Braised Turkey Legs

Grasshoppers plagued the orchard. Alfalfa kept the weeds down, but insects blemished the fruit. Mom knew turkeys ate grasshoppers, stayed close to home and could be fattened to sell for Thanksgiving. The spaniel would scare away marauding coyotes, and a few pans of cracked corn would keep the flock happy.

Summer rolled along as the Broad Breasted Bronzes strutted and gobbled in the cottonwood shade by the back door. They combed the orchard for tasty hoppers. Mom was counting her chickens, when suddenly in early November 1949, Birds Eye lobbed inexpensive butterballs at the public. No one in our dusty town wanted to pay top dollar for a free-range turkey when supermarkets offered cheap frozen birds.

Mom was unwilling to sell the turkeys for less than the cost of their corn, so we ate all 25 of them ourselves. That was the winter of turkey steaks, ground turkey, smoked turkey, and endless turkey soups. All went down well except for the gizzard spaghetti sauce that kept us tight-lipped staring at our plates.

The pendulum now has swung back to a renewed demand for free-range turkey, giving farmers their due for fattened fowl. At the end of a major carve-up, I’m often left with the reed-sinew-filled legs. A few years ago, I kept the roasted legs whole, put them in a braising pot with the usual aromatics, a good splash of red wine, a handful of herbs and a dose of stock. Covered tightly and locked in a slow oven for a couple of hours, the legs emerged spoon-tender, surrounded by a dark sauce ready to challenge any French Bourguignon. It’s almost worth roasting a turkey just to have the braised legs. Happy Thanksgiving leftovers!

Braised Turkey Legs

2 roasted whole turkey legs

2 tablespoons turkey dripping or oil

l medium onion chopped

1 carrot chopped

1 branch celery chopped

2 cloves garlic minced

scant tablespoon tomato paste

pinch crushed red pepper

sprinkling of dry thyme or good branch fresh

¾ cup red or white wine

1 cup or more turkey or chicken stock

salt to taste

mushrooms (optional)

Heat the dripping in a frying pan and gently sauté onion, carrot, celery until limp. Add garlic, tomato paste and seasonings; sauté briefly. Stir in wine and bubble up. Add stock, heat and pour mixture over turkey legs in casserole baker with tight fitting lid. Place in a 325-degree oven and braise for about 2 hours.

When the turkey is done, the meat will fall from the bones and the juices will smell divine. Lift out the legs; pull away the bones, sinews and skin. Strain the juices, adding more stock or a little water if necessary. Thicken the braising liquid with a lump of butter and flour roux or use a bit of cornstarch dissolved in cold water. Add some sautéed mushrooms, pour the gravy over the turkey and serve with polenta or potatoes.

Mary Jo’s cookbook is available at


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