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Wild birds: Let’s Talk Wild Tendons in “Braising the Wild”

Jack Hennessy talks wild tendons this week in “Braising the Wild.”

Let’s Talk Wild Tendons comes this week in “Braising the Wild.” Credit: Jack Hennessy
Let’s Talk Wild Tendons comes this week in “Braising the Wild.”
Jack Hennessy

Jack Hennessy is spot on from the first sentence today. Tough tendons are real impediment to enjoying parts of wild birds. And I enjoyed the wit of the overstatement in the second paragraph.

Enjoy Hennessy on wild tendons:

LET’S TALK WILD TENDONS

I’d be willing to speculate the reason so many hunters do not keep the legs from their wild birds is due to the crazy amount of tendons, and their hard texture when cooked, compared to domestic birds.

These tendons are so hard they are often mistaken for bones by some cooks. Some tendons are so sharp, I almost think I could use them to shave could times get really tough (okay, maybe I am exaggerating there). Bottom line: Tendons are an unpleasant aspect of cooking wild legs. Below are some tips on how to deal with them.

REMOVING TENDONS

It is possible to remove some tendons, but not all. This is harder to pull off at bigger birds with thicker legs, but the idea is this: You crack the leg below the spur and step on the foot while grasping the upper portion of leg with both hands. You pull the bird apart from the foot and what is left behind are several tendons attached to the foot.

You can find my short video on this on YouTube: “Removing Tendons from Upland Birds.”

WHEN COOKING

As I have discussed in several articles, the harder-working parts of our game will also be tougher and therefore require lower temps and longer times for cooking. Legs are no different. You can braise or simmer your wild turkey legs but the bottom line is this: make sure they are covered in liquids for a minimum of 4 hours at at no higher than 325 degrees. For small birds, like pheasants or grouse, you can likely get away with half that time, if not less.

I like to submerge my wild turkey legs in chicken stock and a dark beer or wine, then toss in some diced onions, celery, and black peppercorns and let those babies denature in the oven for several hours. For bigger birds, like a very mature tom, you may want to go as long as 6 hours. I like to follow this process with a quick sear over flames or a 220-degree smoke for a half hour.

WHEN SERVING

I suggest carving off chunks and then hand-picking the meat off the tendons. You’re just plain cruel if you serve that leg sans carving or picking, but that’s just my opinion. Also, ALWAYS remind those eating game to “CHEW SLOWLY,” as shot, even for a turkey pelted in the head, can remain in leg meat. It happened to my wife this past weekend (and I know I headshot that bird). Thankfully, her bark is far fiercer than her bite.