Mock Turtle Soup and the Threatened Desert Tortoise

Mock Turtle Soup

🐢 Mock Turtle Soup 🐢
The Threatened Desert Tortoise

We are fortunate to live on the border of an area known for its rich cultural heritage, and its unique geological and ecological features. In 2002 Congress designated the Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area to preserve and protect 48,438 acres of southern Nevada’s Mojave Desert for future generations.

Our community is separated from the conservation area by a little traveled road called Democracy Drive. Turns out, the other day while on Democracy Drive I spotted this not-so-little fella meandering into the middle of the road.

Concerned for his well-being, I stopped, kept my distance, took some pics, but not being familiar with desert tortoise protocol, there was nothing I could do at the moment.

desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii)

I went to the Ranger Station on Nawghaw Poa Road to find out more about him. They said the desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) is the largest reptile and the only wild land tortoise found in the southwestern United States.

And the Mojave desert tortoise was federally listed under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 as a threatened species on April 2, 1990.

Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area

They said to handle all tortoise carefully and only if authorized to do so! Tortoises can be injured and can die from improper handling. Do not approach tortoises unless absolutely necessary, as your presence can induce stress in the animal.

When you must approach a tortoise, move slowly and approach from the rear of the animal. Pick up the tortoise gently and keep it level at all times. When handling large tortoises, grasp the animal with both hands, one at each side of the animal.

I was told that persons handling tortoises should wear surgical type gloves to inhibit the transmission of diseases. If gloves aren’t available make sure to sanitize your hands. Since I won’t be moving an endangered desert tortoise anytime soon, they did say another alternative would be to call the ranger station if a tortoise is in danger and they will come to take care of him.

If you are in Southern Nevada, and see a desert tortoise in danger call the Sloan Canyon Park Ranger at 702-233-6339. Additionally for any lost turtles, especially desert tortoises, call the Wild Desert Tortoise Assistance Line at 702-593-9027.

Mock Turtle Soup and the Endangered Desert Tortoise

Turtle or tortoise? It depends on who you ask or where you are in the world, but most people recognize tortoises as terrestrial or land-loving with stubby feet (better for digging than swimming) and a heavy, dome-shaped carapace. Aquatic and semi-aquatic turtles are known as just that, turtles. Turtles tend to have more webbed feet (but not always) and their shells are more flat and streamlined.

Mock Turtle Soup

Now let’s talk about the soup!

Turtle soup is traditionally made from sea turtle, snapping turtle, box turtle, or terrapin depending on the region of the world. It has NEVER culinarily been made from desert tortoise! However, it was the local desert tortoise that inspired me to research and prepare Mock Turtle Soup.

Mock (imitation) turtle soup contains no turtle and can be made from many different kinds of meats including ground beef, oxtail, calf’s head, veal shoulder and others.

On his terrific blog Hunt Gather Cook, James Beard Award-winning author and chef Hank Shaw, writes that turtle meat tastes like a cool combination of chicken thigh, clam and pork with at least four different textures and colors coming from the same turtle.

It was his description that lead to my recipe for Mock Turtle Soup which includes grilled chicken thighs, crisped and diced pork belly, and chopped clams. This super-tasty combination of heterogeneous ingredients results in a unique soup that is quite compelling with its various flavors and textures. And although I have not tried snapping turtle, I suspect this soup may imitate the flavors and textures quite well.

Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area

Mock Turtle Soup Recipe

  • 6 T. unsalted butter
  • 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 c. yellow onion, small dice
  • 1 c. green bell pepper, small dice
  • 1 c. celery, small dice
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 c. flavorful beef stock
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 t. smoked paprika
  • 1 t. cayenne pepper
  • 2 T. worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 t. dried oregano
  • leaves from about 3-4 fresh thyme sprigs
  • 1/4 t. ground allspice
  • 1/8 t. ground cloves

Melt butter over medium heat in a Dutch oven or heavy-bottom soup pot. Add flour and whisk continuously about 10 minutes to make a roux the color of peanut butter.

Add onion, green bell pepper, celery, and garlic. Cook another 10 minutes, stirring frequently.

Mock Turtle Soup

Add beef stock, bay, paprika, cayenne, Worcestershire, oregano, thyme, allspice, and clove. Whisk to incorporate stock into the roux. Bring to a boil then simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

  • 10 oz. grilled chicken thighs (boneless/skinless), diced
  • 6 oz. fully cooked pork belly, crisped and diced
  • 1/4 c. sherry
  • 2 T. lemon juice
  • 2 hard boiled eggs, chopped
  • 1/4 c. parsley, chopped
  • fine sea salt and fresh ground pepper
  • 6.5 oz. can chopped clams, drained (chopped not minced)

Mock Turtle Soup

Add chicken and pork to the soup. Simmer for another 15 minutes. Remove bay leaves. Finally add sherry, lemon juice, chopped eggs, and parsley. Taste for salt and pepper. When soup is at serving temperature, add the clams and remove from heat. Stir to heat the clams but not cook them. Serve immediately.

To Serve
  • a good sherry
  • lemon
  • chopped parsley
  • long grain white rice
  • fresh ground black pepper and flaky sea salt on the side

Place a generous splash of sherry in warm serving bowls. Ladle hot soup into the bowls. Garnish with lemon and parsley. Serve with extra sherry and lemon wedges. Serve steamed rice on the side.

Mock Turtle Soup RecipeResources

Hank Shaw’s Creole Turtle Soup

Commander’s Palace Turtle Soup

Emeril Lagasse’s Turtle Soup

Brennan’s Turtle Soup

Saveur “What Ever Happened to Turtle Soup?”

Bill Smith of Crook’s Corner Turtle Soup

Mock Turtle Soup


Most turtle soup recipes include tomato – either tomato paste, tomato sauce, or fresh tomatoes. My recipe does not include tomato and is more Cajun style (brown) than Creole style (red).

If a less chunky version of mock turtle soup is desired, simply chop chicken, pork, and eggs into a finer dice and add one more cup of beef broth near the end.

The flavor of this rich soup is heightened by the sherry. Oloroso Sherry from Jerez, Spain has wonderful aromas of nuts, vanilla and caramel plus rich nutty semi-sweet creamy flavors. Oloroso sherries offer a terrific balance between sweet and dry.

This is such a unique, wild, tasty, interesting soup – lots of steps but definitely worth making at least once! Or once a year…. 🐢

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