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What to do with a big, snapping turtle

 
pioneer
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I went out to my spot yesterday to do a little fishing. I caught a small channel cat and the snapping turtle on skipjack herring.
This very angry turtle had a 3 inch wide head and a huge gaping mouth that I was gonna have to get up close and personal with very soon.
I got my pliers on the hook and did a fancy unhooking move that let him go and left me with my hand.
I didn't think to get a picture of him until he was unhooked, but he was old and gnarly looking. His shell had the classic triple ridges running down his back and I couldn't really see his eyes. I'm sure he could see me!
I've never messed with cleaning, cooking or eating one. I know the Cajuns can make a slap yo mama good soup or stew outa one. They use too much spice for my taste.
I've also heard tell if you keep one in clean, fresh water for a week or so before soup you get the gamey taste out of the meat. Again, that's just what I heard.
So, is it worth getting a large snapper and preparing him for dinner? What has been your experience cooking them? They're so ugly how can they taste good, right? A good recipe that won't light your esophagus on fire would be much appreciated. Anything much more than salt is too spicy for me!
 
pollinator
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A large snapping turtle like that can be tough but tasty.
Just steam it or simmer it with the bones in for 30-45 minutes.   De-bone, then fry it up with your favorite batter. I like 1/2 cornmeal and 1/2 flour.
Add spices or not to your taste.
 
pollinator
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I know my dad spearfished them back in the day, underwater with snorkel, mask, and fins, so it's somewhat more sporting for the turtle.

He'd make a turtle soup. The lakes he'd get them out of were clean freshwater lakes, so there was minimal gamey taste already.

You'd be gobsmacked at the number of recipes for non-standard fare that can be found in The Joy of Cooking.

All that said, I won't be eating turtle any time. They take way too long to mature to breeding age, and the open road and commuter fetish has really hit turtle populations. There are literally assholes out there that go out of their way to line up critters whose defense mechanisms involve making themselves small, like armadillos and turtles. on roadways, just to see how many they can hit with their tires.

Now obviously respectfully catching and harvesting one for the purpose of some turtle dumplings and soup, and maybe some klingon cosplay, is worlds away from intentional vehicular biocide; I wasn't suggesting that the two were similar.

But with such population pressures, I feel it's important to look at populations first. I would be much more comfortable if there was an age range or size slot system wherein turtles over a certain age, who'd had several decades to breed and had slowed down, were fair game for wild harvest, in order to protect the breeding population.

If you were anywhere near where burmese pythons have become an invasive, I would try that. There are apparently also large lizards that have become a naturalised invasive in some of the southern states. I would probably harvest those before something that grows and breeds as slowly as turtles.

That said, if you catch one, I wish you the very best of luck with it, however you prepare it. If you could document it, I'm sure I'm not the only audience you'd have.

-CK
 
master pollinator
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Yes, please document it. I suggest that you document it with still photography. Honey was traumatized in his childhood when his brother's newly headless catch ran up his arm. Seriously. Not in this event, but it's been suggested that the detached head can attempt chowing down. Be careful.
 
pollinator
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Probably the finest tasting wild critter I have ever fried up.  Never had a really big one, but we pressure cook them for a while to tenderize, then batter and fry up.  Watch youtube for cleaning instructions.  You basically open the seams around the bottom plate, remove the bottom plate, then cut the meat out of the shell.  Lots of fine, tip of the knife, work.  Keep it razor sharp.  Not too hard after you get the hang of it.
 
pollinator
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I have one cookbook that says the easiest way to dispatch a turtle, is to drop it live into boiling water the way you would a lobster.

I've never been able to bring myself to do that to a living creature. Call me squeamish. But, if you're ok with the method, it does look like the easiest way to get the process started. After the turtle has simmered for a bit (I don't have the chart handy showing how long it needs to cook), then you can take it out, rub the skin off, split the shell, debone and declaw it, and use the meat in your recipe. Make sure to remove as much of the yellow fat as possible.
 
