When spring arrives on the Eastern Shore of Maryland it reveals a plethora of outdoor opportunities that have been stowed behind winter air. The options seem endless, and the decisions can be tough. You’re striper fishing, but the turkeys have been gobbling, and you told yourself you’d hit the shad run, but the weather has been perfect for foraging. It’s like this every year and it’s one of my favorite problems.
If you’re after an adrenaline rush and some of the best wild protein around, look no further than northern snakehead and eastern wild turkeys.
When you think of the Chesapeake Bay, your mind probably races to striped bass (locally referred to as rockfish), blue crabs, and Old Bay; however, snakehead have made a name for themselves in recent years. Northern snakehead are an invasive predatory fish native to Asia. In 2002, the first Maryland snakehead was caught in a small pond. Fast forward nineteen years and now snakehead can be found in virtually every Chesapeake tributary. They’re a doomsday fish to some and a welcomed resource to others, but no matter where you stand in the debate, two things are certain – they fight like hell, and as far as freshwater fish go, their meat is next to none. On top of that, anglers are encouraged by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to keep and kill snakehead to reduce spreading and decrease population densities.
Snakehead are a relatively new option in Chesapeake country, but wild turkeys have been on the radar for decades. There’s something about watching the woods come back to life and hearing that thunderous gobble that’ll just grab ahold of you. In addition, no animal seems get anglers curious about hunting quite like the wild turkey.
Turkey hunting, like fly-fishing, is a highly interactive pursuit, requiring the hunter to develop an intimate understanding of the landscape and the quarry to have a shot at sealing the deal. Turkeys are incredibly vocal, so calling can be an effective technique… if you hit the right notes… at the right times…to the right bird. It’s often compared to a game of chess. You carefully make your move, patiently await a response, and then advance the game, hoping you haven’t screwed up in the meantime. A lot can go wrong, but when it all comes together it’s something special.
Harvesting your own meat is a feeling unlike many others. It leaves you with remorse, empathy, compassion – and above all appreciation. If you ask me, the world might benefit from a dose of this emotional cocktail we call hunting and fishing. As hunters and anglers, we have an exclusive ability to obtain rare or otherwise unavailable ingredients, and get to experience them at optimum freshness. Give your ingredients room to breathe. The beauty of this dish lies in its simplicity.
- 0.5 teaspoon dried thyme
- 0.5 teaspoons dried rosemary
- 0.25 tablespoon chardonnay infused sea salt
- 0.25 tablespoon J.O. Crab Seasoning #2 (If you don’t have J.O. simply double the amount of chardonnay infused sea salt, although J.O. provides a nice regional flair)
- 0.5 teaspoon black pepper
- 0.5 teaspoon garlic powder
- 0.5 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 0.5 tablespoon brown sugar
- 0.5 wild turkey breast (domestic turkey breast can be substituted)
- 2 snakehead fillets (any mild, white-meat fish can be substituted)
- Olive oil (amount will vary based on size of cast iron pan)
- 0.25 cup balsamic reduction
- 0.5 cup flour
- 0.5 cup Panko breadcrumbs
- 2 eggs (stirred into egg wash)
- 1 lemon
- 6 4” bamboo skewers
- 0.5 pint grape or cherry tomatoes
- Fresh basil leaves
- Fresh mozzarella balls or sliced mozzarella log
This dry rub has a myriad of applications. It’s a blend that I mix in large batches and keep on hand. Feel free to scale up the ratios to make a larger batch. I mix these ingredients at home and keep a jar of the blend in my camp cooking set.
- Measure and combine the thyme, rosemary, garlic powder, onion powder, smoked paprika, black pepper, chardonnay infused sea salt, J.O. Crab Seasoning #2, and brown sugar in a jar. Shake to mix.
- Use immediately, or store in a dark dry place for future use.
Soak a handful of cherry wood chips in water for at least two hours.
Establish a thick bed of coals no longer producing flames. Create two zones in the fire pit: coal bed and open fire. The snakehead will cook over the coals and the turkey will cook in a cast iron pan over the fire.
Northern Grilled Snakehead:
- Evenly coat all sides of snakehead fillets with the dry rub.
- Drizzle olive oil and balsamic reduction on top of the fillets.
- Place the soaked wood chips on top of the coal bed.
- Once the wood chips begin to smoke, place the fillets on a cooking rack about 12-15” above the coal bed.
- Cook until the meat is white and flakey – about 4-6 minutes per side depending on the fillet size and coal bed temperature.
Fried Eastern Wild Turkey:
- Cut the turkey breast cross-grained into slices 0.75” thick.
- Individually tenderize the slices by placing them into a gallon sized plastic bag, place the bag onto a flat surface, and strike the slices at a slight angle with the bottom of a cast iron pan until a thickness of 0.25-0.50” is achieved.
- Remove the tenderized slices from the bag and evenly coat all sides with the dry rub.
- Dredge the seasoned slices into flour, then egg wash, then Panko breadcrumbs.
- Pour olive oil into the cast iron pan until the oil line is about 0.25” from the bottom of the pan.
- Place the cast iron pan on a cooking rack over the open fire. You may have to experiment with the flame intensity to obtain the right heat. Drop a breadcrumb into the pan to gauge the oil temperature. The breadcrumb should produce a steady stream of bubbles without smoking.
- Fry battered turkey slices until golden brown – about 2-3 minutes per side.
- Drizzle with squeezed lemon just before serving.
- Spear one tomato and slide it to the top of the skewer.
- Fold a basil leaf in half, spear it, and slide it up against the tomato.
- Repeat with a slice of fresh mozzarella, or a mozzarella ball.
- Repeat in this order until the skewer is full.
- Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic reduction just before serving.
Article by Kirk Marks, an angler, photographer, and culinary aficionado based in Kent Island, Maryland. Give him a follow at @kirkymarks.