Thursday, November 20, 2008

Turkey Stock

Homemade turkey stock...

There is a secret to Thanksgiving: do things ahead of time.

There is no reason for you to be stressing out in the kitchen while the rest of your friends and family and relaxing and schmoozing and watching football. Go sit with them!

I know there is never enough counter space or room on the stove or room in the oven. When we hosted Thanksgiving in our small Charlestown apartment a few years ago, I had to use my neighbors oven to cook the turkey. Every hour or so I would run outside my back door, across a small, weed infested yard and up the fire escape into our friends apartment in the building behind ours. It could have been a disaster. I can just imagine if I fell with the turkey, down the fire escape. I can picture it landing on my head (thoughts back to Joey on Friends).

As you know by now, I'm a big fan of serving things room temp. Obviously, this is a huge help when it comes to next Thursday. Most vegetable dishes are fine held out for and hour or so. Green beans, Brussels sprouts, even roasted potatoes. Potato dishes that are pureed hold their heat very well. So get that done and out of the way.

The beauty of turkey stock (or any stock for that matter) is that it can be done ahead of time...meaning weeks! It freezes well and the day before Thanksgiving, just put some in your refrigerator thaw and you're all set.

I'm making my turkey stock today. Again, it may sounds scary. But it's easy. In a nutshell, roasted turkey, mirepoix and cold water. That's it. For the meat, I suggest dark meat and bones. That's where the true flavor it. Roasting the wings (in my case) will help start to extract the flavors and also leave some delicious turkey juices and fat in the roasting pan (which will be added later for another level of zing). Mirepoix is a French term that basically means carrots, onions and celery. Traditionally, twice as many onions as carrots and celery. In addition, I would suggest you add a bouquet garni, which is a bay leaf, some parsley stems, and black peppercorns. Of course, you can add anything else you want to flavor the, thyme, chipotles, sage,'s your call. Be creative.

Turkey wings....

First step is to get your turkey in the oven. Toss the pieces with salt and pepper and some melted butter (or oil). Roast until your home begins to smell like Thanksgiving. 375 is good and timing really depends on what you're roasting....just get the pieces nice and golden brown. In the meantime, chop up your vegetables and start sauteing them in a large stock pot. Don't worry about peeling the carrots or onions. Everything will be strained at the end so it would be just a waste of time. To your vegetables, add your bouquet garni ingredients.

Once the turkey is done roasting, add the pieces to stock pot, as well as the juices from the pan. Fill your stock pot with COLD water (to about an inch above the contents) and crank the heat. Once it all comes to a boil, turn the heat down and simmer for at least 2 hours. As you simmer, the fat will rise to the top. Skim that off when its necessary and then just leave it alone. After its scent is totally intoxicating when you stick your head into the pot for a quick facial, you know you're done.

Mirepoix, thyme, and other flavorings...

Simmering for 2-3 hours...

The next step is messy, but easy and crucial. You have to strain the stock. Pull out all the large pieces and toss them. Then set up a large pot and place a strainer on top. Carefully, pour the stock over the strainer, away from you. If you have cheesecloth I would use it here. It will collect all the tiny little pieces of who knows what and give you a nice clean broth. Don't run out and buy it, though. It won't make or break your stock.

Remains after straining...

You're almost done. Let the stock chill in the fridge overnight and in the morning, scrape the fat off the top. You know you have an excellent stock when it's thick and gelatinous. Now you're ready to freeze it in plastic bags, quart containers, ice cub trays. Feel free to reserve the fat to saute your Thanksgiving vegetables or add some extra flavor to your stuffing.

Gelatinous goodness...

Cooking for friends and family is so much more rewarding than cooking for 1200 guests at the Ritz Carlton.

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