Monday, November 7, 2011

The Best Turkey Stock Ever...From Your Crockpot!

The thing that can make or break a holiday meal for me is a really delicious gravy that is full of flavor and hints of herbs and spices along with the rich, hearty undertones of roasted turkey.

You can't get that out of a jar, I don't care who says it.  And you certainly can't get that with a bland, out of a can chicken stock.

But often, you find that at the end of the roasting process, the turkey hasn't left you nearly enough drippings, either.  So you end up making do by adding a little extra bland, canned broth or, worse, thinning out the good stuff with some water...thereby making the good stuff thin and bland.


So what's a cook to do?  Make your own, homemade stock in a larger quantity a couple of days before the feast.  Then you have plenty for basting and making stuffing along with making your own gravy.  Trust me -- this makes for a much, much better meal, and a much happier cook, too.

I wrote a bit about this last year, giving everyone my usual recipe, that I had based on a recipe that I found in a Cooking Light magazine a while back.  Since then, though, I've tinkered with it a little bit and I think my new version is even better.

Here's what I do:

Rich Roasted Turkey Stock

3 lbs. turkey wings, thighs and/or drumsticks (Wings give a richer broth, so try to do at least a mix if at all possible -- chicken wings will do in a pinch, but you'll have lighter-tasting chicken broth and not that deeper turkey flavor. I've also done a mix of chicken and turkey wings before, and also chicken wings and turkey legs, and that has consistently turned out really yummy.)

Sea salt and pepper
Olive oil

1 gal. water, divided (or less, depending on the size of your crockpot -- fill to at least an inch below the rim so you don't have issues with it bubbling up past the lid)

2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, cut into quarters
1 carrot, cut into chunks
2 stalks celery, cut into large chunks
3 c. chopped onion (about 2 medium)

1 c. shredded carrot (about 2 medium or buy pre-shredded)
1/2 c. chopped celery (about 1 or 2 stalks)
1/2 tsp. black peppercorns
1 tsp. poultry seasoning (I absolutely love Penzey's poultry seasoning blend. It's wonderfully fragrant and full of flavor.)

Then tie up in cheesecloth, a bouquet garni of fresh herbs:
1/2 to 1 c. chopped fresh parsley
3 springs thyme
1/2 sprig rosemary
1 bay leaf

Preheat oven to 450°.

Using sea salt and pepper, rub into the turkey wings/legs well and let sit for a few minutes.  Drizzle with some olive oil.  Place wings and/or legs along with the quartered onion, and large chunks of carrot and celery in a single layer on a metal sheet pan with a lip to hold juices. (Reserve the smaller, chopped veggies for a little later in the process.)  Sprinkle lightly with a little more sea salt and pepper and give it a gentle stir to make sure everything has a little salt on it.  This helps to break down the meat a little and bring out the juices of the veggies as they roast -- it's worth taking the time to massage some sea salt and pepper into the meat before roasting if you want a deep, rich flavor here.

Or place those same seasoned wings and veggies in a dutch oven and let them bake, uncovered, if you don't feel comfortable placing a big sheet pan on your burners.

I do the Dutch oven, and here is why:  A sheet pan will give you more even browning but, if like me you have an electric stove, placing a big sheet pan on your burners can be tricky -- so I trade perfectly even browning on a flat sheet pan for the more easily maneuvered safety of my big, enameled cast-iron Dutch oven. But YMMV.

Bake at 450° for 1 hour or so, until browned. Remove wings/legs and veggie chunks from pan and place in your largest crockpot immediately. Then, place emptied pan over medium-high heat; stir in 1 cup water, scraping bottom and sides of the pan to loosen all the browned bits. Remove from heat.

Pour water in crockpot, scraping bottom of pan again to remove all browned bits to get them into the crockpot. (These really are key to the flavor of this stock. Those browned bits are magic, I swear.) I use a large, oval crockpot for this so I can fit a lot of water in to make lots of stock.

Then, wipe out Dutch oven and pop it back on the stove.

Heat olive oil in the Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the chopped onion, carrot, and celery; cook 5 minutes or until tender, stirring to evenly soften and slightly brown the veggies. Swish some water into the pan, and again scrape the bottom to loosen any browned bits. Then add all of this to turkey in crockpot.

Add as much of the remaining 15 cups water as you can for your crockpot capacity, along with peppercorns, poultry seasoning, and the bouquet garni cheesecloth bag of thyme, parsley, rosemary and bay leaf. Cook on HIGH for 3 to 4 hours, or on LOW for up to 8 hours. (The original recipe called for doing this on the stovetop, but I like the even cooking in the crockpot better because I don't have to watch it so closely and can make the stock while I'm doing other make-ahead dishes. In my book, easy is almost always better if I can get the same taste out of it.)  I prefer the 8 hours on LOW when I have the time to let it simmer all day -- the flavor really develops in the broth that way.

Once the stock has fully simmered and flavor has developed, remove the cheesecloth bouquet garni and throw away, then strain the liquid through a fine-meshed sieve over a bowl; discard solids. Cover and chill overnight. The next morning, skim the solidified fat from surface if you are avoiding saturated fat for health reasons; discard fat.

Depending on the size of your crockpot, you'll end up with anywhere from 6 to 12 cups of stock. Most of this goes into our Thanksgiving and Christmas meals between stuffing, gravy and basting the bird -- but when I have some leftover, it makes wonderful soup for turkey leftovers on the weekend, too.

Here's the recipe for gravy that I generally use, with some tweaks on seasoning because I like a little sauteed, minced shallot and some snipped chives and more black pepper in mine.  But for basic gravy, this works great.  If you have issues with lumps, you can do one of two things:  (1) become really good friends with your immersion blender, and puree the heck out of your lumps until they no longer exist; or (2) strain the gravy through a fine mesh sieve, takes those lumps right out of there.

(Photo via Kelvin Beecroft, who has an awesome all-purpose, basic gravy recipe on his own site as well.)

No comments: