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Ernie’s Snapping Turtle

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The Rutten family of Cedar Rapids shares their fried and steamed turtle recipe. Photo by Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley.

Recipe by Kim Rutten, Edited by Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley

Ernie was Kim and Ben Rutten’s mother, who prepared the family’s favorite meal of fried and steamed snapping turtle before her passing in 2018. Below, Kim shares her mother’s recipe the way it was taught to her. To read Jenny’s story on the Rutten family’s tradition of hunting turtles, visit: https://magazine.outdoornebraska.gov/2022/06/the-turtle-family/

The season for snapping turtles is year-round, with a bag limit of five turtles and possession limit of 10. Ben Rutten recommends keeping snappers between 8-30 pounds for meat. Smaller turtles are not worth the effort cleaning, and bigger individuals should be left alone to breed. Those wanting to learn how to butcher a snapping turtle can watch Ben’s turtle cleaning demonstrations at Ponca State Park’s Missouri River Exposition in the fall.

You don’t need to purge turtles before you butcher them — that’s an old wives’ tale, Ben said. But do trim off all the yellow fat and mucous-type membranes, which can taste awful. There is little difference in tenderness between a young and old turtle. They’re all tough. The following method of cooking will ensure fall-off-the-bone meat. The Ruttens like to serve turtle with potato salad and beans.

Servings: 6
Prep Time: Overnight
Cooking Time: 3 hours and 30 minutes
Ingredients:
• 3 pounds of turtle meat on the bone, cleaned and cut into smaller pieces
• All-purpose flour for dredging
• Kosher salt, to taste
• Lard, for frying
• ½ cup of water
Brine
• 8 cups of water
• ½ cup of kosher salt
Special equipment: roaster pan, large oven bag or foil

1. Combine 8 cups of water and ½ cup of kosher salt to make the brine. Add turtle pieces and refrigerate for no more than 8 hours. The longer you brine, the saltier the meat will taste. Then drain and rinse turtle pieces with cold water.

2. Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Pat turtle pieces dry with paper towels. Heat 1 inch of lard in a frying pan over medium-high heat. Dredge turtle pieces in lightly seasoned flour — meat is salty already from brining — and fry both sides in hot lard until golden brown. Drain on paper towels.

3. Next, place fried turtle in a roaster lined with foil. Pour ½ cup of water underneath the foil, cover and steam in a 325-degree oven for 3 hours, or longer, until tender.
Or, place browned turtle pieces in a large oven bag and seal it closed. Set the bag in a roaster pan, and pour in ½ cup of water into the pan. Cook uncovered in a 325-degree oven for 3 hours, or longer, until tender. Serve with your favorite sides.  ■

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.