By Calvin Josey
May 6, 2019 - Spring is a revered time for many outdoorsmen and women. Longer days, less snow, and the chance to get outside and chase one of the woods’ most prized birds: the wild turkey. For many turkey hunters, spring is a time-honored tradition. Male gobblers display a boisterous thundering of gobbles and strutting that could easily be featured on “Dancing with The Stars”. Wild turkeys were once almost vacant from our landscape. The iconic bird that has become a symbol of Thanksgiving was once dangerously close to becoming extinct in the United States. There was an estimate of only thirty-thousand birds remaining. Due to the recognition of this issue; biologists, ecologist, and hunters banned together and put in effect wildlife management practices that helped restore habitat for these majestic birds. There is currently an estimate of over seven-million birds that inhabit 715 out of 720 million acres of suitable habitat. This is a huge success in conservation. The wild turkey species that inhabit the United States are the Eastern, Osceola, Merriams, Goulds, and Rio. To take all these species is what wild turkey hunters consider a “grand slam”.
Growing up in North Central Florida, there was no shortage of sour oranges. Oranges that you find in the supermarket are grafted with other varieties of fruit to enhance palatability. There are countless acres spread throughout Florida where these oranges fall and meet their demise as recycled organic material by way of insect or wild hogs. A trick I learned from a Cuban neighbor was to use these oranges in traditional Cuban marinades. The farm I lived on was surrounded by nature preserves and huge tracts of swampland filled with an abundance of wildlife. I caught my neighbor one evening marinating an alligator and wild hog in his sour orange marinade and asked him if I could have some to take home. He obliged and I was sent home with what could best be described as a viscous concoction of citrus and herbs. The next morning was the opener of spring turkey in Florida and it did not take long to bag a very nice Osceola that my friend dubbed “bamboo” due to the location of bamboo stands just behind the decoy set up. This was an unusually old bird with extremely worn-down spurs. After careful cleaning of the bird, it was now time to decide its culinary fate. I remembered the marinade my neighbor had given me and decided to give it a shot. What came next was one of the best wild turkey sandwiches I had ever eaten. Many of my friends and family were adamant that it tasted like Chickfila. What’s best, it was on a Sunday! Usually, the day of the week where one craves Chickfila the most!
If you do not live in an area that has wild oranges available, do not be discouraged! You can combine regular orange juice with lime juice and add a few other simple ingredients for a homemade version that is just as appetizing. There is also a pre-made version that is available in the ethnic food aisle at your local grocery store. Goya makes a bitter orange marinade that will also work very well. If you have sour orange or buy the pre-made mix, follow the same recipe and use 2 cups of sour orange and omit the lime juice.
Wild Turkey Cuban Schnitzel Sandwich
• 1-2 Turkey breasts
• Frying oil
• Cuban style rolls
• Dijon mustard (Recommend Maille brand)
• Swiss cheese
• Bread and butter pickles
• Deli ham
• 2 Eggs
The Bitter Orange Marinade
• 1 ½ cups of orange juice
• ¾ cups of lime juice
• 1 whole bunch of cilantro
• 1 whole head of garlic
• 1 Tablespoon of cumin
• 1 Tablespoon of oregano
• 1 Tablespoon of onion powder
• ¼ cup of olive oil
Combine the olive oil, cilantro (stems and all), and the entire head of garlic in a food processor and blend thoroughly. Combine the cilantro, garlic, and oil with the other dry ingredients and agitate with the juices until fully mixed.
Clean your turkey breast and remove any skin or feathers and place on a cutting board to make your cuts. Place your knife lengthwise along the breast and make 20-30-degree cuts about 2-3 inches apart depending on the size of your rolls. After making your cuts, place plastic wrap on top of the turkey breast and begin to gently press the turkey with a heavy object working your way from the bottom of the cut toward the top. Rolling the turkey this way will help ensure none of the pieces flatten to the point of separation. After all the cutlets are flattened, place in the marinade for a minimum of 4 hours. The longer you let it sit the better the flavor will be.
After the turkey has sat in the marinade, remove and gently pat dry and allow it to come to room temperature. Next, coat your turkey with flour then dredge into the egg wash and then into the breadcrumbs and set aside.
Pre-heat your oven to 225 degrees. Bring your frying oil to temperature and fry the turkey breast cutlets until golden brown (2-3 minutes per side usually).
Split your rolls and apply Dijon mustard, swiss cheese, deli ham, and pickles and place in the oven until the cheese is melted and the bread has a slight crunch. Remove from the oven and add the turkey breast cutlet and enjoy a Cuban twist on a classic schnitzel!