Before moving to the farm I had never fired a gun at anything more than a paper target at an indoor firing range. But in the last two years I have done my best to acquaint myself with different types of hunting as we are trying to be as self-sufficient as possible. I spent a weekend pheasant hunting in Iowa in November of 2010 and came home with a cooler full of birds. Last December I shot a large doe on my property and we have been enjoying venison once a week or so ever since. The steaks and chops are great on their own and we have been blending the ground meat with purchased ground beef and ground pork to make sausage, meatloaf, meatballs, chili, etc.
Last spring I decided to give turkey hunting a whirl. Armed with a shotgun, a call box and decked out in camouflage, I spend 10 or 12 fruitless mornings in the woods being eaten by ticks. I took a shot and missed a large hen on my first day and never again fired my gun at a turkey. This spring, I had a different approach to turkey hunting with a new location (still on my property) and I listened to advice given to me by friends and neighbors who were seasoned turkey hunters. And about two hours into my second morning out I got a huge tom with a 10" beard and spurs nearly 2" long. A friend of mine told me this was definitely the "boss tom" of the area.
Here I am with my prize:
I decided to not mess with the legs and wings. I'm usually a dark meat kind of guy when it comes to birds, but we had really bad luck (thick tendons everywhere) with the dark meat on the heritage turkeys we raised last spring/summer. So I just removed the breasts from this wild turkey and took the rest of the carcass back into the woods for the coyotes and bobcats. Hey, they've got to eat, too, right?
A friend of mine, Jeff, is quite an accomplished hunter and he advised me to not only brine the turkey breast, but wrap it in cheesecloth before cooking it. I think this was solid advice and I will continue to use this technique in the future. I brined it for about half a day in a solution of salt, brown sugar, peppercorns and spices and then rubbed the bird down with a melange of spices. Then I wrapped the breasts in cheesecloth and tied them with butcher's twine. Instead of the breast flattening out on the grill, the meat remained in something of a football shape which I think was key to helping the unbearably lean meat retain its moisture. Shockingly, it took about two hours to get to 165 degrees over indirect charcoal and maple chips. But after a 15 minute rest (wrapped in plastic wrap) it was unbelievably tender and delicious.
Here they are on the grill smoking away. Note the shape. They look more like pork roasts than turkey breasts. This definitely had something to do with the long smoking time as well as the delicious texture:
Knowing that smoked foods have an affinity for low tannin, fruity reds I pulled a bottle of 2010 Apothic Red Winemaker's Blend, California from the cellar. I've posted on this quaffable blend of Zinfandel, Syrah, Cabernet and Merlot before so I won't bother waxing eloquently. Suffice to say, the medium body and over-the-top blueberry and coffee notes were a perfect match with the bird. Others might find it too sweet, but this $10 gem performed admirably tonight.