As I dug through my freezer to survey a dwindling supply of gobbler meat, I stumbled across a small vacuum-sealed package labeled “Rio tenders.” This lost treasure of turkey tenderloins was a welcomed surprise that triggered fond memories from a Lone Star State adventure.
As a nonresident, it’s a pretty rare opportunity to get cut loose on a giant Texas ranch with no guides and no rules. When my friend, Andrew Howard, said he had such a place lined up for a spring turkey camp, I was all in. Never mind the gas leak, the mice or the ghost of an old lady who watched us through the cabin windows — we were living high on the hog knowing we had run of this place. (Speaking of hogs, I was charged by an angry sow during this escapade … a story for another day.)
It was a real hunt for a small population of pure Rio Grande gobblers. We had to work hard to strike every gobble, and the birds we knocked down were true trophies of the experience. Among the highlights is a midday hunt in a sweat-soaked ground blind. Andrew and I unexpectedly called up a pair of long-spurred strutters that resulted in a couple of jovial high-fives and two heavy turkey vests.
We ate much of our meat in camp — some cooked over the coals of native mesquite on a rusty old grill and some stacked high on awesomely gluttonous breakfast sandwiches. But, out of the ordinary, I separately froze the tenderloins from my birds. When I found the package, this Southwestern-inspired salad became the reason.
- 1-2 pounds white turkey meat (tenderloins, breasts, etc.)
- 1 large head romaine lettuce
- 1 large yellow bell pepper
- 1 small red onion
- 1 medium container cherry tomatoes
- 1 large garlic head, minced
- 3 large limes
- 1 small bunch cilantro
- 2 large avocados
- Seeds from one jalapeno pepper (optional)
- Avocado oil
- Kosher salt
- Chipotle chili powder
- Shredded pepper jack cheese
- Pine nuts (optional)
Let me start by noting there are four critical elements to a remarkable salad: freshness, texture, color and presentation. Make sure you always use fresh ingredients with a diverse array of colors. Pay attention to your slicing, dicing and chopping of ingredients to ensure every forkful contains a sensible arrangement of key flavors and textures (for instance, you probably don’t want your onions sliced at the same thickness as your lettuce or peppers). Lastly, present your salad as if it’s a work of art—much like watching a strutter, the salad experience can be highly visual.
- Slice turkey meat into thin strips. Pound to flatten pieces into uniform thickness (approx. 1/2-inch). Season both sides of strips with salt, chipotle chili powder, and minced fresh garlic. Marinate in juice from one lime for 30 minutes at room temp.
- Sear marinated turkey strips in well-oiled skillet over medium-high heat. Don’t overcrowd the pan. Remove meat and set aside to cool. I prefer avocado oil because of its high smoke point.
- Salad dressing: In a small bowl, combine avocados with juice from two limes, jalapeno seeds, minced cilantro leaves, and a splash of tequila and avocado oil. Whisk until smooth; add milk and thin to desired consistency. Salt to taste.
- Chop romaine lettuce and thinly slice bell pepper and onion.
- Stack salad with lettuce on bottom, followed by pepper and onion slices with cherry tomatoes. Top with seared wild turkey strips and finish entire salad with drizzling of dressing.
- Offer shredded pepper jack cheese and pine nuts as additional toppings.