Creole Turtle Soup

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This Creole turtle soup recipe has a pretty funny backstory, and since the recipe is easy to make with regular supermarket ingredients — except for the turtle, obviously — I’ll tell it to you.

A bowl of Creole turtle soup.
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

It all started some years ago with a knock at the front door. It sounded urgent. Normally I’d answer it, but at that moment I was plucking geese. No position to greet polite society. “Holly, can you get that?” 

Holly answered the door. It was the mailman. I couldn’t hear everything they were saying, but he appeared to have a large box in hand that he very much wanted to get rid of.

“Hey Hank,” Holly shouted into the kitchen. “Um… were you expecting anything… bloody?”

Not at the moment. The mailman knows me well enough to understand what I do and that I occasionally get care packages full of exotic protein. My first thought was my dad, who once sent me whole king salmon from the Pacific Northwest. But I’d told him to stop doing that, considering that I catch more than I can possibly eat every year now. “Open it up!”

Holly grabbed a utility knife and broke open the giant box: “Um… it’s a turtle.”

Oh! Norm and Joe!!

Norm and Joe are my friends from northeast Ohio. Trappers both, and hosts of the radio show Inside the Great Outdoors. It all came flooding back. When my book tour took me to Cleveland, I’d spent some time jawing with Norm and Joe (I stayed at Joe’s house) and well, we might have had a few beers and got talking about turtles.

Turtles are delicious, but are notoriously hard to clean, so I was thankful that Norm had cleaned this one for me. Usually cleaning a snapping turtle involves axes and wire cutters and boiling water and generally a lot of effort. This turtle was a bruiser, too: I weighed the meat at just over 3 pounds — enough for two meals!

I love turtle soup for two reasons: First, it’s just damn tasty. There are several classic ways to make it, and we’ll get to that in a moment, but turtle meat tastes like a cool combination of chicken thigh, clam and pork.

I know, weird, right? The reason is because turtle meat is all over the map, with at least four different textures and colors coming from the same turtle, depending on what part you’re talking about. The second reason I love turtle soup is because it is an American classic.

When the great captains of industry had banquets back in the late 1800s, terrapin soup would always be on the menu next to roast canvasback with fried hominy. Unfortunately, market hunters did such damage to the terrapin population that recreational hunting seasons on them only reopened recently. I’ve never eaten terrapin, which is a smallish turtle that’s reported to be very, very tasty.

But I have eaten snapping turtle. And that’s what Norm had mailed me.

A spoonful of turtle soup, showing its consistency.
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

Snapper soup, as it’s called in a lot of places, is just as classic as terrapin soup, but it’s more rustic. It’s still popular among a certain set in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland and its environs.

If you travel farther south, however, you will find my favorite version: Creole turtle soup. Well, to be honest, I like all turtle soups (the Chinese do some cool things with turtle, too) but this one is the most accessible to turtle newbies here in North America.

Creole turtle soup is a standard on New Orleans menus, and everyone has a different version.

One thing to look for is for diced or pulled meat, not ground: You can hide your lack of turtle in the grinder. Finishing the soup with sherry is de rigeur, and the result is a silky, spicy soup kinda-sorta like a gumbo, but with more tomato. It also typically has some chopped hard-boiled eggs in it, which is a nod to the old days, when they’d include any eggs they found inside the turtle in the soup.

I can hear you thinking: “Well Hank, this is all well and good and I am sure this soup is awesome, but where in hell can I find turtle?”

Guilty. Turtle meat is very tough to come by, but I’ve seen it in lots of Asian markets (you can even get live ones there) as well as in some farmers markets in places like Missouri, Ohio and Maryland. And, interestingly, you can also buy it online.

