Turtle soup

Recently a friend gave us some fresh turtle meat he’d caught, knowing we’d be interested in trying it. Snapping turtle is a legal game species in Missouri, though one we’ve never experimented with before. The meat itself is delicious, and I used it to make some Creole-style spicy stew, adapting an online recipe to use farm-sourced ingredients we had on hand. It came out so well I decided to share my approach, as it’s a great example of adapting recipes to use in-season CSA produce and a soup that could easily be made vegetarian or with other more typical meats.

turtle_soup_1While the online recipe has an exceptionally long ingredient list, here’s what I used (farm-sourced ingredients shown above and listed in italics). The recipe called for a very large amount of roux (starting with 1 cup butter), which seemed excessive to me, so I downsized it by half, using a combination of butter and our home-rendered lard. This dish doesn’t take much work, but does take a long time to make properly, so is best for an afternoon when you’re doing housework or something. While a true Creole recipe requires things like celery and green peppers, the soup comes out just fine using sweet potatoes, turnips, or whatever else is on hand.

1/4 cup lard, plus more for sauteeing/browning
1/4 cup butter
1/3 cup flour
1 quart mushroom broth
1 quart preserved tomatoes
2 dried Cayenne peppers
1 bundle thyme
A couple pounds of turtle meat
Small bundle green onions
5 garlic scapes
~1 lb sweet potatoes (nearly the end of last year’s stock)
3 Hakurei turnips
salt to taste

(1) Cooking the turtle
Heat a bit of lard in a large pot and brown all the turtle pieces, then add the tomatoes & mushroom broth. Bring to a simmer, and allow to cook for several hours until the turtle is quite tender and falling off the bones. Can add the bundle of thyme or other herbs as an aromatic here if desired. I also tossed in the dried hot peppers at this point.

(2) Making the roux
In the meantime, the roux will take as long to cook properly as the turtle, so should be started now as well. Heat whatever fat you’re using (lard, butter, oil) over setting 4-5 in a heavy (I like cast-iron) skillet until bubbling. Add the flour and stir to mix. This should cook initially over medium heat, stirring every few minutes, then gradually have the heat reduced over the next half an hour or so. After about 30 minutes, as the roux begins to darken to a peanut-butter-like color, turn the pan down real low and let it slow cook for hours while the rest of the soup is cooking. Stir it now and then to make sure it’s not burning; I’ve found I can leave a roux alone like this all afternoon if the temperature is set right. A simmer mat can help with this, too, if you don’t trust your stove on its own.

(3) The rest of the soup
After a few hours, having done some other housework or whatever in the meantime, test the meat to see if it’s tender (the roux should also be a rich brown color). Strain the meat from the broth (returning the latter to the stove) and set aside to cool for a few minutes.

Meanwhile, heat some more fat in a pot and start sauteing any vegetables you’re using (in this case the garlic, onions, sweet potatoes, and turnips). You may have to do these in several batches. When done, add these to the simmering broth.

When the meat is cool enough to handle, strip the bones clean and chop/shred the meat into small chunks, then add to the pot along with the roux. Simmer the entire pot, stirring to ensure everything mixes, for at least another hour. The soup should thicken and blend into a rich, creamy texture with hearty flavor. Mine looked something like this:

turtle_soup_2This could be finished in as little as 4 hours; mine ended up cooking for much longer as I started making it around 1pm and we didn’t eat until nearly 9. The long cooking didn’t hurt it a bit and probably helped blend flavors. This is a rich and hearty soup that goes a long way; the time put into making it will save you several meals’ preparation over the next few days (the photo above is about half the total yield). And it’s the perfect recipe to adapt to your needs; as long as you make the roux and use some tomatoes and broth of your choice, the rest of the ingredients don’t matter all that much as long as they’re good and go well together.

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