Maryland Terrapin Stew

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Makes

    4 to 6


Appears in

The Glory of Southern Cooking

The Glory of Southern Cooking

By James Villas

Published 2007

  • About

Perhaps no dish in Southern cookery was ever more relished or respected than the rich terrapin stews prepared in Baltimore’s “turtle-soup houses” in the early nineteenth century—to such a degree that by the middle of the century, the stew had become the pride of the city’s Maryland Club and other elite social venues. Small diamondback terrapins from the fresh or brackish waters of the region were the aristocrats of the turtle world, but such was the popularity of this stew that by the twentieth century the species was nearly extinct. Thanks to conservation measures, terrapins were restored to some extent in Maryland waters, but today, fresh turtle meat is still a rare and expensive commodity, and even down in Louisiana, where the reptile is revered as much as in Maryland, turtle stew and soup are usually reserved for only special occasions. Fresh turtle meat can sometimes be found in Chinese markets, but much more available (and completely acceptable) are the canned and frozen products sold in many specialty food shops—at a price. Is it worth the effort and cost? One spoonful of this sublime delicacy is enough to answer that question.


  • quarts canned terrapin meat
  • Chicken broth as needed
  • ¾ cup ( sticks) butter
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • ½ cup dry sherry
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • Cayenne pepper to taste
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and chopped


Drain the terrapin meat, reserving the liquid in a bowl, and mince the meat. Measure the liquid and add enough chicken broth to yield cups. In a saucepan, heat the mixture.

In a large pot, melt 4 tablespoons (½ stick) of the butter over moderate heat, add the onion, and cook, stirring, till very soft, about 3 minutes. Add the hot broth mixture, stir in the remaining butter and the sherry, add the salt and pepper and cayenne pepper, and simmer over low heat about 5 minutes. Add the terrapin meat and chopped eggs, return to a simmer, and cook to heat through and mingle the flavors, 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer the stew to a large, heated serving tureen and serve piping hot.