As much as I love all the planning weeks in advance, prepping the night before, cooking on the day, strategically positioning ourselves around our parents’ enormous, ancient dining room table that they’ve had so long that it’s petrified wood now, and finally enjoying the fruits and vegetables of our labor, I find myself in a strange mental space as we eat our Thanksgiving dinner. I’m nodding and smiling and laughing through the dinner conversation, truly thankful for being there with my family, but deep down inside, all I can do is think about…
Most people dread the cleanup of a huge holiday dinner that required 4 days in the kitchen, 56 pots, pans, and casseroles to cook, another 78 platters, plates, bowls, forks, and glasses to serve, and 9 little sippy cups thrown in for the three nieces an nephews who can’t seem to keep their cups straight so they have to be washed every time to prevent cross-cousin contamination.
I, however, totally look forward to the aftermath.
I Don’t Do Dishes
It’s not the physical activity of cleaning to which I look forward. I actually don’t like rifling through my parents’ cupboards trying to match plastic containers to lids. I don’t like scooping what was an hour ago a gorgeous hot cloud of mashed potatoes but is now a room temperature, mealy, messy, solid mass, or portioning out whatever is leftover of the green bean casserole, which is usually not very much because my family loves green bean casserole.
Most of all, I hate doing post Holiday party dishes. When I am at home in my own house, I find doing dishes extremely, yes strangely, relaxing, but in the Thanksgiving situation, I don’t like it because I’d rather do something else other than scraping the NASA-strength re-entry residue from the side of the glass casserole dish where canned cream of mushroom soup has molecularly welded itself to Pyrex.
Taking the Carcass for the Team
Every year, I always manage to negotiate my way out of doing the dishes because I claim that I will be the one to take on the dreaded final task – dealing with the turkey carcass. As long as we call it a “carcass,” no one else wants to do it. “Oh no no no, I couldn’t let you deal with it,” I say to my sisters with their beautifully manicured nails. I, the dutiful oldest daughter, will “deal with the turkey,” I sigh, as if it were a big deal and that I will take on the big fat burden, taking one for the Delicious Family Team, making a tremendous sacrifice.
Little do they know that the domestic *sigh* on the outside is really an evil *buahahaha!* on the inside.
Before sitting down at the head of the now-abandoned table cleared of all silverware, dishes, and plates, save for one enormous serving platter that is my target, I stretch my arms and upperback, roll my head forward and backward like a caged animal ready to break free. With hands washed, sanitized, sleeves rolled up if I haven’t changed into a wifebeater tank top already, hair pulled back into a nappy knot, I ease into the chair then lean back and crack my knuckles in slow, calculated preparation. Then with the fury of a tigress, I attack the carcass with my bare hands, cracking open the rib cage, sucking joints out of their sockets, tearing through every knot of cartilage,pulling every last shred, every tiny tendril of muscle from the bones. My body is hunched over the edge of the table, my head down, my fast and nimble fingers clawing through the carcass, and I can’t be sure, but every once in a while, I think I hear myself cackle like some wild, possessed hyena.
Carefully, accurately, evenly I ration the leftover meat into zip-top bags for each of the three Delicious daughters’ households into exactly equal portions, which makes perfect sense because even though two of them should be heavier because those households includes husbands and babies, Sarah’s bag is intended for a household of one.
Which means it needs just as much as the others.
Because she is forced to eat at home alone a lot.
Because she’s a blogger.
I hate my life sometimes.
They actually never say that. I am just greedy and since I do the rationing, I make the bags equal.
By the time I push back from the table, done, all that remains on the polished-just-for-Holidays silver platter is a horrifying pile of bones, a gruesome mess of shredded skin, and random bits and gristly body parts that are not suitable for describing out blog. From my elbows to my wrists, my forearms are glistening in what appears to be a pair of fine, transparent turkey grease opera gloves. There are tiny fibers of meat caught under my nails and basting residue shoved into my cuticles like a manicurist’s softening cream. My lips are glossy from stolen bites of choice morsels, and there are small spots of shine on my forehead where, ostensibly, I have used the back of my hand to push back bangs that fell into my eyes. I have never looked at myself in a mirror during or after “the operation,’ but I don’t think I want to.
It’s a dirty, disgusting, messy, filthy, absolutely deliciously satisfying job.
Investing in Stock
The most glorious moment, though, comes when I double fist the platter now heavy with untouchable bits into the kitchen, tilt it up and gently slide all the contents into the largest pot I can get from my mother when I scream “A pot! A pot! I need a #$%^&*@! pot for the turkey carcass! Someone get a damn pot — this thing weighs 20 pounds!” which makes no sense since the turkey was 20 pounds when it went into the oven.
I never have to do dishes because I make roast turkey stock with the aftermath.
We do this every year.
But this year, it was different. Something changed. There was a blip in the matrix.
I can’t remember the exact phrasing, but it didn’t matter because the actual words that came shooting out of my mother’s mouth were colored by the tone. She had impaled the carrion through the body cavity with a pair of closed tongs and was holding it, dripping dropping leaking unidentifiable bits of flesh and fat into the kitchen trash can with a look of utter disgust, disdain, and something like the same kind of fear that might befall a toxic waste clean up crewman that lost the draw for the last hazmat suit.
“Are you sure you want this? Why? What on earth could you possibly make that is edible out of this revolting specimen of foul fowl carrion?!”