A bowl of Creole turtle soup.
4.86 from 34 votes

Creole Turtle Soup

This is a classic Creole turtle soup from New Orleans. It's super easy to make... once you have a turtle. See the recipe notes for some suggestions.
Course: Main Course, Soup
Cuisine: American, Cajun
Servings: 8 people
Author: Hank Shaw
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 3 hours
Total Time: 3 hours 20 minutes

Ingredients 

  • 2 1/2 pounds turtle meat on the bone, or 1 1/2 pounds boneless
  • 4 bay leaves
  • Salt
  • 1 cup flour
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 celery stalks, minced
  • 1 green bell pepper, minced
  • 1 1/2 cups minced onion
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • One 18- ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sweet paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
  • 1/2 cup dry sherry
  • 1/3 cup chopped parsley
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
  • Grated zest of a lemon
  • Black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Instructions 

  • Start by making the turtle stock. Put the turtle meat into a large pot and cover with 8 cups of water. Add the bay leaves and about a tablespoon of salt. Bring to a boil and skim the scum that floats to the top. Drop the heat to a bare simmer and cook until the turtle meat wants to fall off the bone, about 2 to 3 hours.
  • Remove the meat from the pot and pull it off the bones. Chop as coarse or as fine as you want. Strain the turtle broth and put it into a pot set over low heat to keep warm.
  • In a Dutch oven or other soup pot, melt the butter over medium-high heat and stir in the flour. Cook this, stirring almost constantly, to make a roux the color of peanut butter, which will take about 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Add the green pepper, celery and onion and cook for about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook another minute. Add the chopped turtle meat and stir to combine.
  • Stir in a cup of the turtle stock at a time until you the soup is the consistency of gravy. Add the tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce, cayenne and paprika. Add more turtle broth until the soup thins a bit. It should be thicker than water, thinner than gravy -- like chicken and dumplings if you are familiar with that. Simmer gently for 15 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft.
  • Finish the soup with the sherry, parsley, lemon zest and hard-boiled eggs. Add them all, stir to combine and simmer for a minute or two. Add salt, black pepper and lemon juice to taste. Serve alone or with rice.

Notes

Your hardest task will be to find turtle meat. My first advice would be to cruise the Asian markets in your town, if you have any. Or you can buy snapping turtle meat online.
More likely, however, you will be substituting. Alligator is the closest thing to turtle in my experience, and frog legs come pretty close, too.
Barring those options, I might use a combination of chicken thighs, pork shoulder and clams. (I've never done it, so you'd have to come up with your own ratio.) You can skip the clams if you think that's too weird, but remember that turtle does have a seafoody taste.

Nutrition

Calories: 408kcal | Carbohydrates: 24g | Protein: 33g | Fat: 19g | Saturated Fat: 9g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 211mg | Sodium: 308mg | Potassium: 784mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 6g | Vitamin A: 1396IU | Vitamin C: 27mg | Calcium: 77mg | Iron: 4mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe? Tag me today!Mention @huntgathercook or tag #hankshaw!

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About Hank Shaw

Hey there. Welcome to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, the internet’s largest source of recipes and know-how for wild foods. I am a chef, author, and yes, hunter, angler, gardener, forager and cook. Follow me on Instagram and on Facebook.

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60 Comments

  1. Enjoyed the recipe. Gave me more ideas on turning it into a turtle gumbo with shrimp ?. Going to add okra to it as well.

  2. Thanks for this recipe! I am making this as a gift, but that brings up a question. The snapper soups that I have had with my giftee were more beef than tomato forward. That makes me inclined to fortify the turtle stock with a GOOD, 24-hour slow roasted beef bone stock. That said, this is my first attempt at making turtle soup and normally, I would follow a new recipe to the letter. But…do you think that adding beef stock would take away from your recipe or add that layer of beefy flavor that seemed to be present in other soups I’ve tried (mostly in NOLA and parts slightly North)? Given that it’s a gift, I only have one shot at this and will appreciate any advice you have to offer.

      1. Hank: Thanks so much for the recipe and the advice. With your help, I think I have finally nailed the perfect present for the person that is IMPOSSIBLE to gift.
        For anyone who is shy about this recipe or about turtle soup in general, I’d say without hesitation–don’t be. The result is delicious and the turtle meat is not hard to come by with all of the online Cajun grocers out there. My order arrived quickly and perfectly butchered. All other ingredients were things I would normally have in my pantry. All I had to do was put it all together. My only advice would be to have patience. If something doesn’t seem like the expected color or tenderness just wait a bit…and then enjoy (oh, and absolutely trust in the lemon)! Thanks again, Hank. Merry Christmas!

