Saturday, February 4, 2012

Turkey Stock

A week after Christmas, my husband and I were wandering around the grocery store when we spied several turkeys with big sale stickers sitting in a refrigerated case. Knowing I had just enough space in my freezer to wedge one in, I scored a 14 pound turkey for 9 bucks. It's important to note that I've never made a turkey before, but in recent years I've had a Norman Rockwell-esque vision of myself hosting the perfect holiday dinner complete with a perfectly roasted turkey. No matter that I don't actually own a real roasting pan and that my apartment fridge was barely big enough to hold the sucker. It was time for a test run! I decided to go pretty simple and roasted it on my broiler pan with a foil tent for a while. And then took off the tent the last 45 minutes so it could brown more. The results:
Not too shabby, right? It wasn't the moistest turkey I've ever had, but the skin was awesome. I think an electric roaster or a domed roasting pan plus browning time in the oven at the end would give you the best of both worlds--really moist meat and crispy skin.

After my husband had carved the turkey up, I used the bones to make stock. This is something else I've always wanted to do, but never tried. The process is really easy and I'll be saving all the bones from roasted poultry in the future for stock making. First, I broke up the carcass and threw it into a 6 quart stockpot along with the drippings from the pan and a few chicken bones I'd been saving.
Then I added water in the neighborhood of 15 cups (a cup under 4 quarts). In hindsight, I should have added a little less because when I added the veggies later, I had to take out a couple of bones so the pot wouldn't overflow.
Then I put the heat on very low (180-190 degrees) and let it go for about 3 1/2 hours. Gentle cooking over a long period is supposed to be the key to a good stock. You don't even want it to simmer in this case since the bones are already cooked. I used a thermometer to get the right temperature and checked it every 1/2 hour or so. If you're oven has a low enough setting you could just do this in the oven so you don't have to monitor the temperature. (Of course, I thought of this afterwards.) At 3 1/2 hours I ran some vegetables through my food processor and added them to the stock with some seasoning. I cooked the stock for 1 more hour and then used tongs to fish out the bones and larger chunks of vegetables.

I let the stock cool for about 1 1/2 hours and refrigerated it. By the next day all the fat had risen to the surface and formed a semi-solid layer. I skimmed it off with a spoon. (If you have a gravy separator you could also use that to separate off the fat, although I think this method is simpler.)
I ran the finished stock through a strainer to get rid of any remaining chunks of vegetable and spices and portioned it out into freezer bags. My yield was 14 cups plus a few tablespoons. What's nice is you hardly lose any water to evaporation since you cook stock at such a low temperature. I think the missing water was actually absorbed by the veggies.  The finished taste was fantastic too. It tasted so much more meaty and roasty than store bought. Which reminds me, I just learned the difference between stock and broth: stock is made with bones and meat, where broth is made with meat only. It seems stock typically has more flavor too. Clearly I learned this after I labeled the bags in the next picture.

This may look like a lot of steps, but the active cooking time is actually really minimal and the results are awesome. You can freeze your leftover chicken or turkey bones until you have enough of them. If you're the type of person that never has a solid block of time at home, I'm thinking you could probably do this overnight or while you're at work in a slow cooker that has a low setting. The longer you cook the stock the better the taste is going to be. So if you want to run it overnight for 6-8 hours and then add your vegetables, go for it. Stock seems to be pretty forgiving in terms of ingredients too. According to this book the most important thing is to have a ratio of at least 2 pounds bones to 3 pounds water. Which means for every pound of bones, you should add 3 cups (1.5 lbs) of water. I'm including a recipe here, but if you don't have some of the vegetables or spices, don't worry about it. I used a little more bones and less vegetables than the recipe called for and the stock still came out way better than store bought. Plus after doing the math on how much I saved buying good store bought broth, I actually made like $3 by buying the turkey (not to mention the meat fed us for a week).

Turkey or Chicken Stock 


4 pounds cooked turkey or chicken bones from roast plus pan drippings 
6 pounds water (12 cups)
1 pound onions, chopped (about 2 largish onion)
1/2 pound carrots, chopped (about 4 medium carrots)
1/2 pound celery, chopped (about 4 celery ribs)
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons crushed peppercorns
2 teaspoons thyme
2 teaspoons parsley
4 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper, to taste 


1. Preheat your oven to 180-190 degrees. 

2. Add the bones and drippings to a stockpot. Add the water.

3. Put in oven and leave for 3 or more hours.

4. Add the vegetables and spices and cook for 1 hour more.

5. Remove the bones and strain out the vegetables. Let stock cool up to 2 hours.

6. Refrigerate overnight. Skim the fat off the surface. 

7. If there are still vegetables and spices left in the stock, strain again. Portion into containers and freeze for future use.


  1. Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything" has a wonderful section on making stocks and soups. I've been following his directions to make stock from whole chicken, and he agrees that the low and slow method is key.

    Two comments.

    1) Evaporation of water is not a problem. You may actually prefer to do this as you have a tiny freezer. If you reduce the solution down, you can store stock in an ice tray. Then you simply drop in a cube and add a cup of water to make your soup. I'd look into this since you cook enough for it to be worthwhile.

    2) If you ever want to use a larger vessel, you may have issues using the oven instead of the stove. The stove will lead to more mixing, which means extracting more flavor more quickly.

    1. Yeeeesssss. I like the idea of reducing the stock and storing it in an ice cube tray. I use 6-8 cups of stock per week so it would definitely be worth it just for the space savings in my freezer.

      I like the idea of the oven method because it keeps a consistent temperature. I could just set an alarm to stir every 15 minutes or something, granted it will drop the temp of the oven some.

      I love Mark Bittman. Probably because he has the same attitude toward cooking that I do: you don't have to be a professional or have a complicated recipe to be a good home cook. On that note, I'm thinking of having a series of posts that focus more on technique. How to cook a steak (without a grill), fluffy baked potatoes with crisp skin, various ways to cook eggs, etc. Whaddaya think?