Seasonal Pantry: Turn your leftover turkey carcass into stock
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Please, don’t throw away your turkey carcass!
To my thinking, the carcass is the best part of the holiday meal, except for perfectly crisp turkey skin. But that carcass, it is the gift that keeps on giving. If you can’t deal with it yourself, let a guest take it home, give it to a neighbor or call me and I’ll come get it. I’m kidding, sort of. I’ll take any turkey carcasses anyone wants to pass my way. I’m not cooking a turkey this holiday.
One way to deal with a turkey carcass is to pop it into a slow cooker, cover it with hot water, set the cooker on low and let it cook overnight. You can break the carcass into pieces to fit if need be. It’s not hard to do with a cleaver, a sharp chef’s knife or even your strong hands. If you have a large stock pot, you can do the same thing on top of the stove; just be sure to keep the pot covered and the flame as low as possible. If you have a large pressure cooker or an electric pressure cooker, you can use it, of course; just follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
Some people strip a carcass clean before using it to make broth, bone broth or stock. I prefer to leave plenty of meat, especially white meat, which adds richness and flavor to the resulting liquid. I don’t leave much dark meat, as it is the best part to eat. It is a good idea to add a splash of apple cider vinegar, too, which helps extract minerals and other nutrients from the bones.
If you’re feeling ambitious, add a quartered onion, a couple of bay leaves, a small carrot chopped into chunks, a stalk of celery, a teaspoon or two of peppercorns, and, of course, salt, about a tablespoon or so.
Once the bones have collapsed and softened — they should crumble when squeezed between your thumb and finger — which takes about 10 to 12 hours, turn off the heat, let the liquid cool a bit, and strain it into a clean container.
It is important not to let the liquid approach a rapid boil. If you do and if it boils for very long, you’ll end up with pale, cloudy liquid instead of something clear. There’s a difference in taste, too, as the fat has become emulsified and lacks the bright clarity of taste of properly made broth or stock.
Once you’ve strained the liquid, you can use it right away, keep it in the refrigerator for a few days or freeze it in 2-cup batches, which will easily last for six months. I’ve kept it for as long as a year, and it’s been just fine. Use the liquid to make soup, gumbo, congee, risotto, picadillo and myriad other dishes that are ideal at this time of year.
Another option is to simply sip the broth, with or without a squeeze of lemon and a shake of hot sauce. It’s a good hedge against cold weather, helps you recover from a cold or flu and tastes really good. If you’ve made it in a slow cooker, you can use a ladle to take out a cup or two, add that amount of water back and keep it going for several days before its taste and nutrition are exhausted.