As I admired the Sullivan County, Tenn., mature gobbler that my turkey hunting mentor, Elizabethton’s Larry Proffitt, had just called in for me, I began thinking about the breasts that my wife Elaine would grill and the legs that she would turn into soup. But then I had another thought — what other parts of a turkey can be eaten?
Put your neck on the (food) line
“Surprisingly, the neck has a lot of good meat to it,” said Proffitt after I put that thought into words. “I make turkey salad by cooking the meat off the bone in a pressure cooker. I bought a small food processor and put portions of the meat in it and grind it smooth as if I were making chicken salad. Add a cut up boiled egg, sweet pickle relish and mayonnaise to taste. Turkey neck salad also makes great sandwiches.”
Elaine and I don’t care for pickle relish, so we experimented with Larry’s recipe and made a few changes. We found that celery gives the dish a wonderful crunchy taste and helps hold the salad together. Several slices of sharp cheddar cheese, romaine lettuce and mustard slathered on two pieces of whole wheat bread really enhanced the sandwich.
Up to your neck in salad
Place one turkey neck in a small crockpot and almost cover the neck with water or chicken broth. Cook on low for 6 hours, or until the meat can be easily pulled from the bone.
Allow the neck to cool, then use your fingers to separate meat from bones. (This part is a little tedious, so take your time.) Be careful to not let any of the small bones slip by, and search for any stray shot pellets. Work your way thoroughly down between the neck bones to extract as much meat as possible, digging it out with your fingers or a fork when necessary.
Chop the meat with a cleaver or other knife. A food processor works well too.
To the meat, add two stalks chopped celery, ¼ cup chopped onion, two chopped hard-boiled eggs and ¼ cup mayonnaise. Stir well, adding salt and pepper to taste. One neck makes enough for two or three sandwiches or a hearty salad for two.
Stick your neck out
Try other ingredients of your choosing — cranberries, grape halves and chopped nuts are all tasty additions. In the fall, we like to add wild nuts like black walnuts or shagbark hickory nuts we have gathered. In the spring, instead of onions, use native ramps or wild leeks. However, we found the flavor of ramp overpowers that of the turkey neck — and everything else as well.
Dead from the neck down
Turkeys, especially older toms, have very long necks. Hold the bird by the head, lay the neck on a cutting board and use a knife to sever the neck where it joins the body. Use that same knife to detach the head.
When dealing with smaller birds, save this salad recipe until you have tagged several turkeys.
The other dark meat
Neck meat is dark, so use it in any recipe where you normally would use the legs, such as stew, soup or pot pie.
Pain in the neck
Of course, sometimes the neck will be so riddled with pellets that cooking it would be impractical.