Got Turtles? Then You've Got Soup! Try Just a Spoonful (as my Gram used to say)
Updated: Nov 9, 2020
Turtle soup is considered a delicacy is some regions, served in some of the finest restaurants as well as backwater bistros. I first had it nearly 20 years ago, on a trip to Louisiana’s Cajun Country, specifically a restaurant in Abbeville. Like any food you taste for the first time, I had a little apprehension with that first bite. But it sure smelled good. Recalling my grandmother Eleanor’s sage advice to me as a youngster, I slurped in a spoonful. I emptied the cup in a couple minutes, wishing I had ordered a bowl.
Subsequent restaurant tastings proved equally fine, but I had never prepared it at home. That recently changed when my wife Maria returned from a visit to her Louisiana home with an assortment of Cajun goodies, among them a one-pound pack of turtle meat.
The small portions of meat were still on the bone, which reminded me a bit of the light bones in birds. This pack consisted of meat from smaller turtles. She looked up various soup recipes and dug out an old family favorite, then tweaked it. The results were delicious. This recipe doesn’t get into how you clean and dress a turtle. There are plenty of online tutorials for that. Most of the turtles now used in soups (including the pack of meat purchased in Louisiana) come from farm-raised species. In some areas, wild turtles are protected against commercial harvest.
So, go ahead and try it. If you’ve got turtle, you’ve got soup.
¼ pound of ham, cut into ½-inch cubes
½ cup chopped onion
1 large tomato, chopped (about ¾ cup)
1 tablespoon diced celery
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
½ teaspoon minced garlic
1 pound of turtle meat, in ½-inch pieces (see preparation below)
¼ cup butter
¼ cup flour
1 bay leaf
1/8 teaspoon each – thyme, cloves, allspice, mace and paprika
1 ½ cup beef stock (used to simmer the meat and in the soup)
½ cup water
1 teaspoon each – Worcestershire sauce and lemon juice
1 tablespoon dry sherry plus more for adding when served
1 hard boiled egg, chopped
To prepare the turtle meat: if boneless, chop into ½-inch cubes and simmer in beef broth until tender, about an hour. Save the simmering broth for the soup.
If on the bone, simmer in beef broth and water until tender and the meat easily separates from the bone. Debone the meat and then cut and or shred it. Again, save the simmering broth for the soup.
Melt the butter over medium low heat. Add the flour to make a roux, and stir continuously until it turns a medium brown – about the color of peanut butter. Add the ham, onion and celery and cook over medium heat for a couple minutes. Add the garlic, parsley and dry seasoning and cook another minute. Add the water and broth, meat, tomatoes and all other ingredients except the sherry and eggs. Simmer for about 10 minutes. Add the sherry and cook another 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Add the chopped egg and serve with additional sherry (if desired). We had a remarkable side dish of pasta salad with crawfish tails.