Stop! I bet you are picturing a slab of turkey with a pineapple ring on top, and what you should be picturing is the big island of Hawaii where there is a significant population of wild Rio Grande turkeys. Although turkeys are native to North America there are reports of feral turkeys on the Hawaiian Islands dating back to the late 1700’s, however the current population was boosted by a large influx of turkeys wild caught in Texas and shipped to 6 of the Hawaiian Islands from 1961-1963.
Jay Cassell, our dear friend and respected editor of Field & Stream magazine was invited to go to Hawaii on a turkey hunt. And, what good luck! He got a turkey! And what better luck, he asked me to cook it and serve it on Saturday night. Wild turkey is delicious and while it wasn’t the first time I’ve cooked one of Jay’s birds, this was a bit more challenging because it came back from Hawaii as a boneless and skinless breast. Wild game is much leaner that domestic birds so the trick is to keep the meat as juicy and flavorful as possible. This can be accomplished with brining and larding. Brining essentially means soaking the meat in a cold salt solution. There are two factors at work during a brining session: diffusion and osmosis. Diffusion occurs when the turkey is submerged into the salt bath and following the laws of science, moisture and salt (the brine) will travel to areas where there is less moisture and salt (the meat). The meat will actually absorb moisture into its cells through osmosis and the salt causes the proteins to unravel and form a sort of sticky web that actually traps moisture and flavor. A very basic brine is simply cold water and salt in a ratio of 1 quart of water per pound of meat and roughly 115 grams or 4 ounces of salt. The reason I’m giving you the salt by weight and not by the cup is that kosher salt takes up more room in the measuring cup because of its bigger crystals, table salt is finer and denser so a cup of kosher salt is equal to one half cup of table salt. That’s another reason why I keep saying that a scale is an essential tool in the kitchen, so you don’t have to stress about converting salt volume based on crystal size, and besides it looks cool when you take out the scale. You want the meat immersed in the brine and kept at about 40 degrees F; allow about 1 hour of brine time per pound of meat.
I like to add some seasoning to my brine so I usually add dried herbs such as rosemary, thyme, and a good handful of peppercorns. This part of brining is completely subjective, so use whatever flavors you enjoy. Many brine recipes call for sugar but this is optional as the salt does the lion’s share of the actual work of breaking apart the meat proteins.
Larding is just what it sounds like, you are adding fat. In this case I used bacon. You can’t go wrong with bacon.
Remembering our friend Kevin’s delicious mango stuffed turkey breast I thought a little mango sauce would be perfect for our Hawaiian bird. This recipe should also very well with a whole chicken breast just in case you don’t have any wild turkey hunting friends.
Brine for about 1 hour as each breast weighed about a pound or less. (You, of course caught on to the math: 4 breasts = 4 pounds, does not = 4 hours in the brine because you are brining each individual breast. But you knew that, right?)
Roughly chop up 1-2 mangos and 1-2 cloves of garlic. Combine in a roasting pan large enough to hold the breasts.
Portion the mango mixture into 4 parts and wrap each breast around the fruit. Add a thick slice of bacon on top of each breast. Roast at 350 until done (about an hour, check for doneness with a probe thermometer).
Remove the breasts, cover and let sit for 10 minutes while you finish the mango sauce.
Pour the roasted mango bits and all the pan juices into a saucepan; reduce the mixture until it is a fairly thick sauce. I had a lot of juice so I need to reduce the mixture for a good 10 minutes. Puree with a stick blender; add a tablespoon of light cream and 2 ounces of cognac.
Slice, serve, smile and pretend you are dining on the big island of Hawaii. Thank you Jay! It was a great dinner with great friends!