Turkey hunters, prepare to thaw that turkey

31_6752THANKSGIVING TURKEYS  — With help from the community, the local Food Pantry was able to assemble 144 food-boxes for Thanksgiving. There were 150 turkeys purchased and for each one a Holiday Cash card was given and one produced a wild card. The bill at IGA was over $2,100 but the wild card covered the amount of the purchase. Shown here are Jamey Byrnes, IGA manager, and Elmer Philipps of the Food Pantry with a Thanksgiving turkey.  I-O Photo by Barb Endler

By Diane Tipton, FWP/PIO

For those wild turkey hunters who tucked their spring or fall harvest into the freezer with good intentions, Thanksgiving is a call to action.

If that bird was properly wrapped and sealed it is not too late to make it into a feast your guests will relish–even if it has spent more time in your freezer than it did in the wild.

Consider this Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks warden sergeant’s experience.

“This summer I ‘found’ a whole, frozen, wild turkey in my freezer from two years ago,” said Randy Arnold, of FWP in Billings. “Fearing the worst, I thawed it out to discover very little freezer burn.”

Here is how Arnold turned a frozen, forgotten bird into a delectable  meal or two.

He first separated the wings and legs and cut the breasts from the breast bone. The legs and breast spent the night in brine–a mixture of one cup salt, one cup brown sugar and two quarts chicken stock.

“The next day I patted the pieces dry and did a lattice of bacon around the breasts and pinned it with toothpicks,” he said.

Arnold put the breasts and legs into the smoker with hickory chips at 250 degrees until they reached an internal temperature of 170 degrees, or about four hours.

“The legs were tough, but tasted good. The breasts were some of the best I had ever eaten,” Arnold said. “Sliced thin with some mayo, the breast didn’t make it a day.”

Another method for cooking a wild turkey is to deep fat fry it. Prepare the meat first by injecting it with a liquid mixture of favorite seasonings. Or, cut it in strips or cubes, dip the pieces in milk or buttermilk, then roll them in crumbs and spices. Deep-fat fry the prepared meat, taking care not to overcook it.

Another popular way to cook wild turkey is by using the basic brown-n-serve oven bag. Scott Opitz, an FWP fisheries biologist in Livingston, adds a sliced, fresh pear and the better part of a bottle of ginger beer to the dressing to help keep the bird moist in the oven bag.

A wild turkey’s breast meat may be the most popular portion, but experienced hunters have some tasty ways to prepare the remainder of the bird. Ron Snyder, an FWP fish culturist at the Jocko River Trout Hatchery near Arlee, removes the breast then puts the rest of the turkey in a crock pot with a base of chicken broth to simmer until the meat falls away from the bones. After screening out bones and cartilage, he adds veggies, seasonings and noodles for wild turkey soup.

Serve wild turkey breast as a romantic main dish for two, or as the principal ingredient in a variety of holiday appetizers.

While you and your guests savor this holiday treat, keep in mind that your wild turkey matured the old fashioned way–in the great Montana outdoors. Its flavor will embody the environment that produced it. There is no viable way to compare that eating experience to a feasting on a commercially raised turkey with a lifespan measured in weeks.

Save those apples and oranges for a nice dressing!