Text & Photos by Bailey Smolarek and Ben Siebers
While most of the United States associates turkey with fall and Thanksgiving, to hunters spring and turkey go hand in hand. Watching the woods come to life on a spring morning is and hearing the gobble of a tom cut through the cool morning air signals both a new season of hunting and unforgettable experiences.
Turkeys are native to North America and were likely first domesticated by the Olmecs in south-central Mexico almost 3,000 years ago. Descendents of those original wild birds can now be found as six unique subspecies ranging in various regions throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico. This recipe for pozole, one of Mexico’s most beloved and iconic dishes, is inspired by the origins of today’s wild turkey and uses turkey legs in place of chicken or pork, which is more typically found in this brothy stew.
Pozole is a perfect example of the old adage, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” as it uses a trinity of ingredients core to native Mesoamerican gastronomy that have been cooked together generation after generation – turkey, corn and chile. While wild turkey legs can be tough if not cooked long enough, this version of pozole rojo braises them low and slow, in a broth infused with dried ancho chiles, until tender. Canned hominy, a delicious and inexpensive ingredient made of field corn that has been through the nixtamalization process, is added at the end for heartiness. This recipe only takes about 30 minutes to prepare (maybe a little longer if you’ve never worked with dried chiles), and then another few hours to braise (only a couple hours for a jake, and up to 6 hours for an old tom). Served with chopped cilantro, Mexican crema, sliced avocado and tostadas, it’s a perfect meal for any spring or summer evening.
Wild Turkey Pozole
- ¼ c. vegetable oil
- 4 dried anchos chiles, de-stemmed and de-seeded
- 1 dried chipotle (optional, add if you like spicy)
- 2 cups of boiling water
- 1 turkey leg (thigh and drumstick)
- 1 large red onion (chopped)
- 3 cloves of garlic (minced)
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 quart turkey or chicken stock
- 1 bottle of lager beer
- 1 29 oz. can hominy (drained and rinsed)
- 1 tsp. ground cumin
- 1 tsp. ground coriander
- 1 tsp. dry oregano
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tbsp. sugar
- Juice of ½ lime
- Garnishes: chopped avocado, chopped cilantro, lime wedges, Mexican crema or sour cream, queso fresco, sliced radishes or cabbage.
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees
- Bring two cups of water to a boil and set aside. In a Dutch oven or oven-safe pot, heat vegetable oil and fry heat chiles for about 30 seconds, then immediately place them in the bowl of boiling water.
- Add chopped onion and sauté until translucent. Add minced garlic, cumin, coriander and oregano, and sauté another minute. Add beer, let come to a boil, reduce by half, and then transfer to a blender.
- Add rehydrated chiles to the blender and mix everything together until smooth. Add 1 cup of the chile soaking liquid and blend again.
- Pour the blended mixture back into the pot and add stock and bay leaf. Bring to a simmer, add turkey leg, and bring back to a simmer.
- Place the pot in the oven to braise the turkey. (This can take anywhere from 2-6 hours, start checking after 2 hours then every hour after that until the turkey falls off the bone, adding a little water to the pot if the liquid seems to evaporate.)
- Once the turkey is tender, take the meat out of the pot, let cool, then shred. Add sugar and lime juice to the broth, then add back the shredded turkey meat.
- Taste for additional salt or spices and add more stock if necessary. Finished pozole should be brothy to accommodate its many garnishes. Serve with desired garnishes and crisp tostadas or tortilla chips