New Orleans Seafood Cookbook
by Ralph Brennan
The closest encounter some have had with turtle soup was to watch French actress Stephane Audran ladle it out as potage a la tortue in the 1988 movie "Babette's Feast."
While this delicious soup may be hard to set in most parts of the world, in New Orleans it remains a familiar dish on the tables of many restaurants and family dining rooms. Thanks to the abundant supply of the amphibian from South Louisiana's vast system of natural waterways, New Orleans Creoles have been enjoying their spicy soupe a la tortue ..for centuries, and variations on the basic recipe are as numerous as the cooks who prepare the dish.
Making the soup at home from scratch is best left to cooks capable of confronting the task of dressing a live snapping turtle. The rest of us can settle for buying fresh or frozen turtle meat (soft-shell and snapping turtles being the most common species) either from specialty markets or by mail order from seafood dealers in and around New Orleans.
The recipe below adheres to tradition, except perhaps for the addition of spinach. The leaf vegetable lends the soup touches of both color and interesting flavor.
This rich soup can be offered either as a first or main course, with crusty French bread or toast points.
For 16 appetizer servings or 8 main-dish servings
Note: If the soup is made ahead, check the level of lemon juice and sherry before serving.
• 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
• 1 1/2 pounds turtle meat, trimmed of all sinew and cut into 1/4-inch cubes
• 8 cloves garlic, minced
• 2 medium-size onions, chopped fine
• 4 stalks celery, chopped fine
• 2 medium-size green sweet peppers, chopped fine
• 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt, plus to taste
• 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
• 2 medium-size Creole* tomatoes, seeded and chopped fine
• 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
• 3 quarts beef stock
• 1 cup Worcestershire sauce
• 2 tablespoons Crystal brand pepper sauce, or other relatively mild pepper sauce
• 2 tablespoons finely chopped Italian (flat-leaf) parsley leaves
• 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
• 5 large eggs, hard-boiled, chopped fine
• 6 ounces fresh spinach, washed, stemmed and leaves sliced flne
• zest from 3 lemons, chopped fine
• 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
• 1/2 cup good-quality pale sherry
*South Louisiana's Creole tomatoes are preferred for this recipe, although other good, peak-of-season regional varieties can be used.
1. Over medium-high heat, melt the butter in a heavy 7-quart saucepan.
2. Add the turtle meat and garlic. Cook until the meat is no longer pink, about five minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. Stir in the onions, celery, sweet peppers, kosher salt, and pepper. Cook until the vegetables start to become translucent, about 10 minutes.
4. Add the tomatoes and cook about five minutes, stirring often so the bottom of the pan does not scorch. Reduce the heat to medium.
5. Dust the vegetables with the flour and cook five minutes, stirring constantly and scraping the pan bottom clean so the flour does not burn.
6. Slowly add the stock, stirring and scraping the pan bottom constantly to prevent dough balls from forming in the soup.
7. Stir in the Worcestershire, pepper sauce, parsley and thyme. Simmer 30 minutes.
8. Add the eggs, spinach, lemon zest, lemon juice and sherry. Continue simmering 10 minutes more.
Serving Suggestion: Taste for salt and serve warm in heated cups or bowls.