In the user-friendly world of store-bought turkeys, necks and giblets tend to come removed and packaged inside the bird for those who'd like to use them later. However, if you are shopping with the more rustic old-worldly butchers of farmers' markets, you might take the bird home to discover a neck still attached. Have no fear, though, because removing the neck and giblets from a turkey is easily done.
Working With Frozen Turkeys
If, for example, you've bought a Honeysuckle White frozen turkey or a Butterball turkey, neck removal is simple. Once the turkey thaws, there's usually a package inside the chest or backside cavity of the bird. This is where you'll find the neck and the organs, called giblets, which may include the heart, liver and gizzard.
Simply take the package out and presto – you've removed the neck and organs. So, what to do now? The neck and gizzards are actually gold for stew and gravy making. Some folks may be squeamish about these parts, but there's amazing flavor packed in them, and just braising them will pull that all out without ever needing to eat them.
If you'd like to try your hand at making them into stock and soup base, then wrap them in some plastic and pop them into the freezer until you're ready to get cooking.
Removing Neck and Giblets From Turkeys
When working with a fresh turkey, the larger the turkey, the more challenging it might be, as there's more skin and tissue to get past and then harder bones to cut through. You'll need a sharp, strong knife for the task. A butcher's cleaver works, but a strong, serrated bread knife can saw through the bones too if you have a sharp knife for the skin and tissue.
Start by flipping the bird on its back and look for the softer depression that's between the breast and the neck. Slit open the skin here, and you may find fleshy bits of the stomach and tubes for the windpipe and esophagus, which cover the neck. Pull out the stomach, which might be easier to do if you grab it with a clean, dry towel, and then cut out the esophagus and windpipe and dispose of them.
Now, cut the neck off as close to the backbone as you're able. It may require some sawing or firm chopping. Some folks have been known to use large shears to cut through the bone. With the job done, the neck is ready for use in stocks, soups and other low, slow cookery. Of course, if this sounds too daunting or you're not sure that you have tough enough knives, ask if it can be removed for you.
Cooking With Necks and Gizzards
After you've carved up the turkey and enjoyed a food coma or two, all the bones can be used to make amazing soup stock. Chicken stock may have the big name, but turkey stock is gelatinous, rich and beautiful. Roasted bones give great depth, but fortify the stock even more by adding the neck and gizzards to bring deep complexity to its flavor profile. Simmer them as you would the bones. Do not add the liver, though, because it makes stock bitter.
Mark Bittman of The New York Times loves to roast his giblets and neck along with the turkey, resting them in the bottom of the roaster while cooking the bird. Afterward, he chops up the giblets and adds them to the drippings and then makes gravy as usual. When the gravy is finished, he strains it through a sieve and discards the solids for a rich, delectable and smooth gravy.
In places like New Orleans, turkey necks are becoming "the new oxtail," and folks are serving up dishes like smothered turkey necks. Mostly, though, necks are the X factor in great gumbos and stews and are simmered and discarded and may even have the dark meat picked out for tasty flavor morsels in the dish.