With turkey season quickly approaching but winter weather still holding on, I dream of mornings in the woods listening to gobbles breaking the silence of the pre-dawn darkness. Every year I save some turkey in my freezer until this time to remind me of – and to forestall my longing for – the hunts ahead. A wild turkey ragu over pasta is a welcome dish in my house any time of year, but it is especially inspiring now.
This particular ragu recipe utilizes legs and wings – parts of the turkey that are often underappreciated. The legs and wings of a wild turkey are generally reserved for low and slow cooking methods, such as braising, due to the amount of connective tissue and tendons; ragu is a perfect option for making the most of this meat.
For this recipe I used the legs and wings from my daughter’s 2019 turkey. This was a 3-year-old bird and therefore required a longer cooking time than a jake would. Cooking times for turkeys vary considerably with age; older birds tend to take a bit longer to break down. So, reference the cooking times in this recipe as a starting point. This recipe is an adaptation of a couple of different types of ragu recipes, primarily using a Venetian-style recipe as a base. I’m confident it’ll become a staple of your wild-food cooking repertoire.
Wild Turkey Ragu
- 2 wild turkey legs and 2 wings
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 2 sticks celery
- 1 onion
- 2 carrots
- 5 cloves garlic, chopped
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 cup red wine
- 1 can diced tomatoes
- 2 bay leaves
- Zest from 1 orange
- Juice from ½ orange
- 2 cups turkey broth
- Salt and pepper the turkey liberally.
- Heat 3 tbsp olive oil over med-high to high heat in a Dutch oven or oven safe, straight-sided pan at least 3 inches tall.
- Brown the turkey legs and wings (I do legs and wings separately to not overcrowd the pan) and set aside.
- Add 1 tbsp oil to pan, and add celery, onion and carrot. Sauté until softened.
- Add garlic and cook an additional minute.
- Add tomato paste and stir to combine, then cook for an additional 1 to 2 minutes.
- Add red wine to deglaze. While wine is boiling rapidly, add orange zest and orange juice and allow to reduce by half.
- Add diced tomato, bay leaves and turkey broth.
- Salt to taste.
- Add turkey and collected juices to pan.
- Cover and simmer on medium-low to low for 4-7 hours (legs are done when you can easily pull the tendons from the leg meat).
- When turkey is done, remove the meat from the pan. If sauce is overly loose, turn heat up slightly and reduce until thickened, while pulling meat.
- Pull all meat from legs and wings and chop into small pieces. Add the meat back to the pan. The sauce should be quite thick
- Prepare gnocchi or a wide pasta like tagliatelle or pappardelle.
- Cook pasta in heavily salted water until al dente, and reserve ½ cup of pasta water.
- Add ½ cup pasta water to sauce and increase heat on saucepan to medium-high.
- Add pasta to sauce and simmer until thick and velvety. (Do not rinse drained pasta!)
- Serve with parmesan cheese.
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