A couple of years ago I was told about a book called The Scavengers Guide to Haute Cuisine, by Steven Rinella. Once I bought the book I couldn't put it down and read it faster than any other book I have ever picked up. In the book Rinella tells the tale of being given an old cook book written by Auguste Escoffier and being inspired to have a feast of all the things he hunts and gathers. In the book he talks about eating snapping turtle and how he didn't enjoy turtle meat because it tasted like a mucky swamp. In Escoffier's book he states that snapping turtles should be taken alive and kept alive for at least a week prior to butchering, and kept in clean water, changing the water daily so the turtle has an opportunity to cleanse its system. In theory, by doing this it will affect the way the meat tastes. That convinced Rinella to try turlte again and he really enjoyed it the second time around. Ever since reading that I have been intrigued by turtles and have wanted to try it for myself. My only problem was where I was going to get my hands on a live snapping turtle.
Here in Minnesota snapping turtles are pretty common, I have had them in my yard and have seen them around the lake I live near. The only Problem is I see them in the early spring and into the month of June but then after that they have a tendency of disappearing. Why is this a problem you might ask? Well here in Minnesota it is illegal to take turtles in the months of May and June. Starting July 1st it is legal for licensed anglers to take turtles, but if you want to use traps or trot lines you need to buy a special license. I have yet to see a snapping turtle after July 1st, it’s almost as if they know I am looking for them. Fortunately for me, I happen to know a guy. A couple weeks ago I was out fishing on the Mississippi River near Wabasha with my friend Eric and we ran into Tim Adams. Tim is a friend of Eric's and runs Schafer's fish Market's northern collection site in Pepin, WI, he is also one of the stars of the Outdoor channels new show Bottom Feeders. I asked Tim if he had gotten any turtles in lately and he said he had several so I went over and picked a couple of turtles up.
Once I had them home I kept them in separate tubs out in the garage and kept changing the water daily. The first couple of days were absolutely disgusting, I could not believe the crap that came out of those turtles. The bigger of the two had a 3 inch chunk of tree branch that came out of it and the little one had all sorts of feathers come out. After about three days the water started getting clearer but there was still lots of sand and debris that was coming out so I decided to keep the turtles alive for 2 whole weeks changing the water on a daily basis. I had them in the garage for so long my daughter ended up naming them Myrtle and Meany. Meany got his name because every time I changed his water he would hiss and snap at me. When I finally decided to butcher the turtles the water was almost as clean as when I had put it in.
Killing a turtle isn't as easy as it may seem, I read a lot of Internet post about how you just get them to bite onto something and then stretch their necks out and cut off the head. A whole lot easier said than done, first I couldn't get them to bite anything and second they don't just let you stretch their necks out. It was a slightly more grizzly process than I imagined it would be, as was the actual butchering. The turtles were still very lively even after their heads were removed, it made them very difficult to butcher. The first turtle was a learning experience for me and the second one went a lot smoother. In the end I got about 5 pounds of meat off of the two of them which is more than enough for me to experiment with and try a couple of recipes.
I was recently at the Minnesota state fair and had the fried alligator so I was thinking I would try fried snapping turtle. I cut about a half pound of turtle meat into small chunks and then marinated them in a combination of buttermilk and Worcestershire sauce with a little Cajun seasoning. I then dredged the pieces in a mixture of flour and breadcrumbs and fried the pieces until golden brown, about 3 minutes per side. I had read the turtle can be tough and chewy and that the best way to make them more tender was to put them in a 300 degree oven after frying them and bake them for an additional 30 minutes to an hour. I only did 30 minutes and all of my turtle turned out great. The meat was sweet and had a very neutral flavor, the texture was still a little chewy but not in a bad way. I was really very impressed with the way turtle meat cooked and tastes hopefully they get easier to butcher with more practice.