Rich, concentrated taste
Pure poultry flavor
I ’ve been the primary cook for my family’s Thanksgiving feast for about 20 years now. I gladly inherited this honor from my mom, but there’s one task I never took off her plate: making a batch of stock from the leftover turkey carcass. I’ve always felt guilty about saddling her with the job, so this year I vowed to keep it for myself. Anticipating a bit of postholiday fatigue, I intended to keep this recipe as simple as possible.
Skin and Bones
As it happened, a colleague was roasting lots of whole turkeys, producing a ready supply of carcasses that I could use for testing purposes. I gathered two that had the leg quarter and breast meat removed but still included meaty bits, the wings, and a fair amount of skin. I prepared two bone-and-water stocks, the first using a carcass straight from the roasted turkey and a second one for which I roasted the carcass for 45 minutes, thinking that this might produce a richer-tasting stock.
The first stock simmered into a lovely pale gold hue, whereas the roasted-carcass stock turned a deep mahogany brown. I assumed that the darker sample would be more popular, so I was pleasantly surprised when tasters gravitated toward the easier-to-make golden stock. It tasted clearly and deeply of turkey, whereas the stock made with twice-cooked bones tasted more generically of roasted meat.
I experimented with aromatics next. To one stockpot containing 4 quarts of water and a whole carcass, I added raw mirepoix (chopped carrots, onion, and celery); to a second, the same mix of vegetables that I had first caramelized to a deep golden brown in the oven. Finally, I made a third stock with only water and a carcass. To my delight, we preferred the near-effortless bone-only stock to those made with vegetables. The raw mirepoix stock was too vegetal and the roasted one too sweet, but the bone-only stock boasted nothing but pristine, though slightly weak, poultry flavor.
Happy with the way things were progressing, I made one more bone-only stock, but rather than use the carcass whole, I broke it into smaller pieces—a step easily accomplished with a chef’s knife or ktichen shears—so I would need only 2½ quarts of water (enough for a batch of soup) instead of 4 quarts to cover the bones. The upshot was a more concentrated stock. I also found that I could squeeze a broken carcass into a Dutch oven, a boon for cooks who don’t own a stockpot.
Things Start to Gel
Next up: consistency. To attain the viscosity I wanted, the stock needed plenty of gelatin, which develops from collagen, a protein found in connective tissue, skin, and bones. It lends subtle body you won’t find in commercial products and is the hallmark of a good homemade stock. Many recipes call for simmering bones all day to ensure adequate gelatin extraction. Was that truly necessary?
To find out, I filled four pots with equal weights of bones and water and cooked them for 1, 2, 3, and 4 hours, respectively. After an overnight chill in the refrigerator, the 1-hour stock was slightly thickened, indicating the presence of a small amount of gelatin. However, the 2-, 3,- and 4-hour stocks were all lightly set and wiggled like Jell-O when I shook their container. Although the 3- and 4-hour stocks were slightly firmer when cold, when we tasted them hot, they were nearly impossible to distinguish from the 2-hour stock—each was richly flavored and infused with an ample amount of gelatinous body.
Scoring yet another victory for simplicity, I went with a 2-hour simmer. I occasionally skimmed the surface of the bubbling liquid to remove any foam or impurities. Then, once the time was up, I strained out the bones, let the stock cool for 20 minutes, and spooned off the surface fat. Energized by the fact that my stock required nothing more than water, bones, and time, I decided to use the reserved turkey fat to sauté aromatics for a quick batch of soup.
My first try at an easy postholiday soup—with fennel, rosemary, and kale—was a little too complex; the bold ingredients overwhelmed the poultry flavor I had been at pains to create in my stock. I altered the ingredient list, ultimately ending up with three variations; each one combined 2 cups of shredded leftover turkey meat with a starchy component—barley, orzo, or rice—along with carefully selected aromatics, complementary vegetables, mild-mannered seasonings, and a last-minute addition of fresh lemon juice to brighten things up.
Now I was guaranteed to eat well on the Friday after Thanksgiving while still having plenty of time to kick back on the couch.
Zen and the Art of Turkey Stock
At every turn, we were happy to find that doing less produced a better-tasting stock.