Turtle Soup…The Almost Forgotten Delicacy!

The Food And Wine Chain
Turtle Soup…The Almost Forgotten Delicacy!
By Christopher J. Davies

Over a century ago, Turtle Soup was earmarked in many a home cook’s favorite cookbook. It is said this was U.S. President Howard Taft’s favorite food. So seriously did he take this dish that he even selected a special chef for the White House who was a master at cooking a good Turtle Soup.

Today a small group of restaurants across the country have Turtle Soup on their regular menus. The largest concentration of restaurants with Turtle Soup on their menus is found in America’s foodiest city, New Orleans! Of the dozen or so restaurants in NOLA making Turtle Soup, Commander’s Place is ground zero for this delicacy.

Their creole version is thick and stew-like. It is usually topped off at your table with a drop of sherry. No, it does not taste like chicken, but more like a veal stew.

At the helm of Commander’s Palace is Executive Chef Tory McPhail, a young and highly talented Culinarian. Chef McPhail is credited with restoring Commander’s to the culinary magnitude bestowed upon the restaurant when renowned Chefs Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse were running the kitchen. We had the pleasure of meeting Chef Tory and enjoying his cuisine last year. One of my favorites was the Turtle Soup. Commander’s Wine Guy Dan Davis even offered up a wine pairing for the soup!

I asked Chef Tory if he would be kind enough to share his recipe.
(See adjacent page).

The recipe serves 12 people. Left over soup freezes very well.
Word of caution — use only snapping turtles or farm-raised turtles.
Sea Turtles may not be used, as they are poisonous to humans, and illegal to catch!

After researching the cost of turtle meat, Commander’s Palace’s Turtle Soup is a real bargain at $8.50 a bowl!

Snapping Turtle Meat, Bone-In (2LB)
Wooley: Cost-$48 plus shipping

Turtle Meat, Bone-In (2LB)
Cajun Grocer: Cost-$50.40

The First Course
Turtle Soup Recipe
By Tory McPhail
Executive Chef, Commander’s Palace, New Orleans

Turtle Soup

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) butter
2 1/2 pounds turtle meat (see Note), cut in medium dice (beef, or a combination of lean beef and veal stew meat may be substituted)
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 medium onions, in medium dice
6 stalks celery, in medium dice
1 large head garlic, cloves peeled and minced
3 bell peppers, any color, in medium dice
1 tablespoon ground dried thyme
1 tablespoon ground dried oregano
4 bay leaves
2 quarts Veal Stock
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 bottle (750 ml) dry sherry
1 tablespoon hot sauce or to taste
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
2 large lemons, juiced
3 cups tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and coarsely chopped
10 ounces fresh spinach, washed thoroughly, stems removed, coarsely chopped
6 medium eggs, hard-boiled and chopped into large pieces

Melt 4 tablespoons of the butter in a large soup pot over medium to high heat.  Brown the meat in the hot butter, season with salt and pepper, and cook for about 18 to 20 minutes, or until liquid is almost evaporated. Add the onions, celery, garlic and peppers, stirring constantly, then add the thyme, oregano, and bay leaves, and sauté for 20 to 25 minutes, until the vegetables have caramelized. Add the stock, bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, periodically skimming away any fat that comes to the top.

While the stock is simmering, make a roux in a separate pot: Melt the remaining 8 tablespoons of butter over medium heat in a small saucepan and add the flour a little at a time, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Be careful not to burn the roux. After all the flour has been added, cook for about 3 minutes until the roux smells nutty, is pale in color, and has the consistency of wet sand. Set aside until the soup is ready.

Using a whisk, vigorously stir the roux into the soup a little at a time to prevent lumping. Simmer for about 25 minutes. Stir to prevent sticking on the bottom.

Add the sherry, bring to a boil, add the hot sauce and the Worcestershire, and simmer, skimming any fat or foam that comes to the top. Add the lemon juice and tomatoes, and return to a simmer. Add the spinach and the chopped egg, bring to a simmer, and adjust salt and pepper as needed. This soup freezes well.

Note: We use alligator snapping turtles, a farm-raised, fresh-water species available all year. It's illegal to use sea-raised turtle, so farm-raised is fine. Turtle meat usually comes in 2 1/2-pound portions, so this recipe is written to use that quantity.  It freezes well and can be ordered by mail.


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