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Wild Turkey Fried Tacos

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Fried tacos filled with slow cooked wild turkey legs and thighs, seasoned with cilantro and chipotle.

Photos and recipe by Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley

This recipe is an homage to all the cheap Burger King and Jack-in-the-Box fried tacos I ate as a teenager, except my version will actually taste good. You’ll get all the crunchy, greasy goodness your heart desires, along with a spicy, real-meat turkey filling hunted by you – nothing like the gray “meat” paste the King and Jack used in theirs. These tacos will be so tasty your family and friends will gobble them up as fast as you can make them.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Turkey legs and thighs are not “dog food.” Although tough, they are flavorful and nothing a bit of heat, moisture and time can’t tenderize. Much like hunting, patience is also key to cooking wild turkey successfully.

Servings: 20-25 small tacos
Prep Time: 6-8 hours
Cooking Time: 1 hour and 30 minutes
Ingredients:
• 2 turkey legs and 2 turkey thighs
• 8 cloves of garlic, minced
• 1 tablespoon of salt, plus extra
• ¼ teaspoon of cracked black pepper
• 1 teaspoon of chili powder
• ½ teaspoon of cumin
• 2 cans of beer
• 1 small onion, peeled and halved
• 1 tablespoon of olive oil
• Half a grated onion
• 2 tablespoons of tomato paste
• 1 to 2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, chopped
• 2 tablespoons of chopped cilantro, leaves and stems
• Shredded romaine lettuce
• Shredded sharp cheddar cheese
• 20-25 corn tortillas
• Corn or vegetable oil for frying
• Hot sauce/taco sauce

Slow cook turkey legs, then shred and brown with spices and herbs.

1. Remove thick areas of silver skin from turkey legs and thighs. Combine minced garlic, 1 tablespoon of salt, cracked pepper, chili powder and cumin, and then rub it all over turkey. Place turkey in a slow cooker and pour in enough beer to submerge the meat completely. Add a halved onion and cover the slow cooker with foil. Place the lid on top of the foil – foil will prevent steam escaping. Cook on low for 6-8 hours or until meat becomes tender. Remove meat from bones and finely shred. Remove all pin bones.

2. In a skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add grated onion and cook for 2-3 minutes, or until softened. Then turn up heat to medium-high and then add the shredded turkey meat with chopped chipotle peppers in adobo sauce and tomato paste. Sauté until meat is warmed through and slightly toasted. Take off heat and add chopped cilantro, salt and pepper to taste. Add more spicy adobo sauce from the can if desired. Set meat aside.

3. In a skillet, heat 1 to 2 teaspoons of vegetable/corn oil over medium heat. Lay corn tortillas into the warm oil and flip back and forth to warm through; warming the tortillas in oil helps to moisten it, which prevents it from cracking when assembling tacos later. Stack warmed tortillas in a bowl and keep warm. Add more oil to the pan as necessary.

4. Fill warmed tortillas with about 2 tablespoons of the shredded turkey mixture and fold over the tortilla, gently pressing down the taco to encourage it to keep its shape. Lay all assembled tacos on a cookie sheet. When done, place the cookie sheet in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to firm up tacos.

5. In a cast iron skillet, heat enough oil to 350 degrees to shallow fry tacos – do not fill your cooking vessel more than 1/3 of the way up to prevent oil from boiling over. Once oil is heated, gently drop cold tacos into the oil and fry for 2 to 3 minutes on each side; do not overcrowd the pan and be careful of splatter. When crispy, remove the fried tacos with tongs and tip to drain out excess oil. Rest on paper towels.

6. Once tacos are cool enough to handle, carefully open up the tacos without cracking the spine, and fill with shredded romaine lettuce and cheddar cheese. Serve with your favorite hot sauce.  ■

About Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley

NEBRASKAland Associate Editor Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley was born in Nha Trang, Vietnam, and moved to the United States with her parents in 1992. She graduated from Bolsa Grande High School in Garden Grove, California, in 2008 and completed her bachelor’s degree at UCLA in 2012. Wheatley was editor-in-chief for her high school newspaper and continued to write in college, freelancing for various publications, the Tiger Woods Foundation and writing for her blog FoodForHunters.com. After graduating college, she moved to Nebraska in early 2013 to join the Commission as Regional Editor at NEBRASKAland Magazine. She then became associate editor in 2015. Wheatley enjoys hiking, camping, horseback riding, hunting, fishing and wild game cooking.