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Make no bones about it, turkey keeps on giving


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POSTED: Wednesday, December 02, 2009

We had an accident of riches in the newsroom on Thanksgiving Day - three roast turkeys for a skeleton holiday crew of about 16 people. We dealt with it bravely - eating with great determination and forcing everyone to take home leftovers.

This took care of the meat, but still left the matter of the bones. No one else being interested, I took them all - a giant cardboard box full of turkey skeletons.

I find myself claiming the bones a lot when I go to turkey-focused parties. Unless my mother is also there, no one ever wants the bones, leading me to believe that most people have no clue that they are missing out on one of the fine things in life: homemade turkey soup.

You can get two or three more meals out of one turkey carcass, which should appeal in these tough times. You're also making use of so much more of the animal that gave its life for your Thanksgiving meal, which should appeal in these green times.

Perhaps I should have told you this before you threw out your bones. But at that point I hadn't had a weekend to experiment with three turkey carcasses. Besides, chances are there is another turkey in your future this holiday season, or maybe you do have a bag of bones in your fridge or freezer waiting to be dealt with. At the least, Thanksgiving will come again. Save this.

Some of my bony bounty went into pots on the stove, but I got the best results from my Crock Pot. Eight hours of long, slow cooking brought out the deepest flavor and a golden color. You could sip it straight out of the crock.

HERE'S THE FORMULA: A 4-quart slow-cooker will accommodate the bones from a 12-to-14-pound turkey. Break up them up and fit them into the crock. Don't forget the wings, turkey tail, drumstick, pieces of skin, etc. If you have too much, put them aside for a second batch later. Add water just even with the bones. Don't submerge them, as they will settle and sink as cooking proceeds. Your crock shouldn't be more than three-quarters full. Turn it on low for eight hours while you go about your business. Go shopping, even.

When the meat is falling off the bones, you're done. Remove the solids and strain the stock into a large container. You'll have about a quart. If you don't need it right away, refrigerate overnight, then skim off the fat. Meanwhile, remove the meat from the bones, shred it and refrigerate it in a sealed plastic bag.

Then what? Make soup! Simmer a few cups of stock with leftover vegetables or potatoes. Add rice or noodles. If you have more than you need, freeze it in small containers (recycled margarine tubs are a good size) and use whenever a recipe calls for chicken broth or stock.

Here's what I've already made with my supply:

» Thai-style soup: Simmer 3 cups stock at least 15 minutes with a couple trimmed stalks of lemongrass and a few slices of ginger. Meanwhile, soak rice noodles and a few dried shiitake mushrooms in warm water until both are soft. Remove lemongrass and ginger from stock. Slice mushrooms and add with noodles to pot along with 2 tablespoons fish sauce and a squeeze of lime juice.

» Turkey corn chowder: Chop 2 slices bacon and saute with 1 chopped onion. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon flour and cook lightly. Add 6 cups stock and a large potato, peeled and diced. Bring to boil, then add 1 pound corn kernels (thawed if frozen); simmer 30 minutes. Use an immersion blender to partially puree the soup, then stir in 1/2 cup milk or half-and-half and 2 cups turkey meat. Season with salt and pepper.

» Jook: For this classic Chinese porridge, also called congee, simmer 1 cup raw short-grain rice in 1 quart stock, seasoned with salt and ginger. When rice is very soft, stir in shredded turkey meat. Garnish with cilantro.