At the time of this writing, Thanksgiving is upon us and I just spent a half hour in the kitchen, preparing a pot of turkey stock. Unlike this year, I usually host a small group for Thanksgiving and try to get as much done ahead of time as possible. Now, just because I’ve made other plans for this holiday doesn’t mean that I’ll be without turkey sandwiches after the holiday, for that just wouldn’t do. For me, the days following Thanksgiving are reserved for sandwiches –or sammiches, if you prefer — of turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce, stacked high and topped with lettuce and mayo, and surrounded by two slices of whatever bread struck my fancy at the bakery, if I haven’t baked something myself. As I’ve often told my Thanksgiving guests, those sandwiches are the reason for my hosting the dinner every year and I make sure that they all go home with enough leftovers to make at least one sandwich of their own. So, even though I’ve made other plans for this Thanksgiving, I’m going to pick a day and cook myself a mini-turkey dinner. Rest assured that while I’m dining on a small roast turkey breast, dressing, and cranberry sauce, I’ll be dreaming of the turkey sammiches that are sure to follow. Anyway, back to the turkey stock.
I’ve found that by making the stock a few days ahead, I free up a burner on my stove on the Big Day and it’s one less thing to worry about. Not only that but having a couple quarts of turkey stock sure does come in handy. I use some of it to make the gravy; I combine some with white wine and use it to baste the turkey the first few times; and I, also, use it when I’m preparing my stuffing/dressing. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I take a small amount, 1/4 to 1/3 cup, and heat it in the microwave. When I’ve finished carving the bird and all the meat is arranged on the platter, I use this bit of piping hot stock to moisten and re-heat the platter’s contents — but don’t over do it. The object is to moisten, not drench. Do it right and your guests will marvel at how moist the bird’s breast meat is.
Because I use it to prepare the gravy and stuffing, I want my stock to mirror the turkey’s flavoring as much as possible. To that end, I season the stock with the same spices that I use on the bird. I, also, sauté the vegetables and turkey parts in an attempt to mimic the flavor of roasting. Speaking of the turkey parts, I found out, years ago, that the turkey neck wasn’t large enough to give me enough stock. That’s when I began buying turkey wings and using them as the base of my stock. One package should be large enough to give you at least 2 quarts of stock. That’s more than enough for my purposes. (I usually freeze the leftover stock and make a delicious risotto on a cold day in December.) A couple of years ago, I began using smoked turkey wings (thank you, Tyler Florence!) and the stock has become all the more flavorful. If you can find them at your local market, by all means give them a try.
The stock that I made earlier today — that formed the basis of this recipe — used 3 smoked turkey wing sections, about 2 lbs., and 3 quarts (6 pints) of water. The resulting stock was fine for my purposes but, had it been weak-tasting, I would have reduced it further by simmering it a while longer. Lastly, salt and pepper were used sparingly, so that I can better control the seasoning in the “end-dishes,” namely the gravy, stuffing/dressing, and turkey basting liquid.
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Basic Turkey Stock Recipe
total time: approx. 3.5 hours
- 2 lbs turkey wings, smoked if available
- 2 – 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion, cut into large chunks
- 2 carrots, cut into chunks
- 2 celery stalks, leaves included, cut into chunks
- 3 garlic cloves, smashed
- 4 – 6 parsley sprigs
- 2 sprigs thyme
- 2 sprigs rosemary
- 1/8 tsp poultry seasoning
- 1/8 tsp ground sage
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 3 quarts water
- Heat the olive oil in a large stock pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions, carrots, and celery, season lightly with salt and pepper. Stir occasionally while sautéing until the vegetables are lightly carmelized, about 10 minutes. Remove from pan and reserve.
- Season turkey wings with poultry seasoning, sage, and lightly with salt and pepper before placing in the stock pot. Sauté until browned, about 4 – 5 minutes, turn over, and repeat.
- When the turkey is well-browned, add the garlic to the pan and cook for a minute or so. Add the cooked vegetables, the remaining herbs, and the water to the pot. Bring to a boil before reducing to a low simmer. Periodically skim the film off of the surface. After 2.5 hours, taste the stock and adjust seasoning, if necessary. Continue to simmer for an additional half hour.
- After simmering for 3 hours, take the stock off of the heat to cool somewhat. Remove the turkey wings and reserve. Pour stock through a fine mesh strainer and discard the cooked vegetables and herbs. Refrigerate the stock.
- Once the stock is well-chilled, the fat should have risen to the top and can be removed relatively easily. Remove the fat before storing the stock in air-tight containers in the refrigerator, for a few days, or in the freezer, for a few weeks.
Aside from using smoked turkey in place of raw wings, there are no variations to this recipe. There are, however, a few things that you can do with the boiled turkey meat. Once the bones are removed, it can be used, as-is, for sandwiches or added to a few other ingredients to make turkey salad. Of course, you can leave it on the bone and have a nosh later that night while watching TV.
Note: The day after Thanksgiving, remove all the turkey meat from the bones and use the carcass to make stock. There’s no need to add the herbs (rosemary, thyme, poultry seasoning, or sage) and you may need to use an additional quart of water, depending upon the bird’s size. Since the bird is already cooked, the soup will not need to simmer for 3 hours. I usually cook mine until the stock tastes “right.” That may mean allowing it to reduce a bit, depending upon the bird’s size and amount of water used.
The Last Word: Earlier, Max added to his already lengthy resumé when he “tasted” the turkey stock as it cooled atop the stove. He must have liked it because he returned to it as soon as I left the room. Needless to say, I’ll be heading to the grocer’s tonight and starting up another pot of stock tomorrow.
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