My Thanksgiving dinners hold expectation and strategy, but no surprises:
My mother-in-law always contributes a bowl of trail mix to the coffee-table appetizers; my husband always insists on canned, jellied cranberry sauce. And while the gravy is still hot in its china boat, certain relatives testily revisit long-held and contrasting thoughts on who killed JFK.
Then there is the person on the edge of her seat plotting the confiscation of the turkey carcass.
That would be me.
Stuffing, sweet potatoes with marshmallows, country ham or Uncle Ed's mincemeat pie mark the holiday for legions of Americans.
For soup lovers, though, a turkey's skeleton is Thanksgiving's coveted door prize.
This has something to do with the fact that, even though turkey is available year-round, most people don't roast whole birds until the winter holidays.
Making soup from the bones extends the feelings of celebration and goodwill in many ways: In the week or month ahead, depending upon when you choose to deal with the carcass, the house is perfumed as the bones roast and the broth simmers. (This is the time to have an open house if you are looking to sell your home.)
The soupmaker gets to revel in the virtuous feeling that comes from making something from what might have been thrown away, something definitely better-tasting and nutritious than the canned stuff.
And when you add seasonal ingredients such as sage, winter squash and wild rice, along with a bit of leftover turkey (see accompanying recipes), you can produce a meal that many of us consider more tantalizing than the actual Thanksgiving feast.
But maybe even more important is that soup, which certainly is perfect for a crowd, is also the consummate solitary self-indulgence.
Making and devouring it alone can be meditative and soothing, a fitting follow-up to the preparation and consumption of a meal composed of many elements - and a group of dear but clattering, chattering relatives.
Turkey soup after Thanksgiving dinner is better than a spa treatment, and I have mastered the capture of its essential component: the bird's jarringly messy skeleton. If you, too, covet the carcass, you will profit from my experience.
Luckily, many people view these bones as icky - a bother, something that signals labor, or a burden for those who have traveled to the dinner from afar.
Some even consider a desire for those bones as a scary, slippery slope down to Martha Stewart-dom.
It is in the soup lover's best interest to cultivate such viewpoints among others.
These very same skeptics will want the carcass stripped of its shards so that they may have a mini-feast the next day. And the children may want to abscond with the wishbone, technically called the furcula, which lies between all birds' necks and breasts.
Feign generosity and allow that. But be on your toes to hoard some of the meat to use with the precious bones.
Then move on to gaining possession of the carcass in one of three ways: (1) Insist on cleaning up after dinner; (2) Provide disinformation; or (3) Seize control of the conversation.
Offering to do the dishes is, obviously, not the most pleasant option. But if you can manage to convince others that you really, really want to do it alone, you and your turkey carcass are home free. It can be disguised - in foil and a wig, perhaps - and refrigerated behind a collection of mustards for several days. It may also be frozen for several months.
Lying about the value of a turkey carcass is useless. It is fairly common knowledge that bones are the foundation of all cookery, contributing flavor, nutrients and gelatin. Instead, when Aunt Fran, who flew in from Detroit, eyeballs it, tell her that the Transportation Security Administration has banned turkey carcasses from luggage of any sort. (This, although untrue, is very believable; turkey bones can be sharp as knives.)
Finally, there's what I think of as the "Look! There's a bird!" tactic.
This involves changing the subject from the destiny of the turkey carcass to one that ignites passion and diverts the assembled family.
I steer our Thanksgiving table conversation to conspiracies, the 35th president of the United States, and the grassy knoll.
Works every time.
Tips for Making Perfect Soup
Don't make broth from brined, marinated or smoked turkey - added flavors that will intensify and alter the stock-making process.
Remove as much meat as possible from the bones before beginning the stock because it will be flavorless after long simmering.
Break up the bones to allow the carcass to fit better into the pot.
Use a tall, narrow stockpot to decrease evaporation.
Start with cold water because hot water will cause the starches and fats in meat and vegetables to expand and jell, retarding the flavor extraction.
If you do not want a thick soup, cook rice, potatoes or pasta separately before adding them to your concoction.
Simmer stock. Boiling causes fat to emulsify and disperse, making the stock greasy. Fat floating on top can be removed.
Cool strained stock quickly in an ice bath before refrigerating or freezing it to keep bacteria from growing. This goes faster if the stock is placed in smaller containers.
Freeze stock in ice-cube trays, then put the cubes into plastic bags. Use in recipes within three months.
Make cream of turkey soup by adding as much heavy cream as you like to soup. Don't use half-and-half, light cream or milk. They may separate when heated.
File away this standard formula for turkey broth: one 16- to 20-pound turkey, 2 onions, 2 carrots, 2 celery ribs, 8 fresh parsley sprigs, ¾ teaspoon fresh thyme, 2 small bay leaves, and 6 to 8 quarts water, or enough to cover the turkey in its simmering pot.
Add a squeeze of lemon, julienned ginger, and shredded mint leaves to simple turkey soup for a light, fresh taste.
- From Autumn Gatherings (William Morrow, 2008) and Cookwise (William Morrow, 1997)
Roasted Turkey Stock
Makes about 10 cups
Carcass from a
12- to 16-pound turkey
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion, unpeeled,
1 large carrot, peeled and
2 celery stalks, sliced
1/4 cup brandy
1 1-by-1-inch piece of fresh
ginger, peeled and sliced
1 bay leaf
1 thyme sprig
1/4 teaspoon black pepper- corns
1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
2. Break or chop the turkey carcass into 3 or 4 pieces. Pour the vegetable oil into a large roasting pan and add the chopped turkey carcass, onion, carrot and celery (the onion's skin will help color the broth). Roast for 30 minutes, stirring 2 or 3 times.