  3. recipe was good though i had to add some extra ingriedings ss i thought the soup.was rather bland. then turned out greatt. my only question/complaint would be the method of boil to a simmer mad the meat very tough not soft fall off the bone like i hoped. how do i get the meat to a fall off the bone consistancy. thanks

    1. Jacob: Time. You just needed to give it more time, that’s all. It will always fall off the bone eventually.

  4. I read your recipe and it looks delicious. I mostly eat turtle soup at Commander’s Palace. I am writing to suggest that you try making this dish and or any other turtle dish, using alligator. It is a reptile after all and may be easier to come by than turtle for many people. It may be cheaper, too. It will certainly be easier to clean. The tail is said to be the best cut. It can easily be obtained as farm raised gator here in New Orleans. I have made sauce piquant with wild gator, which normally uses turtle, and had excellent results. Beware of any gator fat pockets if you decide to go with this. Their fat will put you off gator forever. Let us know if you give gator a try.

  5. Wow! I’d never eaten turtle before, let alone cooked with it. This turned out to be one of the best things I’ve ever made! Thank you!

  6. Many thanks Hank, just made this and holy moley !! Its awesome ! Was a bit worried when I made my roux for the first time but it all came out super tasty !!

  7. My lord…in my short 3 years of hunting and trapping and fishing, this is the best wild game dish I’ve made yet. So unbelievably good, full of flavor, with so much depth of flavor, one is transported to another world. And what a special recipe to share a strange exotic meat with others. Thank you Hank and thank you mighty snapper.

  8. Here’s source for turtle meat, Pete’s Fine Meats in Houston 713-782-3470. I bought some frozen and he just sawed off a 5 lb chuck for me. Good stuff.

    1. Made this recipe with roughly 1.5x all ingredients since the turtle I was working with was especially large. Added some simple parsley dumplings a little larger than marbles and skipped the sherry/boiled eggs. First time cooking softshell turtle and it turned out great! Would definitely recommend rice or dumplings to accompany the soup as it’s very rich/flavorful. Thank you for the recipe, Hank!

  9. Made this soup exactly to the receipt it was out of this world. The different layers of flavor are simply exceptional. I will never make turtle soup any other way. I questioned the the lemon but in my opinion it absolutely finishes the dish. But if you don’t like lemon best to leave it out. I’m going to share with the neighbors and I hope it doesn’t make a long term problem for me.

    Just try it!

    Dave – Erie Pa

  10. is 18 oz correct for the crushed tomatoes or should that be 28? I’ve only seen 15, 28, 32, etc but never an 18 oz can

  11. Made it today. It’s ok not my favorite. The only suggestion I have is cube the turtle meat and don’t stir so much. Maybe add the meat last. My fiance shredded the meat and it doesn’t look to tasty. It was something new but I think we’ll stick to the basics unless it’s the end of the world…. then I know how to cook them to survive.

  12. Personally, I like a red tomato type of broth. Turtles are plentiful up here in DE, but there are restrictions now……

  13. We are currently purging a (give or take) 18lb snapper from our pond that is overrun. He’s not even the largest! I plan on using this recipe first and then maybe some deep fried. Was yours purged or straight water to table? I’ve heard of both but most people say purge it for a week or so. Also, I’m a Maryland native, currently in Western NC so I love that the prologue speaks of my home yet I’m in the south making it for the first time ?Thanks for the recipe, looking forward to enjoying it!

  14. I had never made turtle soup before I found this recipe. This is outstanding! Easy to make and has the true flavors of the South. I did add a few ingredients and left a few others out using what I had on hand. I will definitely make it again.

  15. Outstanding recipe. Made some minor substitutions and process changes to fit what we had on hand and our rustic cooking envirnment. Definitely this is food fit for dignitaries of the highest order.

  16. We used this recipe with a fresh caught soft shell turtle, yellow catfish and gulf shrimp. It came out amazing! Thank you for putting this recipe out there!

  17. Got my meat from Joe Pattis seafood in Pensacola ( where I live) it’s $17.50 a lb. for snapping turtle anyway great recipe, it’s a little tomatoey but great the same.

  18. I made this soup with meat from a giant snapping turtle that we caught last summer out of a MN lake. I wasn’t up to the task of cooking it then, so we stuck it in the freezer until today. I was surprised by how delicious it was! I followed the recipe exactly.