Don’t throw that turkey carcass away!
I love Thanksgiving. I love the traditional foods. I love cooking. I love sharing a big meal with family and friends. I love the leftovers. And I love the turkey carcass.
Whaaat? Yes, in fact sometimes I think the real reason for Thanksgiving is that after dinner is over and everything is cleaned up, I can throw that carcass — bones, skin, cartilage, bits of meat clinging to it — into a big pot, cover it with water and let is simmer for hours. Pour it through a colander into a large bowl. Throw away the bones, and you’re left with rich turkey stock, now popularly called bone broth.
There are so many uses for bone broth. But first, what to do with it all? You might have several quarts. Freeze it. Pint or quart-sized containers are best. If you use glass jars, don’t fill them to the top or the glass might crack as the broth freezes and expands. Now you’re stocked up, so to speak, for the winter.
Turkey stock nutrition is hard to pin down, since it depends on your turkey carcass and how long you cooked it for. Properly done, stock is a source of collagen, which is currently popular with people who are worried about joint health. If your stock gels up in the refrigerator, you’ll know lots of collagen has cooked into the liquid. Gelatin is, after all, a product of animal collagen. So stock should actually look like Jello when it’s cold.
Other than collagen, stock will have some protein and potassium, and small amounts of minerals like calcium or zinc. The turkey bones leach out some of those, but not massive amounts. Depending on how much turkey skin you include, there will also be fat. When cooked, the fat rises to the top of the container and hardens. You can skim it off, or not. It adds flavor to your recipes.
Now what to do with all that stock? Here are some ideas:
- The best and easiest use is for soup. Include:
- Vegetables (celery, onion, carrot, greens like spinach or chard, green beans, peas, tomatoes, scallions)
- a pre-cooked grain or noodle
- a protein food such as canned beans, tofu chunks or leftover cooked meat, like turkey.
- Season with herbs, garlic, salt and pepper, hot sauce, soy sauce, etc.
- If you’re laid up with a cold or the flu, drink a cup of stock seasoned with salt, garlic and perhaps a squeeze of lemon juice.
- Use stock to make risotto or to cook other grains like barley. The stock adds rich flavor to grains.
- Stock is great for making sauces. It’s the only liquid to use for pan gravy. Thin cream sauces with stock to add more depth to the flavor and make them less blandly creamy.
Help, a vegetarian is coming to dinner!
These days, it’s likely someone on your guest list will be vegetarian or vegan. I have such a person on my guest list now. No problem! Many of the traditional foods are already vegetarian:
- mashed potatoes
- green vegetables
- sweet potatoes
- stuffing — if it does not contain sausage and if it is heated separately from the turkey
Other than the actual turkey and stuffing cooked inside the turkey what else do you need? You can fill up on all these foods, not to mention additional items other people contribute.
But perhaps you want to feature something more special for a vegetarian. My suggestion for a presentation-type dish is a stuffed pumpkin. I wrote about this last year. A stuffed pumpkin makes an impressive addition to your holiday table, and if everyone is vegetarian, it replaces the turkey as a centerpiece.
If you don’t want to go that route, there are other options. This year, we’re going to try a butternut squash/leek galette, which also sounds fabulous. Last year it was a chard and butternut squash lasagna, which took 2 days to make. It was delicious but I don’t recommend it for amateur cooks.
If you don’t want to be bothered cooking at all, you can find plenty of take-out options at local specialty food stores. Even better, ask the vegetarian guest to bring a vegetarian main dish themselves. After all, their dietary choice is not your responsibility.
This is a darn good time in the history of the human race to be aging. Think about it! We have access to a bountiful supply of food. We have access to medical treatments and interventions that were unheard of just a few decades ago. Cataract surgery is commonplace; you can now get speciality personalized lenses. Hip and knee replacements are routine; you can leave the pain behind. We have surgeries and miracle drug treatments for cancers that were incurable a few short years ago. Laser treatment for annoying skin problems or serious retinal problems are widely available.
Best of all, from my perspective, we have a growing body of information about how nutrition and food choices can enhance our quality of life as we age, preventing some of those worrisome chronic medical problems and prolonging our health span — the years we spend enjoying life. So raise a glass to that.