I was dumbfounded. I would have let my jaw drop to the floor except that I just spent a fortune on dental work.
All these years we’ve done the same little after dinner dance and they didn’t even know why? My, my heart started to beat faster and I could feel my inner crouching tiger’s tail lashing back and forth with … a little bit of anger? Bitterness? I was on the defensive.
At any moment, a tendon, a glistening ligament could snap and the fragile frame of bones would slip off my mother’s tongs and go crashing down into the deep, dark unknown of a Glad trash bag. The single moment for which I waited all year, planned for three weeks, prepped for three days, roasted for three hours would be…I didn’t take my eyes off my Mom, but somehow a robot took over the scene. An extra large plastic zipper-top bag made its way from the slippery pile on the counter, around the precious remains of the bird, and I absconded with what would be my project for the next few days back at my house.
Would Stock, Love Fest
Everything about Roast Turkey Stock – from the multi-day process of making it to the actual stock itself – brings me an indescribable joy that I’m going to describe anyway. I love the improvisational nature of making stock because every carcass is a different size, has differing amounts of “stuff” left on the bones. But it always feels good to know that no matter what I put into the pot, even when I feel like “getting creative” (like I did with ginger one year), the stock will come out, for the most part, pretty good (see previous: “ginger”).
I love the smell of the house as the stock simmers, leaching flavor out of the bones and blobules of fat, color from the skin, and how warm it gets, physically, from the heat of the stovetop flame. I love the almost literally therapeutic feeling of the steam on my face as I peer through it to fish out parts of the turkey skeleton that haven’t surrendered to the gentle seduction of heat and water.
I love the careful, clocked returns to the kitchen over the course of hours to check water levels, skim for “untouchables, and occasionally rescuing a vegetable, maybe a bright carrot, maybe a sweet onion, just before it disintegrates and dissolves into the the browning deep of stock in progress. These I let cool for just a moment while still in the ladle, sprinkle with salt, then suck them straight out of the spoon, risking some degree of burn down my esophagus.
I love pouring the hot stock into storage containers, then, after the stock has cooled, gelled, and presented a gorgeous, thick layer of hardened fat on its surface, cracking through said layer with a large serving fork and in the true meaning of “forklift,” taking the single solid disc out.
I love the end product; turkey stock is warm, comforting, and simmered with the browned, sometimes slightly charred bits of skin, promises a dark, deeply fragrant base for future soups, stews, and chilis. During the cold season, as soon as I feel a tingle in my sinuses or a tickle in my throat, I heat up a cup of stock, salt it, and sip it like tea.
However, let’s not kid ourselves about the real reason why I like “making stock.” It’s not so much “making stock” as it is “not throwing away and wasting a perfectly good turkey carcass.” It’s about money. Value. I love truly getting my money’s worth. Making stock from the bones means I am not only sucking every last drop of flavor, every last nutritive molecule of marrowy mineral, every last cent out of the I-don’t-want-to-admit-how-much-we-spent, from the turkey, but I won’t have to spend any additional money on store bought chicken broth.
Now that brings me joy.
How to Make Turkey Stock
Turkey Stock Ingredients
turkey carcass, including discarded fat and skin
2-3 quarts of water
2-3 carrots, washed, peeled, and cut into 5-6″ pieces
2-3 celery stalks, washed and cut into 5-6″ pieces
1 large onion, peeled and quartered
5-6 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
(some people add herbs like thyme, spices like peppercorns, and salt, but I prefer to make a very basic stock and season it as I use it, since stock crosses cuisines and I never know if the flavor of a Bay leaf in the stock now will be weird in a Korean soup later)
You will need:
large stock pot
containers to store and chill stock
Turkey Stock Directions
Place turkey carcass in stock pot along with vegetables. If it doesn’t fit, break the carcass down into smaller parts. Cover with water until the carcass is submerged and covered by a 1″ of water.
Bring pot to a boil over medium heat. Turn down heat to low and simmer for 3-4 hours.
With a pair of tongs, remove large parts of bones and vegetables from the pot. You can throw the bones away, but I always let it cool off on a plate then pick off every single shred of meat and edible cartilage from the bones. I am not kidding. I may never do anything with those microscopic fibers of flesh, I may never eat it, but dammit if I don’t get my $0.37/pound’s worth from that turkey. The vegetables will be to the point just before becoming baby food, so you can toss them, but why?! I let them cool off, sprinkle some salt, and eat them as my reward for being so economical.
Carefully pour the stock through a strainer into another large pot or bowl. Allow stock to cool, transfer to storage containers, and refrigerate overnight to allow fat to solidify. After fat has solidified, remove, discard (or use it to make something, but what, I have no idea).
If you actually own a liquid fat separating device of some sort, first I must laugh, then go ahead and use it to remove the liquid turkey fat from the stock before you refrigerate.
I do not own a stock separator. I find great joy in waiting patiently for the fat in turkey (or any animal for that matter) stock to rise to the top, cool overnight in the refrigerator, and congeal into a thick layer that seals off the top of the container, then lifting the disc of solid fat off the surface of the stock in a single smooth motion with a large spoon.
Store stock in refrigerator, or freeze and keep for up to 3 months. It might safely last longer, but it won’t actually. Turkey stock that has been simmered with additional garlic, ginger, a few herbs, and salt, is a little bit of a lot of awesome on a winter night.