Sunday, October 23, 2011

Turkey Stock

The October installation of the Button Soup Supper Club was, predictably, a Thanksgiving turkey dinner.

Instead of roasting the entire turkey, I have been cutting the fresh bird into two suprêmes (breasts with the drumette still attached) and two leg-thighs.  There are many reasons for this.  With the remaining carcass I can make a stock to be used at the same dinner as the meat.  With the bird broken up into smaller pieces I can sear them to jump-start the browning.  Each piece can then be removed from the oven at the proper temperature (165°F), which happens at different times for different cuts.  Also, the turkey cooks in under an hour, which makes our Thanksgiving timeline less stressful and more flexible.

Lisa objects to this method. She feels that the presentation of a whole roasted bird at the table, and carving that bird in front of the guests, are indispensible parts of Thanksgiving.  I too appreciate the pageantry of tableside carving, but I think the above gastronomic benefits trump Thanksgiving ritual.

Saturday morning we pick up the turkey from the Four Whistle truck at Old Strathcona.  That same morning we cut up the bird and get the meat into a brine.  We use a basic brine of salt, brown sugar, and sage.  Then it's stock-making time.

I've recently tweaked my stock-making method.  According to Professional Cooking for Canadian Chefs (the text that journeyman cooks and red seal chefs study), for optimal flavour poultry stock should simmer 2 hours, while vegetable stock should simmer for 45-60 minutes.  If a vegetable stock has its best flavour after only an hour of simmering, why would I add vegetables at the start of a poultry stock?  Why not add them only for the last hour?  Even better examples of this principle are black pepper and herbs, which release their best flavour after only fifteen minutes of simmering.  If you add herbs at the beginning of a stock, by the time you've extracted the flavour of the meat and the gelatin of the joints, what little herb flavour remains will be muddy and muted.

I also take exception to the recommended simmer-time for bones.  A passable broth can be achieved after a couple hours, but a superlative stock takes at least twenty four.  I've found the right setting on my stove-top so I can keep the stock very low, barely even steaming, and let it sit unattended overnight.  I know that would make some people nervous, but I've done it countless times without issue.

Here's my complete turkey stock method.

Turkey Stock

  • carcass of one 10-15 lb turkey, including neck, gizzard, and wingtips
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 ribs celery
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 small head of garlic
  • 3 bay leaves
  • roughly 2 cups dry cider
  • roughly 6 L very cold water
  • 1 bunch thyme
  • 1 bunch sage
  • 1 bunch parsley
  • 5 black peppercorns, crushed

  1. Roast bones in a heavy pan at 350°F until thoroughly browned. Remove and set aside.
  2. Roast the vegetables in rendered turkey fat until browned. Remove a reserve for later use.
  3. Pour any excess fat from the pan.  Deglaze the pan with the dry cider and reduce au sec.
  4. Put the roasted bones and the cider reduction in a stock pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil then simmer very gently for 24 hours.
  5. Add the roasted vegetables to the pot. Return the liquid to a boil and simmer gently for 2 hours.
  6. Add the herbs and peppercorns.  Simmer gently for 15 minutes.
  7. Strain the mixture and chill thoroughly.  Once chilled, remove any fat from the surface of the stock.
Please, please save the abovementioned fat and fry something in it.  Here's an idea:

Turkey Gravy
  • 1/4 cup turkey fat, either from the roasting pan, or reserved from the chilled stock
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup dry cider
  • 1 L turkey stock
  1. Deglaze the roasting pan with the dry cider.  Reduce the cider to 1/4 its original volume.
  2. In a separate pot, combine the fat and flour.  Cook out the flour for about 5 minutes.
  3. Stir the cider and stock into the roux.  Adjust seasoning and consistency.

There are a few other ingredients that weave their way through multiple courses of our Thanksgiving dinner.  This time of year we are awash in dry apple cider, which played the roles commonly reserved for white wine: deglazing pans, augmenting acidity, and consuming in vast quantities while preparing dinner.   Squashes formed the bookends of the meal: we started with Hubbard squash soup, and finished with pumpkin pie.

Thanksgiving Addendum: Rumpot Update

We had our first taste of the rumpot at Thanksgiving, to see how it is developing.  The pot of preserved evans cherries is fantastic.  It smells of almond extract.  The acidity of the fruit is rounded by the sugar and rum.  I'm only making single-fruit rumpots from now on...


  1. Your comments make me laugh as Lisa has never seen a turkey carved at the table in the households she grew up in. She may have observed it, pulled in all its splendor from the oven, whole, but we always carved it (or more commonly pulled it apart in the kitchen before bringing to the table. She is basing those comments on television programs where they bring the turkey to the table. You never actually see them carve them though.
    What does "au sec" mean? (My thought would be "for a second" but that doesn't seem like enough time to )reduce it.
    If you think you should only add the vegetable for the last hour why does your recipe, after first roasting the vegetables, say to add them and simmer for two hours. I see the logic of limiting the time. Did you find that they needed to cook longer than an hour?

  2. GOSH I AM MAD at myself, Allan! When I read about this last year, I vowed to make my own this year - and DID NOT. I realize we were away the entire harvest season - Sept 30 to Nov 5th - but will you please prompt me next year so I can make some when you do. I DID get my pomette made this year and cannot wait to share some with you! I hope to post about it soon. It is so lovely and yummy!

  3. PS - I do my turkey stock exactly the same way sans the cider... never heard of that - must be tasty - and a bit sweet? Are we going to make the chicken stock with cider for your class?
    And we have never had a bird dry enough to carve at a table, either. It is always falling of the bones in the roaster deep in turkey fat.

  4. Hi Judy - "Au sec" literally means "dry." Basically you reduce the liquid until there is barely any left and the pot is almost dry.

    Valerie - The cider is quite dry, so it gives acidity, not sweetness. It really is barely perceptible in the finished stock. The acid is more to help dissolve collagen into gelatin, and to subtly season the broth.