Of all the parts of a turkey, and especially a wild turkey, the drumsticks are the most challenging to cook.
A lot of people toss them, or give their wild turkey legs to the dog. So a turkey leg recipe needs to be good to keep your pooch from his treat. This is that recipe.
You need to know that turkey drumsticks are loaded with bone-like sinews that will not break down no matter how long you cook the leg. It just won’t. So to eat a turkey leg nicely, you need to strip the meat off the bones. You also need to know that the drumstick is very much the darkest part of the turkey, darker even than the thigh.
My first real success with turkey legs was turkey carnitas. This is a great dish for turkey legs — thighs and drumsticks — but so is this one.
Turkey leg stew is really just what I am calling a pretty classic New Mexican stew that revolves around dried corn, chiles and, usually, pork.
Dried corn? Yep, it’s called chicos in the Southwest, and it’s pretty cool. It’s either sweet corn or dent corn, dried on or off the cob and then separated and stored for later. If you’ve never eaten dried corn, it’s amazing. Sturdy, full of corn flavor, either starchy or a touch sweet, a bit chewy. I have no idea why we don’t eat more of it.
How to find it? You can buy chicos online, as I did, or you can sometimes find regular dried corn in the bulk section of hippie food stores, but your best bet for a substitute – albeit not an exact one – is the dried corn for masa they sell in Mexican markets. That is very common, and although it’s not the same stuff, it’ll get you close. You can use canned hominy in a pinch.
Once you get past the dried corn, this is easy-peasy. You just build the stew like a house: foundation, walls, roof, decorations.
It starts with the turkey legs and the dried corn. Both need a ton of time to cook, even if you do soak the chicos overnight. If you’re using dried beans you’ll want to soak them, too. I used tepary beans which are very Southwestern, but any good dry bean will do.
I like to use a little broth to get the flavor going, but not overly so because the turkey legs will make their own broth. You can roast the legs before simmering or not. I did in a 400°F oven for about an hour, turning the legs a few times. Adds another bit of flavor.
Then the turkey legs cook with the dried corn for a few hours before you put in the dried beans, some roasted green chiles (freshly made or canned), sauteed onions, one or more chipotles in adobo, and finally lots of cilantro or parsley.
The result is thoroughly stick-to-your-ribs, meat-and-potatoes type food. It’s not overly spicy, there’s lots of meat, corn and beans, and the cilantro and maybe some sour cream brighten things up. Give this turkey leg recipe a go with the next drumsticks you get your hands on!
Southwestern Turkey Leg Stew
- 4 turkey drumsticks, or legs and thighs from 1 turkey
- 5 to 10 ounces dried corn, about 3 cups
- 1 quart turkey or chicken stock
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano, Mexican if possible
- 2 tablespoons ancho chile powder (optional)
- 1 to 4 chipotles in adobo, minced
- 1 cup dried beans (pinto, tepary, etc.)
- 2 tablespoons lard or vegetable oil
- 1 large yellow or white onion, chopped
- 4 to 6 poblano or Anaheim chiles, roasted, skinned and seeded (or used canned green chiles)
- 1/2 cup chopped cilantro or parsley
- Put the dry beans in a bowl of very hot water and set aside. Turn the oven to 400F. Salt the turkey drumsticks well on all sides and put them in a roasting pan; you can coat them with a little oil if you'd like. Roast, turning once or twice, until browned, about an hour.
- Meanwhile, in a large soup pot, add the turkey broth and 4 more quarts of water. Bring to a simmer and add salt to taste. Drop in the dried corn and simmer this while the turkey legs roast.
- When the turkey legs are ready, nestle them into the pot and add a bit more water if they're sticking out of the water. Bring to a simmer and stir in the oregano, chipotles and ancho powder. Simmer gently, partially covered, for 2 hours.
- Drain the beans and add them to the pot; they'll usually need an hour to cook.
- While everything is simmering, heat the lard in a frying pan and saute the onion over medium-high heat until the edges brown. Chop the roasted chiles into pieces you'd want to eat in a stew and add them to the frying pan. Saute for 2 minutes, stirring often. Add the contents of the frying pan to the pot.
- When everything is getting tender, fish out the turkey legs and lay them on a baking sheet to cool. When they are cool enough to handle, strip all the meat off the legs and add it back to the pot. Discard the bones.
- Finish with the chopped cilantro and serve with sour cream on the side.
I’ve used an Intapot(Pressure cooker) for your Turkey Barboca which makes it real easy to separate the tendons. Any problems using that for this recipe? Still do some roasting to beforehand to add some flavor? Ok to use the thighs in this too?
Keep up the good work Hank.
Hank Shaw says
Eric: you could do that. And yes, thighs are great here.
Steve Orr says
Delicious beyond belief! If you’re tired of the same old turkey recipes this recipe takes things to the next level.
This was absolutely delicious. The corn gave very nice texture
christopher jordan says
I made this recipe using venison shanks. I really enjoyed it especially the dried corn in the recipe.I was able to find it at a local food store.
I’m soaking the beans and dried corn overnight to make this dish tomorrow and maybe I’m missing something but seems to me that 3 cups of dried corn is more like 15 ounces. Am I wrong?
Hank Shaw says
Christine: All depends on the size of the kernel.
Cassandra Brecht says
This looks amazing! I looked on Amazon for the chicos and noticed a number of people were disappointed that the package was so small (5 oz.). When I went to their website, though, I found that they offer it in bulk as well. Here’s the link…https://www.loschileros.com/soups-meals-a-gifts/613-chicos-bulk-per-lb.html?keyword=chicos
Hank Shaw says
Cassandra: Thanks for that – good tip.
Steve B says
Do you cook the legs with the skin on or off? Or does it matter?
Hank Shaw says
Steve: Doesn’t matter.
Debbie Spivey says
Hi Hank! I’ve never used dried corn. Where can you find that? With the dried beans and lentils?
Robert Vellios says
Love the website and this recipe looks fantastic!
Questions: When do you add the Chipotles in Adobo, when you add the contents of the frying pan to the large pot?
Also, seems like a huge amount of liquid, 5 quarts, some I expect will reduce with the lid partially on while doing the long simmer?
Hank Shaw says
Robert: Yes, it reduces a lot. A rope-dragger gobbler’s legs can take 4+ hours to get tender, so you’ll lose a lot of liquid in that time. I add the chipotles When I add the herbs.
Giuseppe Mezzetta says
could this recipe be used for duck legs also? I know you’d have to use a lot more.
Hank Shaw says
Giuseppe: Yep, it’ll work.
FRANK SOMMA says
This looks awesome and i am going to try it I get great dried corn (and other excellent products from Anson Mills online. I hated the idea that we discarded legs whether from turkey of wild geese or ducks so this past Christmas I braised a bunch of goose legs, stripped the meat, added other ingredients, and used the mixture to make goose leg ravioli. My family went nuts for it! I am happy to share the recipe if you want
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Marisa Franca @ All Our Way says
It sounds amazing. I haven’t tried dried corn but it really would add an interesting element to the dish. Our son is the hunter in the family. He didn’t have a chance to hunt wild turkey this year but perhaps this fall. We still have some antelope in the freezer that he gave us — can’t wait to create something interesting. Any suggestions?