When the turkey has all been carved, the football games are over, and the shopping plans are set most people get cracking on cleaning the kitchen of the Thanksgiving meal detritus. The biggest item to take care of in this endeavor is the turkey carcass. Usually, it ends up in a double or triple layered plastic bag and is quickly hustled out the door into a trash can.
Hold on a minute! If we are truly going to become a greener world than we need to start in the kitchen. A great place to begin is by learning to use the things we throw away to make useful items for the pantry. The turkey carcass is a great opportunity to make stock. Thousands of recipes and lots of variations exist, so I will not pretend to be an expert. A friend of mine who makes his living in professional kitchens is fond of saying that stock is hard to screw up because whatever you make at home will almost always be superior to what is available in a can or box at the grocery store. Amen.
The primary difference between stock and broth is that stock is made from the bones while broth is made from the meat of whatever animal is being consumed. The beauty of making stock at home is that you really do not care about the delineation. If there is some meat left on the carcass all the better. It will impart even more flavor to the stock.
I took a very simple approach to making stock for the first time. I picked the turkey carcass clean to use the shredded bits of meat in a leftover turkey risotto recipe I found in a free magazine at a Whole Foods in St. Louis. The bones went into my trusty All-Clad stock pot with the pasta strainer in place. Why the pasta strainer? Because it makes the job of straining the stock so much easier at the end. The large bits get caught in the pasta strainer and I only need to worry about the small pieces. Solid. Carrots, onions, celery, and a few bay leaves were added as well:
I put in just enough water to cover the ingredients and set it to simmer on the stove top. The key to stock is to let the mixture simmer, not boil, for hours. The proteins in the connective tissue breaks down over time under gentle heat giving the stock its rich texture or mouth feel, if you are feeling like going all Top Chef judge on people. Boiling the mixture can cause the proteins to harden and either become suspended in the mixture or fall to the bottom of the pan. Incidentally, this is why you want to aggressively boil wort when making beer. The act of boiling breaks down and hardens the proteins that make beer cloudy. It’s amazing how many of these simple cooking techniques get used in various ways throughout the home.
After about eight hours, it may have been closer to nine but I was busy elsewhere, the stock had boiled down and the liquid took on a beautiful straw colored golden hue. The pasta strainer was pulled out taking probably 95% of the solids with it and a quick pour through a fine mesh strainer took care of the rest. In the end I was left with three quarts of liquid for freezing and more than enough to use in the leftover turkey risotto. Some people will suggest reducing the stock down to an even thicker consistency for use in various recipes, but I am going to use mine as a base for some soups in place of commercial chicken broth. The thinner consistency is not an issue.
Between Christmas and Thanksgiving, 68 million turkeys will be consumed in the U.S. A further 16 million are estimated to be consumed at Easter. Just think of how many carcasses go to waste by being thrown directly in the trash.
This is not radical home economics, but relearning how to utilize what is considered waste. In business these practices are lauded as lean or the Toyota way, but applied to the kitchen it is considered quaint or old fashioned. Why? For a minimum of costs—a few carrots, onions, celery, and bay leaves plus some water and electricity—and a minimum of time—only about thirty or so minutes of actual work and a lot of glances to make sure the stock was not boiling—I ended up with over four quarts of high quality stock that directly replaces a bland commercial product.