Smoked turkey neck gumbo is not timid. Its very design is to grab your full attention as you ascend, no dive, into the dark depths of its culinary abyss. The smoky, bony knobs of neck meat render tender with a moistness that makes them burst with earthy flavor. The tantalizing taste of your first bite will linger long and call you back to the bowl for just one more bite. It’s just that good.
Finding smoked turkey necks for my Cajun recipe is just a short drive away. Weekend journeys along the backroads of Acadiana are the best way I know to discover the places and faces that make this culinary culture so unique. I am never disappointed and the lessons learned can never be taught in a cooking school. All you need is a roadmap and a healthy curiosity about Cajun cooking. Folks everywhere are eager to share their knowledge and talk about their Cajun recipe heritage.
I remember the day I first discovered smoked turkey necks at Jean Duos’ eclectic little shop. On a brisk Saturday morning in October, I drove the 45-minute stretch of I-49 from Lafayette to the crossroads of Nuba, Louisiana–a four-way stop on the highway between the St. Landry Parish towns of Opelousas and Washington.
I pulled into the gravel parking lot of Duos Cajun Corner and watched the dust wash over the front windows of the little outpost of all things Cajun. In an instant, the brightly colored signs drew me in: “sweet potatoes,” “live bait,” “beef jerky,” and “beer,” lots of beer. The scent of burning hickory logs and the peppery perfume of cayenne drifted from the metal smokehouse off to the side as I stepped down from my truck. I walked up the wooden stoop, flung open the door and stepped in.
I was immediately engulfed by the sight, smell and sounds of a curious array of goods: Smoked pig tails, ham hocks, and whole smoked rabbits prominently displayed in the refrigerated meat case; the unmistakable sound of live chirping crickets from a screened wooden box turned my head; a dip net hung beside a metal vat holding shiners fetching $12 for a hundred; fragrant blackberry and fig sweet dough pies, handmade by Jean’s mama, lined the corrugated metal-enclosed counter and competed for space with nutty pecan pralines stacked high; the high-pitched noise of a band saw whined in intervals as a worker quickly dismantled smoked turkey drumsticks; and best of all, the blinding light of a heat lamp warmed a tray of fried pork cracklins like a spotlight illuminating the center ring at the circus. And Jean Duos–the ringmaster of this Cajun extravaganza–greeted me with a smile and a handshake. If I had any presumption that Duos Cajun Corner was just another beer and boudin stop along a sleepy bayou backroad, I was now awakened. Smoked turkey necks were why I was there.
Jean puts an extra dose of hickory smoke on his necks, and with a long braise in a dark roux-infused stock, the meat pulls away in fall-off-the-bone perfection. It is bone-suckin’ good.
- 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 cups diced yellow onion
- 2 cups diced green bell pepper
- 2 cups diced celery
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- ½ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 24 (about 4-inches long) smoked turkey necks
- 2 pounds smoked pork sausage, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 12 cups dark chicken stock, plus water if needed (see Dark Chicken Stock recipe)
- 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
- 1 cup dark roux, plus more if needed (see Dark Roux recipe)
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Dash of hot sauce
- 8 cups cooked long-grain white rice, such as Supreme, for serving
- 1 cup diced green onion tops
- Filé powder, for serving
- In a large cast-iron pot with lid over medium-high heat, add the oil. Once sizzling hot, add the onion, bell pepper, and celery. Sauté until the onions turn translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and parsley, and stir until combined. Add the turkey necks and sausage, and sauté just until all the vegetables begin to brown, about 8 minutes. Add enough chicken stock to the pot to cover all the turkey necks and vegetables, and scrape the bottom to loosen the brown bits of flavor.
- Season with cayenne and stir to combine. Add the roux and stir. Bring the pot to a boil and then lower the heat to a simmer. Cover the pot and let it cook for 1 hour.
- Uncover and skim the surface of any excess oil. Taste the gumbo and if you prefer yours thinner, add more stock. If you prefer it thicker, add more roux. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cover the pot and simmer for 30 minutes longer.
- Sample the finished gumbo and season with hot sauce to taste. Ladle the gumbo into large bowls over a mound of rice and garnish with diced green onion tops.
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