Any of several varieties of reptiles that can live in fresh water, salt water or on land and have a hard shell covering their bodies. Some turtles can grow quite large, weighing over 1,000 pounds. For culinary purposes the sea or green turtlefound in temperate marine watersis best known. It has a smooth olive green shell and green to whitish flesh; the green flesh is considered superior. These turtles are often made into a thick turtle soup that usually includes madeira or sherry as an ingredient. Terrapin, a small (7- to 8-inch) turtle species that inhabits fresh or brackish water, is considered by many to have the best meat. Terrapin meat is sometimes pounded and served like steak. Tortoises live on land and are considered less desirable than terrapin or sea turtles. Regardless of the species, the meat of the female is much more tender than that of the male. Conservation measures have limited the availability of this reptile, but some turtle meat can be found in East Coast markets, along the Gulf Coast and in Chinese markets in various regions. Canned and frozen turtle meat can sometimes be found in specialty food stores. See also mock turtle soup.
From The Food Lover's Companion, Fourth edition by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst. Copyright © 2007, 2001, 1995, 1990 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.