Now that your planning for Thanksgiving is done (you are done, right?-just kidding, I’m not, either), it’s maybe time to give some thought to what will happen to all the leftovers.
For a lot of people, the leftovers are the best part about Thanksgiving, and for good reason. Who can argue with a turkey sandwich with mashed potatoes on the side or a drumstick and stuffing drizzled with gravy?
But after a couple of days, when everyone starts to get a little tired of turkey, you’re maybe ready to use it all up and move on. In my household, this is where turkey soup comes in. Making soup is our favorite way to use up the leftover meat once everyone’s had their fill. Given just a little planning, it’s a quick prep (less than an hour, mostly unattended), and depending on your mood, it can easily be tweaked to work with what you have on hand.
All you have to do is take just a few moments on Thanksgiving to make some stock from the turkey carcass (this is free food made from stuff you would otherwise just throw away). From what I’ve read, a number of people put their turkey bones in the refrigerator for a few days before they make stock. But I prefer to start simmering a pot right away, for two reasons.
First, there’s usually not much room in the refrigerator after I’ve packed up all the leftovers, so I don’t necessarily have the space to fit a carcass in there. And second, as long as I’m dealing with the bird along with all the other cleanup, I figure I might as well toss it straight into a pot so that I don’t have to deal with it again.
So the first step is to clean off the carcass after you’ve cleared the table after dinner. Stow the meat and put the bones in a big pot, maybe breaking them up a bit if needed to get them to fit and not sit too high in the pot. Add to that some kitchen scraps like the ends of onions, carrots, celery and mushroom stems (or, if you haven’t been saving veggie remnants, just chop up a carrot, a stalk or two of celery and an onion).
Pour in enough water to cover this by about 2 inches, toss in a bay leaf and bring the pot to a boil. Try to catch it just as it starts to bubble, and then turn down the heat and let it simmer for at least a few hours. I let it cook overnight-that way, the house still smells wonderful in the morning and it also gives us a little time to nibble on the leftovers and make some room in the refrigerator for a few jars of stock. Once it’s done, pour it through a strainer, let it cool and store it in the refrigerator (it also freezes well). After a day or so, you might want to skim off any fat that has floated to the top.
Fast-forward a few days and put some butter or oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add some chopped onion and celery, and cook, stirring, for several minutes while they soften. If you like, you can also add things such as minced or smashed garlic cloves, chopped carrots, fresh sage, sliced mushrooms or some thyme sprigs.
Slowly stir in your turkey stock, scraping the bottom of the pot to make sure that everything gets stirred in. Bring to a boil, add some rice (I like to use a combination of brown and wild rice) and set the pot to simmer for a half-hour or more, checking the rice periodically for doneness. Once the rice is cooked, add the chopped-up remnants of your leftover turkey and cook for about 10 minutes or until the soup is thoroughly heated.
At this point, you could optionally add a cup or two of heavy whipping cream, depending on how thick you want the soup to be. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed, or perhaps a glug of sherry, lemon juice, buttermilk or vinegar. Serve in a bowl with a garnish of Parmesan cheese or a grind of fresh black pepper.
That’s all there is to a quick batch of delicious soup that takes care of your leftover turkey! To get a sense of the proportions involved, you can look at some sample soup recipes, but the ingredient amounts vary widely from recipe to recipe-so feel free to just work with what you have. Soup is very flexible and forgiving.
And if you need other ideas for using up various leftovers, here is a great list of suggestions from Mark Bittman (seriously? cranberry Negroni? yes, please!), or try this amazing-sounding leftover shepherd’s pie from The Kitchn.
Enjoy, and have a wonderful holiday!
Alice O’Dea has lived in Chattanooga for over 20 years, but was raised among the mucks and dairy farms in rural western New York. She didn’t really learn to cook until midlife. When she’s not puttering around in the kitchen, she enjoys running, cycling, traveling, photography and trying to get food to grow in the backyard of her Highland Park home. You can email her with questions, suggestions or comments at [email protected]. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.