Michael Dotson
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I did a little digging and found that the alligator snapping turtle is protected anyway. I'm glad I let him go.
I'm with you, I can't throw a live creature into boiling water. Now, I'll eat the hell out of something YOU throw in, but I can't.
This ain't the guy I caught, but this is what I caught.
AlligatorTurtle_f.jpg
[Thumbnail for AlligatorTurtle_f.jpg]
 
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My grandpa loves eating these guys and would always make turtle soup - he'd catch like 2 a year and then help the turtles in the meantime (he'd always save the ones crossing the roads or drag them out of populated areas) which made me feel less guilty about eating them. He would kill them first by chopping off the heads before preparing any of the meat. I don't remember the soup recipe but I do recall it being very good.
 
pollinator
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Michael Dotson wrote:I did a little digging and found that the alligator snapping turtle is protected anyway. I'm glad I let him go.
I'm with you, I can't throw a live creature into boiling water. Now, I'll eat the hell out of something YOU throw in, but I can't.
This ain't the guy I caught, but this is what I caught.



Yeah, you have to let the alligator snappers go.  I have come across them at well over 150 pounds in the NC swamps!!!

That said, dropping a turtle into boiling water is ABSOLUTELY NOT the best way to dispatch them or even how anyone who cooks turtle to eat does it.  Hold it by the tail and chop off the head with a hatchet or manchette.  It is quick and clean, and no less humane than killing a chicken.  Be sure to harvest the cheek meat from the head.  Tin snips are best to open the shell.  Be sure not to puncture the gall and bladder.  Turtle is my favorite meat.  They can be harvested humanely and responsibly, where over-populated.  Trapping them is more humane, but sometimes they do take a fish hook whether we like it or not.
 
master pollinator
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When I was a kid, our neighbor cooked them regularly.  We would put a stick in front of it so it would bite down, and then shoot it through the brain with .22.  After that we cut the head off and nailed it through the tail, belly toward you, to a 6x6 post in the ground.  Then we would butcher them.

I hate even thinking there are people that boil them alive.  As large as a turtle like that is, it would suffer for a long time before dying.  I pretty much think people that do things like that should get to experience it themselves.
 
Judson Carroll
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Trace Oswald wrote:When I was a kid, our neighbor cooked them regularly.  We would put a stick in front of it so it would bite down, and then shoot it through the brain with .22.  After that we cut the head off and nailed it through the tail, belly toward you, to a 6x6 post in the ground.  Then we would butcher them.

I hate even thinking there are people that boil them alive.  As large as a turtle like that is, it would suffer for a long time before dying.  I pretty much think people that do things like that should get to experience it themselves.



I honestly don't think anyone does.  I know Native Americans and early settlers used to just throw them in the fire and cook them in the shell.  But, in all my years as an southerner and outdoorsman, I've never known anyone who didn't either cut the head off, shoot them or cut the neck inside the shell with a knife if they were locked onto body part.  A lot of people who write cookbooks or recipes online, in magazines and such have no actual experience cooking what they present - they just repeat something they have been told.
 
gardener
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i know this doesn’t add much to the conversation, but a 3” wide head doesn’t sound that big for a regular snapper, let alone an alligator snapper. the big mama snapper that would lay eggs in the sandstone quarry in my wisconsin youth had a head that was easily 4” across if not 5. she was a real big ol’ girl though.

my brother and i caught one of here babies and brought it home for a pet, and we were run ragged that summer just trying to keep it fed. the little monster ate a ridiculous amount. eventually we gave up and brought little fish-hook (named for his claws) back to the quarry.
 
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There's several different textures of meat within a snapper, resembling other animals you've eaten. You will see this after you take him apart.

There's no gamy taste but generally tastes like what the animal is eating. So if he's eating bluegill then you'll get a subtle taste of bluegill.

Just divide up the different cuts of meat, fry them until browned, roll them in your favorite coating and then bake them at 350 for 1 hour.

Dont forget the pan drippings for a turtle gravy...

The snapper has to be pretty good size to make this worth while.
 
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