It's pretty much inevitable. In the run-up to Thanksgiving, which is of course the big food-centric opener to the holiday season, I work too much, cook too much, travel on flying petri dishes otherwise known as airplanes, and my sleep suffers as a result of all of this. Aaaand...boom. Suddenly, I'm getting sick. Under the weather. No bueno. But the good news in all of this? Post-Thanksgiving is the perfect time to make and enjoy soup.
I refuse to toss a turkey carcass in the trash unless it's been fully utilized as a flavor-maker by infusing a rich stock, a deeply soothing broth, and the base of a delicious soup. Of course, these soups are not vegetarian-friendly -- perhaps another time, another post. These soups have a poultry base. Right now we're talking about the fact that it's the bones of the bird that make these stocks enriched with collagen and nutrients, so restorative, so...rectifying. While cooking away, their meaty perfume permeates the kitchen (and indeed, the entire apartment or house) in which they're cooked with the smell of another Thanksgiving, and this can't be bad. There's no real recipe needed; this is an act of recycling, a thoughtful using up of scraps and leftover ingredients, cleaning out the fridge in the process. We chefs love efficiency and economy.
So, here's the deal: use whatever remains of the turkey carcass that's been picked clean. Add the neck and gizzards and whatever you've saved from various turkey parts. This year, for instance, I spatchcocked our family Thanksgiving turkey, so I added the backbone to the stockpot, which added a real flavor boost, along with the roasted veggies over which I cooked the turkey. Then, throw in some celery, carrots, and onion -- in whatever form you have left over. If you don't, a simple trip to the market and a few dollars will give you what you need. Toss in some garlic or leeks or shallots, if you like. Add some black peppercorns, maybe a touch of thyme or parsley or rosemary (or all three). Fill the pot with cold water and set it on the stove to boil. Once it hits the boiling point, turn it down to a low simmer and just let it slowly cook for hours. I'd say 4 hours is the bare minimum for this stock, but 8 will get you a rich, golden stock you'll remember for years to come.
What now? Well, it's best to cool the stock for an hour or two and then put it in the fridge overnight. This way you can skim the fat the next day when it's congealed at the top. From there, you can layer flavors however you like. That's the beauty of a good stock. Make sure to salt it at the end.
I had my white bean and escarole turkey soup for breakfast yesterday morning, as I woke up still feeling under the weather, and I knew I'd have to fly. The restorative broth with a bit of a peperoncino kick was just what the doctor ordered.
Today I continued with matzo ball soup, a.k.a. Jewish penicillin -- I ordered in from Sarge's deli, as they make a good MBS and they're close by and I don't have to make the soup myself when I'm not feeling up to it. That's part of the beauty of living in Manhattan.
But I make great soups from turkey (and chicken, and vegetable, and beef, and oxtail) stocks all through the winter. You can simply add a starch -- pasta (long noodles, or small pasta like ditalini or tiny shells or Israeli couscous, or tortellini), or potatoes (regular or sweet potatoes or blue). Add any combination of veggies cut small. Add chile pepper in some form (paste, hot sauce, fresh or dried chiles) for kick, if you like, and an acid (wine or citrus juice or vinegar) to cut the richness of the savory broth. And fresh herbs at the end are always welcome. Spices too, if they work with the kind of soup you're making. It's all up to you. But as with most things, in the kitchen and outside of it, it's most important to start with a great base. The rest is just gravy...errr, soup.