Turtle Soup

New Orleans-style turtle soup is as unique to our cuisine as gumbo. Unlike the clear turtle soup eaten in most other places, Creole turtle soup is thick and almost a stew. The most widely-served style of turtle soup in the area is descended from the one at Commander’s Palace, which is distinctive in using as much veal shoulder as turtle and in including spinach as an ingredient. My recipe is influenced by that one, as well as the incomparable version at Brennan’s (quite different, with more tomato), and the wonderful old-style version they did at the now-extinct Maylie’s.

Turtle soup.

Turtle soup at Restaurant de Familles, whose recipe is a lot like mine.

The hardest part of any turtle soup recipes is finding turtle meat; if you can’t, using veal shoulder turns out a very credible mock turtle soup. It is traditional to serve turtle soup with sherry at the table, but I’ve never liked the alcoholic taste and aroma of that. I add the sherry into the recipe early to get the flavor, but not the bitter alcohol.

In case you’ve wondered: for purposes of Lenten abstinence, the Archdiocese of New Orleans has declared that turtle meat is considered a fish, and edible any time during Lent.

  • 3 lbs. turtle meat or veal shoulder or a combination of the two, including any bones available
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 3 whole cloves
  • Peel of one lemon, sliced
  • 1 Tbs. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. black peppercorns
  • 2 sticks butter
  • 2/3 cup flour
  • 2 ribs celery, chopped
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 1 small green bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp. thyme
  • 1/2 tsp. marjoram
  • 1 cup dry sherry
  • 2 Tbs. Worcestershire
  • 1 cup tomato puree
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 Tbs. Louisiana hot sauce
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
  • 1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, leaves only, chopped
  • 1/2 of a 10-oz. bag of spinach, well washed and chopped

1. Simmer the turtle meat and/or veal with bones in a gallon of water, along with the bay leaves, cloves, lemon peel, salt and black peppercorns. Keep the simmer going very slowly for about two hours.

2. Strain the stock, reserving the liquid and the meat. If you don’t have at least three quarts of stock, add water or veal stock to get up to that quantity. Chop the meat into small shreds and set aside.

3. Make a medium-dark roux (the color of a well-used penny) with the butter and the flour. When the roux is the right color, add the celery, onions, bell pepper, and garlic, and cook until the vegetables are soft. Add the thyme, marjoram, sherry, Worcestershire, and tomato puree. Cook for a minute, then add the stock.

4. Lower the heat and add the pepper, hot sauce, and meat. Simmer for a half-hour, then add the egg, parsley and spinach and simmer 10 minutes more. It’s ready to serve now, but it gets better if you let it simmer for an hour or two more.

5. Correct seasonings with salt and black pepper and serve in heated bowls.

Serves six to eight.

7 Readers Commented

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  1. Charlina Mulkey on December 15, 2014

    Tom, do you have any suggestions as to where I might find the veal shoulder? I live on the northshore, but go to New Orleans often and shop at Dorignac’s. Do you think they may have it?


    • Tom Fitzmorris on December 15, 2014

      Veal shoulder is available in most meat departments. At worst, they can order it for you in a day or two.

      Tastefully yours,
      Tom Fitzmorris

  2. Shawn Cahill on January 16, 2015

    Zuppardos has veal shoulder all day long.

    Chef Shawn

  3. cathy on November 5, 2015

    3 pounds of meat for a soup seems like an awful lot of meat for 6-8 people–for soup..

    • Tom Fitzmorris on November 8, 2015

      Turtle soup must be meaty. There’s also a lot of shrinkage during the stock-making part of the recipe. But if you disagree, by all means do it your way!

      Tastefully yours,
      Tom Fitzmorris

  4. Leo McLean on December 22, 2015

    I have a lot of store-bought veal stock on hand. If I used it instead of water in your turtle soup recipe, would the result be too rich? What if I increased the volume of liquid, say from 1 to 1 -1/2 gallons?

  5. lola on December 22, 2015

    tom ! born and raised in nola moved to covington 1990 ! my second try at turtle soup ! used plantation cook book first to many spices !!! Sweet thren use the jmaie shannon receipe and it is thee best tomato soup ever !