Never having eaten turtle before, the first thing Edward Kim did when he got a few pounds of snapping-turtle meat was panfry some. “I cooked it really quickly—I saw how quickly it was tensing up, and I was like, I need to try it when it’s medium rare. I hadn’t done my due diligence to see how safe that was.”
Not very safe at all, as it turns out. Kim was worried about salmonella, but after he and one of his cooks tasted it, the cook commented that reptiles are known for having E. coli. “But I’m OK; I’m still standing,” Kim said. “Maybe some psychosomatic hot flashes and stuff like that, but other than that I’m OK.”
The meat he got came from Chicago Game and Gourmet, and was already cleaned and frozen. Kim said he considered buying live turtles, “but then I thought about who was going to clean it.” When possible, though, he does like to use live animals like soft-shell crab. “There’s not much joy taking away life, but seeing that whole process allows you to cook it with more care and more heart because you really know that a life was taken to make this product.”
Some of the cooks in the Ruxbin kitchen felt bad about cooking turtle, Kim said, but the fact that they were using snapping turtle made things a little easier. “The nice thing is that they’re not like the box turtles people grow up with as pets. They’re pretty vicious. You don’t feel too bad about eating them.”
Kim said that the consistency of the raw meat was like a cross between chicken and beef, and it resembled organ meat: “It looked like a big pile of thymus glands.” Because the sinews of the meat toughened up when panfried, Kim braised it for six hours to soften it up. “We treated it almost like short rib, but there’s no intermuscular fat in there, so it’s not very moist.” He shredded and fried it carnitas-style to overcome the dryness, resulting in a much milder flavor. “It’s meat but it doesn’t have a meat flavor to it. It’s like zombie meat. When we sauteed it, it had a really strong iron flavor to it. It had that heart flavor, that organ flavor to it. Because we braised it, a lot of that blood has leached out and it doesn’t have that iron flavor.”
Kim decided to make a turtle potpie: “Why not put the turtle back in its shell?” Also in the pie were brussels sprouts, English peas, mushrooms, braised carrots, and pearl onions—”the vegetables we thought the turtle would enjoy eating and would naturally pair well with,” Kim said.
Before tasting the finished pie, Kim was unsure whether he’d cook with turtle meat again, but after trying it, he said he definitely would. “The nice thing about it is that there’s a lot of depth in there. With short ribs you have that unctuousness that coats your tongue; this is not as rich, so you have that depth of flavor but it’s cleaner.”
Video by Michael Gebert/Sky Full of Bacon
Kristine Subido of Wave, working with balut, or fertilized duck egg. It’s a Filipino delicacy, but Kim said he didn’t choose it because Subido is Filipina. “From what I’ve heard, it’s hard-boiled and you open it up and take a bite, and you’ll have like a beak, and some feathers, and some cartilage in there, and it’s supposed to be delicious,” Kim said. “I haven’t tried it, but I’d be totally up for it.”
Recipe: Turtle Pot Pie
2 pounds snapping turtle meat, deboned and trimmed of fat
1 bottle dry red wine
2 carrots, roughly chopped
4 stalks celery, roughly chopped
1 onion, roughly chopped
6 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
4 shallots, finely chopped
3 pearl onions, peeled
1 baby carrot, peeled and cut into macédoine (small dice)
1 brussels sprout
4 Shimeji mushrooms
2 T English peas, shelled
1 t parsley, chopped
1 batch pastry dough (just large enough to overlap the cassoulet you’re covering, 1/8 inch thick)
1 egg, for egg wash
Preset oven to 300 degrees. Bring wine to a boil in a pot and set on fire until alcohol completely burns off. In a braising pan place red wine, roughly chopped carrots, onions, celery, bay leaf, thyme, and turtle meat, and tightly cover pan in tin foil. Place braising pan in oven and bake for 6 hours. Remove the braising pan from the oven, and take the meat out of the braise. Strain braising liquid, discarding solids, and reduce by half. Reserve.
When cool, shred braised turtle meat by hand. Bring a large sautee pan to smoking point over high heat. Add a tablespoon of vegetable oil and a pat of butter to the pan as well as a sprig of thyme. Add shredded turtle meat and shallow fry the meat until it’s crispy on the outside, but still moist. Add one tablespoon of finely chopped shallots for every handful of turtle meat, then fry for another ten seconds. Season with salt and pepper.
In a small pan sautee pearl onions, baby carrots, and brussels sprouts in butter until caramelized. Season with salt and pepper. Remove brussels sprouts and reserve. Add enough water to the pan that the onions and carrots are covered halfway, along with a small pat of butter, one teaspoon of brown sugar, and a sprig of thyme. Reduce liquid in pan until it becomes syrupy and the veggies have a nice glaze and are cooked through.
In a small, deep, cassoulet (about eight ounces) place four tablespoons of the shredded turtle meat, braised veggies, shimeji mushrooms, and English peas. Add enough braising liquid to fill cassoulet halfway, a pinch of salt and black pepper, and a teaspoon of chopped parsley. Cover with pastry dough and crimp the edges, then brush the top with egg wash. Bake for 12 minutes at 400 degrees, or until top is golden brown.