Our neighbor Mike was laying it on pretty thick. He must really want something.
“D’ya think you could work your magic on this turtle meat?”
“I thought you were going to make turtle soup,” I said.
“It’s going to be 88 degrees on Saturday. No one will want to eat soup,” he reasoned. Correctly, I’m guessing.
But since he had been talking since winter about trapping a turtle at my brother-in-law’s pond, I was a little surprised at this turn of events. Mike’s plan was to make turtle soup, which he has done before, and taking it to our brother-in-law’s (same one with the pond) annual 4th of July picnic bash. I knew he’d made several trips to the pond, set his traps, tried different hooks, different bait, stronger line, had several misses. And, finally, success! He’d worked hard for this darn turtle! Why was he chickening out, I wondered.
“Anyhow,” he continued, “the wife’s away and . . . . . “
Say no more, Mike.
I love a challenge, especially a cooking challenge, but turtle meat? Really . . . what else do you do with turtle besides make soup?
Mike himself suggested breading and frying the meat. Good idea, Mike. Turtle tenders. Could be a market trend setter.
But one look at the bowl of meat he’d carefully cleaned from the turtle and I could see there really weren’t that many “tender” size pieces. There were some, but there were also lots of shreds, too. I thought about patties, like salmon patties, or crab cakes. But what if even the more adventurous only wanted a taste of turtle? I needed something bite-size.
After nosing around a little on the internet -- none of my cook books had anything about turtle -- I learned that people do indeed bread and fry turtle meat. Some folks make kind of a chicken a la king, meat in a creamy sauce over rice or noodles. Not exactly picnic fare.
Eventually, I landed on sauerkraut balls. Usually sauerkraut balls are deep fried, but I didn’t want to mess with that either on a hazy, hot humid day, even in air conditioning. So I meshed the method I once used for baking egg rolls with a couple different appetizer recipes and gave it a go. I have to say they turned out pretty well.
I’m sure you want to know what turtle tastes like. Well, it doesn’t taste like chicken. People usually say that when describing a different meat, like frog legs, even snake, or groundhog. “Tastes like chicken.” Well, no, it doesn’t.
First of all the meat is a mix of light and dark and has lots of different textures, too. And in the bowl, before I did any doctoring, it had a faint seafood aroma. I thought it tasted more like veal. Except for the rubbery texture. Some pieces were tough to chew. Like some calamari.
Before I made the sauerkraut balls, I decided to marinate the turtle. (Actually, that was Mr. Rosemary. “I’d marinate the heck out of that if I were you,” said he.) I just used a bottle of Italian salad dressing, saved in the pantry for just such emergency occasions.
After marinating a day, I fried up the meat, which Mike had already cleaned well and boiled. I added a chopped onion and then whirled the whole mess in the food processor, pulsing several times, until it looked like tuna salad. Then I added the drained and finely chopped sauerkraut and mixed in a softened block of cream cheese.
Then into the fridge for a couple hours to make rolling into balls a little easier, since it is a pretty monotonous task. Then dipping in egg and rolling in bread crumbs. Pop into the oven for 15 minutes and you have turtle balls. I made two batches. The first didn’t brown real well, so I sprayed the second sheet of balls with vegetable spray and that helped give a richer color.
I made a simple tartar sauce to go with – mayonnaise, drained sweet relish, couple dashes of sriracha hot sauce.
It might have been just the novelty of the things, or the fact that were made from a turtle that came from that pond right over there, but the turtle balls went over much better than I expected. The really outdoorsy, macho men really liked them – including Mr. Rosemary, who claims he ate a dozen. And most of the women, some of the kids, tried them and at least smiled indulgently. “Really? Turtle? Not bad.”
But if Mike ever comes to the door again with anything he wants me to cook, oh, something like a bear, please tell him I’m not home.
Here’s the recipe for sauerkraut balls, sans turtle meat. I suggest you just use sausage.
1 pound hot ground pork sausage
1 onion finely chopped
1 16-ounce can sauerkraut, rinsed, drained well and finely chopped
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1 egg, slightly beaten
2 cups seasoned bread crumbs
Cook the sausage and onion in a large deep skillet until sausage is evenly browned and the onion is soft, about 10 minutes.Drain and transfer to a large bowl.
Mix sauerkraut and cream cheese with the sausage mixture.Cover and chill in the fridge about 2 hours.
When ready to bake, pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Place beaten egg in a shallow bowl and seasoned bread crumbs in another shallow bowl or pie plate.Roll the chilled sausage mixture into about one inch balls. Place the balls one at a time in the egg, then the bread crumbs.
Place on parchment lined cookie sheet and bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Spraying with vegetable oil spray helps the little balls to brown and mimics deep frying, the more common way to make sauerkraut balls.
photo from canstock