The Bird That Keeps On Giving
Even after feeding nearly 30 people on Thanksgiving, a single turkey carcass can produce over two gallons of stock. And not some watery broth—this is stock so rich that it once refrigerated, it will be a solid. I make stock from chicken bones all the time, and that’s pretty good, but this seemed like, well, a different animal.
Perhaps it was just the size of the bird, or the amount of meat left on it. It looked like it had been pretty well picked-over, but there must have been a lot of meat left on the back. Or perhaps it was because I used Michael Ruhlman’s “oven method.” I normally just make stock on the stovetop—I brown the bones over medium heat along with a quartered onion and two or three roughly chopped carrots and crushed garlic cloves. Then, I add a splash of white wine or dry vermouth (or vinegar if I don’t have either of those around) and simmer that for a few minutes and cover it all with water and turn the heat down low. Usually, I start it in the mid to late afternoon and simmer it for 6-8 hrs, adding more water if necessary to keep the bones covered. Just before I got to sleep, I turn the heat off and cover it so. In the morning, it’s cool strain the solids through a couple of layers of cheesecloth or paper towel and freeze or refrigerate it in pint or quart containers.
I decided to try the “oven method” because the turkey carcass was so big, I couldn’t cover it completely with water even in my biggest stock pot. I thought perhaps it would be better to cook it longer on lower heat without letting any liquid evaporate. Putting it in an 180F oven overnight sounded like about the right idea.
Ruhlman suggests letting the carcass cook for 8-16 hrs before adding the other ingredients, so I left it in the oven overnight and then added the onion, carrots, and garlic the next morning. They raised the water level so high, I didn’t trust myself to be able to get it back in the oven without spilling it so I finished it over low heat on the stovetop. In total, the carcass simmered for about 12 hrs before adding the aromatics and another 6 hrs with them. I let it cool for about 6 hrs, picked out the meat—about 6 cups of it, flavorless by then but still fine as filler protein—strained it through cheesecloth, and filled 4 quart jars plus a little extra.
Risotto: The Stock Showcase
I didn’t have any grand plan for the stock when I made it—I assumed I’d just use it to steam dumplings and thin pureed vegetables into soup, or anywhere else I’d normally use chicken stock or bouillon. But this stock was so good, I decided to make something that would really show it off. Since risotto is just rice that’s been simmered in broth until it releases its starch and forms a thick, creamy base for whatever additions you want, it seemed like the right choice.
I often use mushrooms in risotto, but after tasting the stock, I thought it would be sufficiently umami on its own. Instead, I decided to use leeks as the primary vegetable matter. I sweated the leeks in the turkey fat skimmed from the broth, which may have added some extra turkey flavor, but any other rendered animal fat or butter or olive oil would probably have been good, too. I added some sage and thyme, and once the rice had cooked to an al dente firmness, I added some finely-grated parmeggiano reggiano. The result is lovely—creamy, rich with turkey flavor but not at all dry or flavorless like some turkey leftovers can be.
Wait, it gets better. If you’ve never done this with your leftover risotto, seriously, try it—it’s the best reason to make this or any other risotto. No recipe below, because it’s easy and intuitive: heat some oil in a pan while you shape golf-ball sized amounts cold, leftover risotto into balls. If desired, make a depression in the ball and insert a small piece of cheese—something that melts well, like a little ball of mozzarella or cube of raclette. Dust the balls with some flour or breadcrumbs, and then pan-fry them, turning until they’re golden brown on all sides. The cheese in the middle melts and the risotto gets warm and creamy and the outside gets crisp. These are the kind of leftovers you look forward to while you’re eating the original dish. No pictures—they got devoured too fast.
Recipe: Turkey & Leek Risotto
- 4-6 T. rendered animal fat, butter, lard, or olive oil
- 3 large leeks
- 2 shallots
- 2 c. arborio or bomba rice (you can substitute all or part short-grain brown rice, although it won’t be quite as creamy; brown rice also absorbs more liquid, so only use 3/4 cup brown for every cup of white)
- 1/2 c. white wine
- 5 1/2 c. stock (see below) or water with bouillon.
- 1 t. thyme, dried (or use 1 T. fresh)
- 1 t. rubbed sage (or use 1 T. fresh)
- 2 c. shredded or chopped, cooked turkey meat
- 4 oz. parmesan cheese, finely grated (or substitute 1/2 cup nutritional yeast flakes)
- salt and pepper to taste
1. Melt the fat in a large pot over medium heat. Warm the stock in a smaller pot over medium-low heat.
2. Trim the roots and greens off the leeks, slice them down the middle and rinse to remove any grit. Slice into 1/4” pieces.
3. Stir the leeks into the fat to coat. Meanwhile, mince the shallots and add them to the pot.
4. When the leeks and shallots have softened, add the white wine and cook for about 5 minutes, or until it’s about half-evaporated/absorbed.
5. Add the rice and stir. I sometimes add another tablespoon or so of fat at this point just to be sure the rice gets coated with fat before I start adding broth. That helps it retain some structure even after it’s releasing its starch into the broth.
6. Add the herbs and begin adding the warm broth 1/2 cup at a time and stir until absorbed, making sure to scrape the bottom of the pot to prevent it from burning. You don’t have to stir the whole time—you can walk away and do other things, like grate the cheese. Just check on the rice periodically, add more broth as needed, and stir to deglaze the bottom. Letting it brown on the bottom will actually enrich the flavor as long as you don’t let it burn. This process will probably take 30-40 minutes, or more if you use brown rice.
7. Once the rice is cooked through, remove it from the heat. Stir in the cheese and season to taste with salt and pepper.
- 1 turkey carcass
- 2 onions
- half a dozen carrots
- half a dozen cloves of garlic
- some bay leaves (optional)
- a few sprigs of thyme or oregano (optional)
- a few celery ribs and leek or carrot tops (optional)
2. Place the carcass in a large stock pot and cover with water. Cover the pot and place in the oven for 8-18 hrs.
3. Quarter the onions, roughly chop the carrots, and crush the garlic cloves. Add them to the pot and either return to the oven or place over low heat on the stovetop for an additional 3-6 hours.
4. Let cool, and then strain through cheesecloth or paper towel.
5. Chill, and skim the fat off the top if desired.