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Seasonal Pantry: Turn your leftover turkey carcass into stock

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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.

For recipes calling for turkey broth or stock from the “Seasonal Pantry” archives, visit “Eat This Now” at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.

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I’m not a fan of using turkey in place of pork or beef in Italian-style meatballs, as I think it diminishes the traditional flavors. Instead, I prefer to make them evocative of Thanksgiving, with sourdough bread, celery and plenty of sage.

Turkey Meatball Soup with Fried Sage Leaves

Makes 4 to 6 servings

— Turkey meatballs, recipe follows

6 cups turkey broth or stock

— Olive oil

24 fresh sage leaves

— Kosher salt

— Black pepper in a mill

First, make the meatballs. Set them aside.

Pour about a cup of the broth or stock into the pan used for the meatballs, set it over medium heat and deglaze, scraping up any bits of meat that cling to the bottom.

Pour the liquid into a medium saucepan and add the remaining broth or stock. Heat gently until very hot. Add the meatballs, reduce the heat to low and simmer very gently for about 10 minutes, until the meatballs are cooked through; they will be fairly firm when squeezed (carefully).

While the meatballs cook, fry the sage leaves. Pour a thin layer of olive oil into a medium sauté pan and set over medium high heat. When hot, add a few sage leaves, cook for a few seconds, turn and cook until crisp; it will take just a few seconds more. Quickly transfer to absorbent paper, sprinkle with kosher salt and continue until all the leaves have been fried.

Taste the liquid and correct for salt if needed; season with several turns of black pepper.

Ladle the soup into soup plates, dividing the meatballs evenly among the portions. Top with fried sage leaves and enjoy right away.

Turkey Meatballs

Makes about 24 1-inch meatballs

4 tablespoons butter

1 small yellow onion, cut into very small dice

2 celery stalks, cut into very small dice

¼ cup minced fresh sage leaves

— Kosher salt

— Black pepper in a mill

— Small sage sprig

2 cups, very lightly packed, hand-torn sourdough bread, without crusts

½ cup whole milk or half-and-half

1½ pounds freshly ground turkey thigh

1 egg, beaten

½ cup all-purpose flour

1 cup homemade bread crumbs

2 tablespoons olive oil

Melt the butter in a heavy skillet set over medium heat; add the onion and celery, reduce the heat to low and sauté gently until very soft and fragrant, about 15 minutes. Stir in the sage leaves and season generously with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, put the bread, sage sprig and milk in a small saucepan set over very low heat. When it is heated through and the milk fully absorbed by the bread, use tongs to remove and discard the sage sprig and a fork to mash the bread, reducing it as much as possible to a sort of slurry. Season with salt and pepper, remove from the heat and set aside.

Put the turkey into a medium mixing bowl and, when the onion mixture and the bread mixture have cooled to room temperature, add them to the bowl and mix thoroughly. Add the egg and mix again.

Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour or as long as overnight.

To finish the meatballs, cover a baking sheet with wax paper. Put the flour into a wide bowl or plate and put the bread crumbs in a second, wide bowl or plate. Roll meatballs in flour, then bread crumbs.

Use a small ice cream scoop to form the meatballs, which should be about 1¼ inches in diameter, setting each one on the wax paper.

Set a heavy sauté pan over medium heat, add the olive oil, and, when it is hot, add several meatballs. Cook for 45 seconds and then agitate the pan so that the balls roll. Continue to cook until evenly browned and just beginning to firm up. Return to the wax paper and continue until all the meatballs have been cooked.

Continue as directed in the main recipe.

Michele Anna Jordan is the author of 24 books to date, including “More Than Meatballs.” Email her at michele@micheleannajordan.com.

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