Martin Pilgrim with a turkey he shot in the Applegate - submitted photo

How to cook wild turkey just like the Pilgrims

Cooking up a wild turkey like the Pilgrims means dicing the breast meat and stir-frying it with store-bought sesame sauce and frozen vegetables.

And the legs and thighs? They'll be in the smoker during Thanksgiving football games.

Those are part of holiday habits of turkey hunter Martin Pilgrim of Salem, who has earned the right to rewrite cooking history all he wants.

After putting up with all the Mayflower cracks and fielding countless crank calls on Thanksgivings past, this Pilgrim gets to cook his wild turkey his way this day.

"I like to experiment a lot," says Pilgrim, 38. "I'll try things 50 different ways. But my wife says the stir-fry doesn't even taste like wild turkey at all. Put a little white rice on top and we're good to go."

Cooking the wild out of wild turkey is a culinary art form that is especially relevant today, a traditional occasion when hunters who insist upon putting the holiday meat on the table better do so with a nod to their guests, whose palates may not appreciate the outdoorsy taste.

"Crazy people," laughs Tiffany Haugen, a Springfield-area author of five outdoor-related cookbooks. "A lot of people just dismiss it like, 'It's a wild turkey. It won't be good.'

"People forget that it's such an incredibly lean meat that it can't be compared to a Butterball," Haugen says.

The first rule of thumb for cooking wild turkeys is to stick with the breasts, Haugen says.

"They're runners," Haugen says. "There's virtually no meat on the legs and thighs. I use them to make stock."

The breasts are usually split and cooks have to compensate for the lack of fat and juices in them. That means adding juices through marinades or other creative ways to infuse some fat into that leanness.

"Add bacon," Haugen recommends.

Haugen's favorite method is to soak a wood plank in water or wine, put the turkey breasts on it, then line the bird with bacon.

"It's a protective layer to keep it from getting dry, and it gives it the fat it doesn't have," Haugen says.

The planked-breasts are then cooked in an oven or on a grill.

The Pilgrims' progress hasn't been that elaborate — yet.

New to turkey hunting, Pilgrim bagged his first bird in May while hunting with a friend and family member in the Applegate area.

He shot the first tom he called in, a 20-pound bird with a 10-inch beard.

"I'm hooked," he says. "I'm a lifer now."

The breast is long gone from past experiments with stir fries, bakings, marinades, and time on the barbecue.

The legs and thighs will get the holiday treatment, with more wild turkeys to follow.

And if Pilgrim's barbecuing gets interrupted today by a kid on the phone asking how the ride on the Mayflower went, so be it.

"We just kind of have fun with it," Pilgrim says. "We tell people it was a little stormy, but the trip was OK."

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail

Share This Story