared the most succulent turkey I have ever had the privilege of eating.
Admittedly, his recipe calls for a few extra steps. For example, he brines his turkey for six hours. He lets his turkey rest for 30 minutes before popping it into the oven, which gives him time to make a cornbread and crawfish stuffing.
But it’s all worth the effort. In honor of Frank, I am sharing his recipe for Roasted Wild Turkey with Cornbread and Crawfish Stuffing with you for the holidays. I couldn’t give you a better gift if I tried.
Chef John D. Folse is an entrepreneur with interests ranging from restaurant development to food manufacturing, catering to culinary education. Similar recipes can be found in The Encyclopedia of Cajun & Creole Cuisine (Chef John Folse & Company), coauthored by Michaela D. York.
Roasted Wild Turkey with Cornbread and Crawfish Stuffing
- 1 (8- to 10-pound) brined wild turkey
- Cornbread and Crawfish Stuffing (recipe follows)
- Salt, to taste
- Ground black pepper, to taste
- 2 tablespoons granulated garlic, plus more to taste
- 1 (17-ounce) bottle garlic turkey injector marinade
- 1 cup unsalted butter, melted
- 3 cups chicken or turkey stock, divided
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- ½ cup dry sherry
- Let turkey stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Prepare Cornbread and Crawfish Stuffing while turkey rests.
- Preheat oven to 350°. Spray a large roasting pan with cooking spray.
- Season turkey well inside and out with salt, pepper, and granulated garlic. Stuff turkey cavity quickly with hot Cornbread and Crawfish Stuffing, packing it well. (See note.) Tuck neck skin under back of turkey, and secure with wooden picks. Place turkey in prepared pan, and inject joints with garlic marinade.
- Bake for 45 minutes. Place cheesecloth over breast, legs, and thighs, and baste with melted butter to dampen cloth. Leave oven on.
- In a small bowl, combine granulated garlic and remaining melted butter. Baste turkey with garlic butter.
- Bake until an instant-read thermometer inserted in thickest portion of thigh and stuffing registers 165°, 2½ to 3 hours, basting with remaining garlic butter every 45 minutes. Discard cheesecloth. Place turkey on a large platter or cutting board, leaving juices and drippings in pan.
- Place roasting pan over medium heat. Add 2 cups stock, scraping browned bits from bottom of pan with a wooden spoon. Bring to a low boil; reduce heat.
- In another small bowl, stir together cornstarch and remaining 1 cup stock until dissolved. Add cornstarch slurry to pan, and cook until sauce is thickened. Remove from heat; add sherry, and adjust seasonings to taste. To serve, carve turkey, and top with sauce.
- ½ cup unsalted butter
- 2 cups diced onion
- 1 cup diced celery
- 1 cup diced green bell pepper
- ¼ cup minced garlic
- 2 pounds crawfish tails with fat
- 4 cups cornbread crumbs
- 2 cups chicken or turkey stock
- Salt, to taste
- Ground black pepper, to taste
- Granulated garlic, to taste
- Creole seasoning, to taste
- In a large skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add onion, celery, bell pepper, and minced garlic, and cook until tender, 5 to 7 minutes.
- Add crawfish to vegetable mixture, and cook until heated through. Stir in cornbread crumbs; gradually add stock until a semi-loose stuffing is achieved. Season to taste with salt, black pepper, granulated garlic, and Creole seasoning. Remove from heat, and let cool slightly. Keep hot if stuffing and cooking turkey immediately; otherwise, let cool completely, and refrigerate.
Find more Thanksgiving inspiration here.