Among siblings, hand-me-downs can be a point of contention but when it comes to recipes and family food traditions, they are the most precious gift you can give. My mother shares her vivid memories of my grandmother’s cooking and baking but none of it was documented and as I wrote about here, her six children didn’t follow in her baking footsteps. So high on the list of reasons I write this food blog is the hope that when my kids make their own homes and cook for themselves, family, or friends they will have their electronic device of choice open on the counter with one of my recipes on the screen.
When Thanksgiving season arrives, I’m usually so busy planning and cooking and cleaning, I don’t document as much of the details as I should. But I’ve upped my game – I’m photographing and taking notes and have fine-tuned so much of what we do that it’s time to start sharing.
The Season for Scratch Cooking
While I am always one for short cuts, especially for mid-week meals, on Thanksgiving I focus on cooking as much from scratch as I can. And I learned long ago that cooking on the actual day, except for the turkey and gravy, is a non-starter for me. I just get too tired. So I do a little bit each day, with the most work done the two days prior. Even when I was working full time out of the house, I started cooking at night — I was exhausted, but it was better than a marathon on the actual day.
Homemade Turkey Stock
Turkey stock, in my opinion, is worth making from scratch as the base for your gravy and to pour on your stuffing of choice. This is a staple that can even be prepared weeks ahead and frozen. My secret is to roast the turkey and veggies first before adding to the stock pot with water and aromatics. I also deglaze the roasting pan with some brandy – other choices could be white wine, vermouth, sherry, water, chicken stock – but don’t leave those yummy drippings in the pan. They add another layer of flavor and color to your developing stock.
This recipe was inspired by a Tyler Florence recipe but I’ve changed up the method and fine-tuned it over the years. Here’s how I do it:
- 3 - 4 turkey wings
- 2 - 3 necks
- 3 - 5 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed (to your taste)
- 5 medium carrots, roughly chopped in 3 inch pieces
- 2 medium onions, quartered
- 3 - 4 sprigs thyme
- 5 or 6 sage leaves
- 2 - 3 tablespoons olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste (maybe 1 tsp each)
- 12 - 16 cups of water
- 8 - 12 peppercorns crushed
- parsley sprigs (about 8 - 12)
- more thyme and sage - to your taste
- salt and pepper
- ¼ - ⅓ cup brandy or your alcohol of choice
- cheesecloth, if you have it
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees convection or 400 degrees regular bake.
- Grab your big roasting pan and place the wings and necks in it, then spread the vegetables - carrots, garlic, onions - all around. Brush the olive oil all over - doesn't have to be precise or cover everything. Then sprinkle the salt and pepper all around. Spread the fresh herbs on the top. Roast for about 30 minutes. The turkey should be browned and you should hear some sizzling coming from the bottom of the pan.
- Place your largest stock pot on the stove top and put all the roasted turkey and vegetables in it. Don't wash the roasting pan yet! Place it stovetop as well over medium to medium high heat and pour in the brandy or your liquid of choice to deglaze the pan. To deglaze is to mix around the liquid while gently prying the pieces of meat or veggies that have been left behind on the bottom of the pan. The liquid should get hot very quickly and the yummies should release easily from the pan bottom. As soon as they are released, turn the heat off and pour this liquid carefully into the stock pot. If you deglaze too long the liquid will quickly evaporate.
- Add 12 - 16 cups of water to the stock pot - basically you want to completely cover the turkey and veggies. Add the peppercorns and parsley and more thyme and sage if you'd like.
- Bring this to a boil, then partially cover and turn the heat down to maintain a simmer (you should see some movement in the liquid and an occasional bubble but it shouldn't be a rolling boil). Let it cook for an hour and a half or even up to 2 or 3 hours.
- Take it off the heat and let it cool off a bit. Then take the large pieces of meat and veggies out and strain them (I like to get every drop but you could just put the large pieces on a plate and nosh on the overcooked carrots and dark meat on the necks and not bother with straining them). Then line your biggest strainer with cheesecloth if you have it, pour the broth through into a large bowl or another pot. Let the strained broth cool for a bit - maybe a half hour and then put it into your storage container of choice and refrigerate or freeze. Any fat will congeal and you can remove it when you use it.