How Our Thanksgiving Turkey Fed Us for a Week
This year was the first I roasted the turkey for Thanksgiving. It felt like a lot of pressure, but once I gave it a try I realized it’s one of the best things you can do for your pantry this time of year. That single 9-1/2-pound turkey fed 12 people for Thanksgiving, the 3 of us for a week after, and at the end, I’d used every part of the bird. We ate the meat by itself and in various dishes, used the neck and giblets for a gravy base, then used the neck and cleaned bones to make two levels of broth. I felt so much gratitude for the bird who’d given its all and was now nourishing my family so well.
I know there is a lot of talk about eating vegetarian to be more sustainable, and I’m not going to get into all that here. I’ll just say that buying local, well-treated animals from small farmers is one of the most sustainable ways to consume meat.
Let’s talk about turkey for a minute. A turkey usually comes already cleaned with most of the insides removed. However, the neck and a few organs - called giblets, which include the heart, liver, and gizzard - are left in, and need to be removed before roasting (or brining). But don’t toss them once they’re removed; instead save them in the fridge because they help make the most delicious gravy.
I bought a whole fresh turkey from Whole Foods and decided to brine it overnight to give it maximum flavor and moisture. Brining is basically marinating the whole turkey in a bath of salt, broth, water, and spices. (If you’re interested, HERE is the recipe I used.) This gave me a little higher margin of error on cooking the turkey right and made it so I didn’t have to baste it every few minutes.
Heavenly Turkey Gravy
Fully homemade gravy is to die for; there’s so much flavor packed into it. Gravy made from the same bird accentuates all the great flavors already there, and gives your food a lot of depth.
Once your turkey is brined (if that’s what you’ve decided to do), prepped, roasted, and out of the oven (or close to it), you start on the gravy. Simply brown the neck and giblets in a preheated sauce pan with a little oil. You want to let them sit a bit so you get the yummy little browned bits on the bottom of the pan - this will give you the flavor. Some people find that using the liver makes everything taste too, um, liver-y? so they leave it out. Up to you. You then use butter, the turkey drippings, and flour to make a roux. Remove the neck and giblets. Make sure you save the neck in the fridge to use for stock later, but at this point you can either discard the giblets or eat them. Finish the gravy by adding vegetable, turkey, or chicken broth to the pot and simmering until reduced/thickened.
Two Levels of Stock
Once your festivities are over, sometimes the last thing you want to do is cook some more, but believe me, it’s worth it. You can make two levels of stock from a roasted turkey and they taste a million times better than what you get in the grocery store. I got 10 16-ounce mason jars of stock from our turkey. And it’s really simple to do. A week or two before, start saving your vegetable ends in the freezer to use in the stock, or just use fresh vegetables with their skins on if you haven’t planned that far ahead. If you know you’re going to be in vegetative mode after all the turkey, chop your vegetables before your turkey is done cooking and save them in the fridge or freezer for when you’re ready to make stock.
For the first round of stock, clean the bones of all the good meat and add them to a large stockpot with cleaned, but not peeled, roughly chopped carrots, celery, a quartered onion, a few peppercorns, a spoonful of apple cider vinegar or white wine, and maybe a few sprigs of thyme or a turnip if you have them. Cover with water and then simmer for 6-12 hours. I used my Instant Pot on low pressure for 2 hours, and then allowed the pressure to naturally release. You can then strain into jars and refrigerate or freeze until you’re ready to use.
For the second round, bone stock, I just added the once-boiled bones to the pot again with the same types and amounts of vegetables, only adding a touch of salt. Then cover with water and simmer for 24 hours or use the Instant Pot like me on high pressure for 2 hours with a natural pressure release. Honestly, this time around I realized I’d forgot to add the wings into the first stock so I added them into this one without removing the skin or meat, and I could have eaten the smell for days. I’ve never made something that good; I’m actually glad the smell is sticking to the sealing ring in my Instant Pot haha! Strain the stock into freezer-safe jars and freeze until you’re ready to use.
How it Fed Us for a Week
The typical Thanksgiving leftovers are turkey sandwiches, but I suggest trying a turkey noodle soup using some of that fresh turkey stock. With some fresh potatoes, carrots and egg noodles, it’s the perfect post-holiday dish. We made enough for more leftovers, and it felt nourishing and warming as the temperatures dropped.
Truthfully, turkey works well for most dishes you normally use chicken in: turkey pot pie, turkey and dumplings, turkey and stuffing stuffed peppers. Turkey is super versatile; the options are endless. You can also use your turkey stock for cooking pasta, rice, or vegetables, to make rich sauces… basically anything you would use water for on the stovetop.
If you want to try adapting your own turkey dishes, just consider this: we already know that turkey goes well with stuffing, gravy, and cranberry sauce. You’ll be more sure your dish will turn out with complementary flavors when you include one or more of those in the same dish or meal. For example, combining turkey with stuffing to stuff peppers. If it comes out a little on the bland side, add some cranberry sauce. It’s not a hard and fast rule, more like a flavor guideline.
This works just as well with chicken (there’s a reason the meat thermometer just says “poultry”). In fact, if you boil the whole chicken instead of roasting it you will get three levels of broth - the first being the water you cooked the chicken in, and the second and third being the same as above for the turkey.
I hope this gave you a few ideas and showed you that stock is not at all difficult to make. It’s a great homemade staple for your kitchen. Hit the button below for gravy and stock printable recipes. What else do you use stock or leftover turkey for??