Ask most bird hunters and they might tell you there’s no such thing as a fowl tenderloin. After all, on the backside of any bird – where one would expect to locate a tenderloin, since that is where they are found on cattle and deer – there is little more than bone and gristle.
I myself doubted such a succulent cut existed on any wild bird until a few years ago, when a friend introduced me to a mouth-watering piece of bird hidden in an unexpected location.
Chances are you have eaten many bird tenderloins and never even realized it. A bird’s tenderloin resides behind a section of breast meat, at the inside section of the breast near the turkey’s keel bone.
Ever grill a chicken breast and there is a strip loosely hanging from the breast? That’s your tenderloin.
This piece of muscle is under-utilized, even on old wild toms, and therefore far more tender than other muscles. While rather small on pheasant, grouse or chicken, the tenderloin cut on a mature tom is quite large, sometimes the size of a full pheasant breast.
While some folks declare an aversion to wild game, especially turkey, I can promise you: They’ll never be able to tell the difference between a brined wild tom tenderloin and store-bought fowl.
This recipe works with any commercially purchased bird, so if you don’t have any leftover turkey breast from spring, do know you’ll find the tenderloin cut on your favorite birds in the fall, or at your local grocer.
Makes two servings.
Two 6-ounce wild turkey tenderloins
12 ounces gnocchi (store-bought or homemade)
8 ounces fresh asparagus, grilled
18 to 20 cherry tomatoes, grilled
1 gallon water
1/2 cup non-iodized salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 bulb fresh garlic, peeled and smashed
1/4 cup each of peppercorns, coriander seeds and dried red chili peppers
4 bay leaves
1 cup chardonnay wine
2 large cloves fresh garlic, freshly minced
1/2 teaspoon each of salt and black pepper
1/4 lemon, juiced
1 teaspoon white pepper
2 tablespoon heavy whipping cream
1/2 pound butter
Freshly minced chives
To butcher wild tom for tenderloins: The tenderloin cut lies tucked behind the main portion of the breast. Cut as close to breast bone as possible to remove breast. As you cut, you will notice a separate, much smaller section only slightly attached to breast at the lower portion of the breast bone. The tenderloins’ muscle striations are readily visible and more delicate, similar to flesh from a fish fillet. Cut both tenderloin cuts from breast and prepare brine.
To brine tenderloins: Add salt and sugar to gallon of cold water and mix thoroughly until dissolved. Add fresh garlic, peppercorns, coriander seeds, dried chili peppers and bay leaves and stir. Submerge tenderloins, refrigerate and brine for 8-10 hours. THOROUGHLY RINSE off tenderloins upon removing from brine.
To grill vegetables and tenderloins: Preheat grill to 400 degrees. Make sure coals are gray and hot (if using charcoal) and grate is also hot. Rinse asparagus, cut off bottom firm portion of stem, lightly salt and pepper (drizzle over lemon juice, if desired) and place on grill. Skewer cherry tomatoes and placed alongside asparagus. Remove all once seared. Place tenderloins on grill, flip once sear marks appear on bottom and remove once finished, when internal temperature reaches 160 degrees.
To prepare beurre blanc: In a small sauce pan, add chardonnay, heavy cream, lemon juice, minced garlic, white pepper, black pepper and salt. Simmer until liquids are one-third of original amount. While liquids simmer, cut 1/2 pound of butter into pats. Once liquids are reduced, remove pot from heat and very gradually stir in butter, 2-3 pats at a time.
To cook Gnocchi: Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add gnocchi. Gnocchi is finished once pieces float to top.
To assemble: Heat a medium skillet on medium and add a tablespoon of butter. Cut grilled asparagus into 1-inch pieces and add a handful of chopped asparagus, along with cherry tomatoes and gnocchi, to heated skillet and toss. Lightly salt and pepper to taste.
To serve: Add tossed skillet contents to plate and top with sliced grilled tenderloin. Ladle beurre blanc over top and garnish with freshly minced chives.
Jack Hennessy is a freelance outdoors journalist based out of Minneapolis and the author of the blog “Braising the Wild.” Follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @WildGameJack or on Facebook at Facebook.com/BraisingtheWild.