Maybe it’s my rural roots, but despite living in the city, fall is all about harvest for me. There is something so inherently comforting about the abundance and the coziness of being indoors as the weather cools, and enjoying the crispness of the air, the fog, the smell of fires burning, when you are out and about. I love the change of colours, how the sunlight thins and the shadows grow long. I love the wind and the fine line that nature walks between bounty and barren.
From a kitchen’s perspective, every season has it’s bounty. Winter means citrus and spice and the familiar flavours and scents of the holidays. Spring is fresh and crisp with early lettuces, and the brief window for beautiful things like asparagus. Summer brings fruit en mass, and the smoky, stickiness of all things grilled. But it’s autumn, for me, that brings the best things; the heartier fare of root vegetables, squashes, soups, and the flavours of the woodier herbs like rosemary and sage.
Thanksgiving is a celebration of harvest and abundance and giving thanks for all that we have. The beauty of a Thanksgiving meal is that it keeps on giving and can easily be transformed into multiple meals for a good portion of the following week. Hot and cold turkey sandwiches, savoury turkey pie, turkey curries, potato pancakes from the leftover mash, the list goes on and on. My personal favourite, and a real winner in our house is turkey soup. It’s an effortless meal, that just like the original bird, makes multiple meals. It’s a way to stretch that bounty (and your dollar) and create less waste of what is arguably, one of the best meals for this time of year. Every time you make it, it will be a bit different depending on what you have available and what you or your family like.
During our extended family’s Thanksgiving this year my uncle Rick was telling me how he was counting on taking home the turkey carcass for soup and how he remembered my mother simmering the turkey bones overnight for a good 24 hours. He laughed and said he only gives them 3 or 4 hours and wasn’t sure there was much of a difference. It was a comical anecdote because I also recall how long the house was full of foggy windows and the smell of simmering turkey. Personally, I usually give it about 6 hours.
I grew up with turkey soup containing rice. Other families might opt for dumplings, or noodles or matzo balls. Maybe you are interested in just the broth, or maybe you want to thicken it and call it stew. It’s up to you. Whatever you do, it all begins the same way; making stock. Here’s how I do it:
No matter how long you have, or how long you think it takes, begin with a turkey carcass, with all of the meat picked off. You can pick the meat after it’s done its work in the stock pot, but I prefer not to. Save any meat you have and set aside. I like to leave all the herbs, any skin, etc. that the turkey originally roasted with in there because it’s all flavour.
Cover the carcass with cold water (how much you use depends on the size of your pot.)
a couple bay leaves
2 sprigs of each rosemary, thyme and sage
2 heads of garlic, halved crosswise, skins on
Get the water up to a boil and immediately turn down to low. Allow the carcass to simmer for a few hours with the lid on. Then turn off the heat and allow the stock to cool slightly (about an hour) so it isn’t murderously hot when you strain it. It won’t be pretty, but all that liquid is delicious.
Once the temperature is lower, pour the stock through a colander into a large, clean pot. Discard the carcass and other solids unless you still have meat to yield from it. Some bits of herbs, bits of garlic skins, etc will slip through. You’ll also notice a thin layer of fat on the surface. If you are going rustic, just fish out the herbs, etc. and use a large shallow spoon to skim the majority of the fat. If you are a purist, rinse your colander and original stock pot, and line the colander with cheesecloth. Pour the stock back through and all those “impurities” will be caught, as well as most of the surface fat. Whether I use one method or the other depends entirely on how much effort I want to put into it and whether or not I have any cheesecloth on hand. It’s your soup, you choose.
Taste your stock. If it seems “weak”, simmer it for awhile longer so it can reduce and concentrate its flavours.
At this point you can continue making soup or refrigerate or freeze your stock for another purpose.
If you are making soup add:
the turkey meat (white and dark) shredded into bite sized pieces
any vegetables you have on hand (I used squash, carrot and celery this time)
any additional herbs, like parsley, you might want to add
salt and pepper to taste
Reheat to cook the vegetables gently, just below a boil. If you want to add rice, do so. About 1/2 a cup will do unless you have made an enormous amount of stock. Likewise, a handful of noodles would be great too.
Serve hot and expect people to go back for seconds.