This Thanksgiving, don’t throw away that turkey carcass. Turn it into the most delicious stock in your kitchen, and save money in the process. Recipe first, tips and story later.
Above: Poultry stock with meat picked from the bones after the stock has cooked for about 12 hours. Notice the rich brown color of the stock. That comes from a roasted bird, roasted onions, plus the pan juices.
Carcass from a roast turkey, chicken, duck, or Cornish hen (see notes below for what to do with the meat, if there is any leftover)
Juices and vegetables from the pan in which you roasted the turkey (use only carrots, onions or celery – see notes below for which vegetables are a no-no)
Optional: Extra fresh vegetables and herbs, including: whole carrots (tops trimmed), stalks and leaves of celery, onions, cloves of garlic, a bay leaf or two, a few sprigs of fresh parsley.
Enough water to cover everything
Place the turkey carcass (plus any skin, wings, and extra bones and parts such as the neck) into a large stock pot. Add vegetables from the roasting pan, plus the optional extra fresh vegetables and herbs. (See notes below for why I don’t recommend adding giblets such as hearts and livers).
Add fresh, cold water until everything is completely covered. I fill the pot almost to the top.
Set the pot on the stovetop on the lowest setting. I use a flame-tamer. Position the lid so that it’s mostly covering the pot, but not tight. There should be a gap for steam to escape.
Cook the stock for about 12 to 16 hours, checking to be sure that it stays at a gentle simmer and never gets to a roiling boil. The water might evaporate to the halfway point – this is fine, and the stock will be concentrated (which is a good thing). If the water goes below the halfway point, or if a lot of the bones are no longer covered, add more water. No need to stir. The stock may develop a nice brown surface with some of the solids floating on top, and this is good.
When the stock is finished cooking, remove it from the heat, put the lid on tightly, and let it cool enough so you won’t burn yourself in the next step. If you live in a cold climate, you can speed cooling by putting the pot outside.
When it is cool enough to handle, strain the stock through a chinoise. Store it in spotlessly clean containers (such as glass jars) and refrigerate until cold, for up to 3 days.
While the stock is chilling, pick through the bones for any extra meat. You can save this meat separately, or add it to the containers of stock.
When the stock is refrigerator-cold, a layer of fat will have collected at the top (see the photo below). Scrape this off before you use or freeze the stock. Save the fat separately (some people cook with it, others add it to their dog’s diet).
The stock will keep in the refrigerator for about 3 or 4 days, a little longer if the fat cap stays intact. It will keep in the freezer for at least 2 months. For tips on how to freeze stock, see below.
Tips and FAQs:
What things should NOT go into the stock? Do not add potatoes or stuffing because those will make the stock cloudy. You can add the neck, but I avoid gizzards such as the heart and liver because they give the stock an unpleasant flavor (in my opinion). Do not add vegetables such as brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli or cauliflower – they develop bad flavors over the long cooking time. Carrots, celery, onions, and garlic are the only vegetables that really work.
What if I’m not ready to make stock right away? Can I freeze the carcass? Yes. This is a good method for when you have smaller carcasses (such as Cornish hens) and you want to collect enough to make a big pot of stock. Just be sure to wrap everything in airtight in plastic wrap and/or freezer bags.
What about leftover white meat and dark meat? Should it go into the stock? That is up to you. I usually save the white meat to make a cold, mayonnaise-based chicken-salad, or an Asian-style poultry salad. I often include drumsticks and thighs in the stock because the dark meat holds up better than white meat does over the long cooking time, and I personally like the taste of long-simmered legs and wings.
Is it okay to let the stock simmer overnight? I do this all the time because I know how hot my stove burner gets, and how quickly the water evaporates from my stock pot. Know your own equipment and make a decision from there. The important thing is to not let the stock get to a roiling boil – it should always be below the boiling point, at a gentle simmer, so that the water doesn’t evaporate too quickly. You do not want the pot to boil dry – it’s a fire hazard and all that good stock just got wasted to evaporation.
Does the stock need extra salt? That is up to individual taste. If the poultry had been brined, the salt levels may be fine. My strategy is to wait until I’m actually going to use the stock, and then add the salt if necessary.
The stock is like jelly when it’s cold. What’s up with that? Congratulations! You’ve made the kind of super-concentrated bone-broth that you just can’t find on the supermarket shelves. It is prized by good cooks and many carnivore-health-food types. Enjoy!
What is the best way to freeze the stock? I prefer to freeze it in loaf pans, then unmold the frozen stock and wrap it tightly in plastic. The blocks of frozen stock can be stacked in the freezer (see photo below).
Can the stock be frozen in plastic freezer bags? Yes. I prefer to freeze the bags of stock flat on a sheet pan and then, once they are frozen solid, I stack them on the freezer shelves (this method is a good idea if you have wire freezer shelves – you don’t want a bag of liquid sagging between the wires because it’ll get stuck once it is frozen).
Chicken and turkey have historically been considered cheap in the U.S., but not these days. With the high price of food, using everything – including the bones – is just common sense. I make roast chicken every Friday night, and I always make stock from the carcass. That stock then becomes the basis of additional meals: soup, stew, or a hot, nutritious cup of broth.
Most American supermarkets have an extensive selection of chicken stock that comes in UHT cardboard boxes. Those boxes are convenient, and easy to store, but the flavor is not nearly as good as homemade, in my opinion. Some contain sugar. If you look at the ingredients, you can see that they’re basically re-constituted powdered soup base – and to my palate, that’s how they taste.
Don't get me wrong -- powdered soup base does have its place in a chef’s kitchen. Two of my family members, who are professional cooks, fortify their homemade stock with powdered soup base or powdered gravy base. I have done this as well (especially when making gravy), although most of the time I just skip it because my homemade stock is flavorful enough.
When it comes to the advantages of home-made stock, don’t take my word for it. Try it and see for yourself. Bon appétit!
Above: Notice the yellow cap of fat at the top. Skim it off when you are ready to use the stock or ready to freeze it.
This is a frozen block of stock from a mini-loaf pan. I wrap the frozen block in plastic wrap, and then stack it in the freezer. Blocks are more space-efficient than round shapes.