Wild Turkey "Tom-ales" (Tamales)

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One of the most appealing aspects of hunting is the inherent challenge of pursuing an animal- learning its habits, dealing with the elements, just getting out after it day after day after day until you’re successful. That goes doubly for teaching yourself how to hunt. Wade taught himself to hunt deer, all the way from sighting in his weapon to butchering. We learned to duck hunt together, with an inflatable boat and some very poorly done calling. Along the way, we’ve been fortunate to come across people who share our interest in the outdoors and have extended a hand to us, letting us go after game we’ve never had a crack at before.

Cameron is our good friend, a “genuine Virginia gentleman,” and a bona fide bird whisperer. We met him years ago through Wade’s work at the restaurant, and have been hunting buddies ever since. We’ve spent more hours in a blind together than I could count, and with his hard-earned knowledge of everything that flies, we’ve had some once-in-a-lifetime goose and duck hunts. Wade has gone with him on a handful of turkey hunts over the years, but it wasn’t until this season that we secured permission to hunt turkeys ourselves on a few properties. It was also this season that Cam, our bird wizard, moved to the Eastern Shore. We were going to have to figure it out ourselves.

And so we’ve been learning. A lot. The learning curve is still steep without someone there to hold your hand throughout, but this time around, we were lucky to have someone teach us the foundation of the pursuit. Right now, the season is starting to wrap up, and we’ve been out there as often as we can, getting wet and cold and hot and covered up in bugs, waiting for everything to fall into place. Last week, it finally did. Wade and I had the opportunity to double up on two hefty jakes, and we took it.

It was my first turkey, and Wade’s first bird on his own. Tagging your personal “first” of anything is always memorable, and we were so lucky to be able to do it together. Our drive home was full of chatter about what we were going to do with the birds- Wade has been talking about making turkey tamales for months now- and how we’re going to tweak things for future hunts. If we’re lucky, maybe next time, we’ll score two big toms.


Turkey ‘Tom’ales

Prep time: 6 hours inactive, 1 hour active

Makes: around 40



2 turkey thighs

1 cup roasted hatch or other spicy chilis, chopped

3 cloves garlic

2 bay leaves

1 tsp oregano

1 tsp paprika

1 quart turkey stock

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Season the thighs with salt and pepper, and brown both sides. Add to crockpot with all other ingredients. Set to high for 4-6 hours until tender enough to shred with fork. Remove thighs, shred meat off bones with a fork into smaller-than-bite-size pieces. Transfer the braising liquid to a saucepan, then use a stick blender to puree. Simmer until just thick and adjust seasoning. Pour enough of the liquid over shredded thigh meat until just covered, tossing meat to evenly coat.

Masa Mix

Dried corn husks, about 30, soaked overnight

7 cups masa harina

4.5 cups turkey stock

2 cups lard

2 tsp baking powder

2 tsp salt


Using a stand mixer or hand mixer with whisk attachment, whip lard, baking powder, and salt until light and fluffy.

In separate bowl combine masa and stock, mix by hand until crumbly.

Using paddle attachment or your hands, fold together masa mixture and lard mixture. The texture should be soft, pliable and a touch sticky. Add splashes of cold water as needed if the dough is too dry.

To Assemble

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With the husk, smoother side up, tapered point down, spread a ¼-⅓” thick layer of masa mix in a rectangular shape from the top right corner, 3-4 inches down. Leave 2” of the left side of the husk clean. Place 1-1.5 tbsp of the shredded meat mixture in center of the masa, fold masa over itself and roll tight towards the clean side, twist and fold up the end. If you’d like, you can tie the folded tail end to the tamales with a strip of corn husk.

Saveur has an excellent video showing how to roll a tamale- check it out before you start rolling.

Place vertically in a steamer (open end up) over boiling water. Don’t pack them in too tight, allow some room for expansion. Place a few extra corn husks over open end of tamales to keep water from saturating the tamales. Steam for 1 hour, then allow to cool down for 20 minutes in the steamer before removing.

Serve hot with any combination of sides and sauces: refried beans, sour cream, salsa, chopped onion and cilantro, or roasted red pepper sauce.

Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

3 cloves garlic, chopped

2 tbsp smoked paprika

1.5 cup roasted red peppers

1 tsp cayenne, ground (optional)

Saute garlic in a little oil until fragrant, add in peppers, cayenne and paprika. Simmer, then blend and season with salt to taste.