Thanksgiving calamities: burned, dried out and/or undercooked (whatever) with lumps! We’ve all been there. That’s how we learn. After 25 years of cooking a big Thanksgiving dinner for my family I also learned a few tricks and shortcuts to making a perfect dinner. Looking back, I realize that it all starts with the stock.
I know, visions of a stock pot on the stove for hours when you have just halfhours to cook is enough to send anyone to the canned soup aisle for some Swanson’s – but don’t do it. There is an easy way to make the stock that will turn lackluster gravy, stuffing and leftover soup into crowd-pleasing favorites, and it all happens while the Turkey roasts.
Just follow these simple steps:
Before you put the turkey in the oven, cut off the tail and the first two joints of the wings – come on – you’re not doing a Bon Appettite cover shoot here – disfigure the bird. Take them, and whatever extra skin and fat from the cavity opening you can salvage and throw them in a large pot on medium heat with butter melted in it. Toss in the neck and innards while you’re at it, and some chopped celery and onion. Add oregano and thyme, stirring while you boost the flavors by browning the contents. Then fill the pot with water and bring to a boil, simmering, covered until needed.
I never cook my stuffing in the bird, the turkey cooks faster without it, and I can control the texture and flavor better by baking it in its own pan. So – whatever stuffing you make, if it calls for liquid, ladle it out of the pot you have simmering on the stove. (Stuffing takes much less time than the turkey, so you’re “stock” has had a few hours to build up flavor – use it.)
When you strain your white potatoes for mashing, reserve the cooking liquid. (and don’t wash the pot!) There is still plenty of starch there to help thicken the gravy, and to boost the flavors of your soup, so don’t just pour it down the drain. Top off your stock pot with some of it. Save the “dirty” potato pot for the soup!
When it is time to make the gravy, make sure you ladle out the liquid from your stock to pump those intense flavors into it. Keep the gravy warm while you carve the bird. I always carve it in the kitchen, so I have the carcass ready for the soup pot before we sit down for dinner. Simply toss it in the dirty mashed potato pot, add the contents of your “stock” pot and top off with the last of the reserved potato water. throw in a bay leaf or two and cover it to simmer on the stove while you relax with your family.
Nothing is wasted, you’ve used your own recipes and methods for the gravy, stuffing and will for the soup, too. BUT, you’re added that simple, flavor-loaded stock to everything, insuring the best tasting Thanksgiving Dinner. Bravo!