Tomorrow, after the Thanksgiving feast has run its course, most of us will retire what remains of our turkey to the refrigerator. There, our beleaguered friend will rest under a crinkled piece of tinfoil for a few days, as we humans pick his bones. At some point, after the last sandwich or casserole has been scavenged (or everyone has grown tired of eating turkey), the carcass will be unceremoniously dumped in the trash.
The garbage can is not the final resting place that our forebears would have chosen for Mr. Turkey. Rather they would have moved him on to the soup kettle, where he would have entered yet another phase of service to mankind. In fact, in generations past, tossing a bird carcass before all the usefulness had been wrung out was considered wastefulness of the highest - or lowest - order.
Our grandmothers knew that a richly flavored stock can be had by simmering the turkey carcass until the last bits of meat cook loose and the bones release their flavor. Generally, about 10 cups of water are necessary to cover a turkey carcass in a soup pot. Adding leftover skin to the pot, along with a diced onion, a cup or so of celery pieces, a teaspoon of salt and a bay leaf, will deepen the flavor as the carcass simmers.
When the bones are cooked clean and the skeleton has pretty much fallen apart, which will take about 90 minutes, run the liquid through a strainer to produce a clear stock and prevent small bones from making their way into soups and other dishes you might prepare.
If the simmering has removed a considerable amount of meat from the carcass, you can hand pick pieces of meat from the strainer and set them aside for later use in soup and other dishes.
It strikes me that not wasting the Thanksgiving turkey is an appropriate way to demonstrate gratitude for what we have. Sometimes, with plates piled high and uneaten food scraped into the trash after the meal, this holiday sometimes looks more like an excuse for overconsumption and football than the expression of humility it was intended to be. I think our grandmothers had it right.
The November Gourmet offers a tasty recipe for a turkey leftover pot pie that requires the stock I just described. If you don't have an ovenproof skillet, transfer the filling to a 9-by-13-inch baking dish before topping with biscuit dough.
Turkey Pot Pie with Cheddar Biscuit Crust
3 1/2 cups turkey stock (prepared as described above)
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
2 large carrots, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 celery ribs, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 large parsnip (peeled), cored and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 teaspoon chopped thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 lb. mushrooms, trimmed and quartered
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups roast turkey meat, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 10-ounce package frozen baby peas, thawed
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup coarsely grated extra-sharp Cheddar
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
3/4 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 1/4 cups well-shaken buttermilk
Make filling: Cook onion, carrots, celery, parsnip and thyme in butter with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a 12-inch-wide shallow, oven-proof pot, covered, over medium heat, stirring occasionally until vegetables are almost tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring, until tender, 5 to 7 minutes.
Sprinkle with flour and cook, stirring constantly, 2 minutes. Stir in stock, scraping up any brown bits, and bring to a boil, stirring, then simmer until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Stir in turkey, peas and salt and pepper to taste. Reheat over low heat just before topping with biscuit crust.
Make biscuit crust and bake pie: Preheat oven to 400 degrees, with rack in the middle.
Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and pepper into a medium bowl. Add cheeses and toss to coat. Blend in butter with pastry blender or fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add buttermilk and stir just until a dough forms. Drop biscuit dough onto filling in 8 large mounds, leaving spaces between biscuits.
Bake until biscuits are puffed and golden brown and filling is bubbling, 35 to 40 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.
Makes 8 servings