3. Transfer the turkey bones and vegetables to a large stockpot. Pour off any fat from the roasting pan and discard, then place the pan over medium heat and add the brandy and 2 cups water. Bring to a boil, deglazing the pan by scraping up the browned bits from the bottom. Pour into the stockpot and add the ginger, bay leaf and thyme. Pour in about 11 cups cold water, or enough to almost cover the turkey pieces. Bring slowly to a gentle simmer, skim off any scum, and add the peppercorns. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 2 hours.
4. Strain the liquid through a sieve into a large bowl. Discard the debris left in the sieve and cool the stock quickly by placing the bowl in a larger bowl or sink filled with ice water; stir occasionally as it cools, then refrigerate overnight. Remove any fat from the top of the broth before using it and discard the debris at the bottom of the bowl.
Wild Rice and Turkey Soup
Makes 8 to 12 servings
4 tablespoons butter
2 celery ribs, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 onions, diced
1/2 cup sliced scallions,
including some of the
1/2 cup slivered almonds
2 tablespoons chopped fresh
2 bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
About 31/2 quarts turkey
stock (see recipe)
11/2 cups wild rice, rinsed
1/2 cup white rice
About 2 cups cooked, diced
or shredded leftover
3 cups cleaned and sliced
Salt and freshly ground
black pepper to taste
1. Melt the butter in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the celery, carrots, onions, scallions and almonds and cook for 5 minutes, or until the vegetables are slightly softened. Stir in the dill, bay leaves and turmeric. Remove from the heat.
2. Bring 3 quarts of the stock, wild rice and white rice to a boil in a large pot. Reduce the heat, add the vegetable mixture, and simmer for 30 minutes, adding broth if the soup becomes too thick. (Alternatively, you may separately cook or par-cook the rice and add it to the mixture later for a thinner soup.) Discard the bay leaves.
3. Add the reserved shredded turkey and the mushrooms to the soup and simmer for 10 minutes, or until the turkey is heated through and the mushrooms are cooked. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve.
Per serving (based on 12): 212 calories, 13 grams protein, 25 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams sugar, 6 grams fat, 28 milligrams cholesterol, 417 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber.
Roast Turkey Broth With Caramelized Butternut Squash and Sage Dumplings
Makes 8 servings
4 pounds turkey legs or
meaty turkey bones and
giblets (excluding the
3 quarts turkey stock (see
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 carrot, thinly sliced
1 celery stalk, thinly sliced
5-6 whole black peppercorns
3-4 parsley stems
1 bay leaf
1 sprig fresh thyme
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons unsalted
2 cups diced butternut
Freshly ground white
pepper to taste
1 recipe sage dumplings
1. Preheat oven to 400. Spread the turkey legs or bones in a single layer in a roasting pan and roast until deep golden brown, about 1 hour.
2. Transfer the turkey legs or bones to a large soup pot. Add 2 cups of the stock to the hot roasting pan and scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to loosen any drippings. Pour over the turkey legs or bones.
3. Add enough stock to cover by at least 2 inches. Bring slowly to a boil over medium heat. As the liquid comes to a boil, skim any foam that rises to the surface. Adjust the heat once a boil is reached, so that a slow, lazy simmer is established. Simmer 1 hour, skimming as necessary.
4. Add the onion, carrot, celery, peppercorns, parsley stems, bay leaf, thyme and salt. Continue to simmer, skimming the surface as necessary, until stock is fully flavored, about 1 hour.
5. While the stock is simmering, heat the butter in a large ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Add the squash and cook, stirring occasionally, until brown on all sides, 15 to 20 minutes. Season the squash with salt and pepper and place the skillet in the preheated oven. Roast the squash until tender, about 10 minutes. Remove the squash from the oven, drain off any excess fat, and set aside.
6. When the stock is fully flavored, strain it through a fine sieve or cheesecloth-lined colander into a clean soup pot. If you used the turkey legs, remove the skin, pull the meat from the bones, dice, and return it to the stock, or save for another purpose. Discard the remaining solids.
7. Add the squash and the dumplings to the broth. Return to a simmer briefly to heat through. Season with salt and pepper. Serve in heated bowls.
Per serving: 313 calories, 15 grams protein, 37 grams carbohydrates, 8 grams sugar, 11 grams fat, 49 milligrams cholesterol, 1,476 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber.
Makes 60 pieces
11/4 pounds yellow potatoes
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon extra-virgin
olive oil, plus more as
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 cup grated dry jack or
2 tablespoons chopped fresh
1. Peel the potatoes and cut into sixths. Place in a pot of cold, salted water. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook gently until just tender, about 20 minutes. Drain and return the potatoes to the pot. Place over medium heat again for a few minutes to drive off any excess moisture. Shake the pot frequently until steam no longer rises from the potatoes.
2. Pass the potatoes through a medium-hole food mill or potato ricer. Spread the potatoes in a thin layer on a baking sheet and refrigerate or set aside until cool.
3. Place the cooled potatoes in a large bowl. Add the flour. Chop the flour into potatoes with a rubber spatula until a grainy texture has formed. Mix the egg, oil and salt together. Add to the potato mixture along with the cheese and sage. Mix gently by hand until just incorporated.
4. Place the dumpling dough in a pastry bag without a tip and pipe the dough into 6-inch logs onto a floured cutting board. Gently roll the dough by hand into smooth logs approximately the diameter of a dime. Cut the logs into 1/2-inch lengths and roll onto a fork to imprint with ridges. Store the dumplings in a single layer on a floured jellyroll pan until ready to cook.
5. Cook the dumplings in heavily salted, gently simmering water until just firm, about 90 seconds. Lift the dumplings out of the water with a slotted spoon and add directly to soup.
Per serving (based on 8): 141 calories, 6 grams protein, 20 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams sugar, 4 grams fat, 31 milligrams cholesterol, 960 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber.