So, How Many Hats Do You Wear?

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Pensacola, Florida, United States
Husband. *Dog Dad.* Instructional Systems Specialist. Runner. (Swim-challenged) Triathlete (on hiatus). USATF LDR Surveyor. USAT (Elite Rules) CRO/2, NTO/1. RRCA Rep., FL (North). Observer Of The Human Condition.

Friday, November 25, 2011

What To Do With That Damned Bird? Take Stock

There are two types of people in this world: Those who run to eat, and those who eat to run. I am probably more the former than the latter, even more so during the colder and holiday-filled times of the year. One thing I am not is a great cook. I claim no expertise when it comes to being in the kitchen. I possess rudimentary cooking skills at best. Boil water, cook meat, prepare rice, pasta, or veggies; these things I can do. I'm not EVER going to be mistaken for the second coming of Emeril Lagasse. So, I'm definitely not one of those folks who, before undertaking a two-hour run, plan to scarf on a breakfast of egg, potato, cheese, meat, toast with Nutella, multiple cups of coffee, and so on, before heading out the door. A bagel (or two) and Nutella is going to be my pre-run nosh...with coffee, of course.

Like any other learned skill, the act of cooking can be improved upon and perhaps made more tolerable by simply following the rules, over and over again, until it becomes second nature. Once the person has mastered the skill, then they are usually free to improvise; this is the area from where innovation or invention springs. Turkey carving is another one of those "ten-thousand times" practical skills I never caught; we had three very senior males in my family as I grew up, so I never had to figure out how to turn a 30-pound turkey into a decently-sliced mountain of meat for a ten-member delegation.

One thing I have learned to do, however, is make turkey stock. The process of transforming a turkey carcass, which may or may not have meat-like remnants attached to it, into a meal which is NOT turkey a'la king is pretty damned simple, even for a ham-handed guy like me. All it takes is a good knife or two, plenty of counter space, a good stock pot, and the willingness to wrestle with a nasty hunk of poultry for a couple of hours.

I cannot recall where I figured out how to turn turkey waste into stock; must have read it in some cookbook. But I did it the first Thanksgiving Suzanne and I were together. Considering our income was half what it is now she was pleased to see that bird stretch out another four or five meals (at least) beyond the "leftovers Friday, turkey sandwiches 'til Tuesday, turkey a'la king 'til next Sunday, don't show me any (curse) turkey 'til next year" stretch.

There's nothing like turkey soup, and a good 25-to-30 pound bird can be turned into a few quarts of stock...which, with a little "surgery" and the right veggies (amazing how those green bean casseroles with the fried onion strings can perk up a soup) can keep a guy warm and happy for several evenings, at the additional cost of a good loaf of french/style bread and a six-pack of beer. I'm certain it takes less time than it normally takes me, but my traditional stock-making usually takes a day, a pot of coffee, and 'Lawrence of Arabia' on the DVD player.

A big knife is used at first to separate the remaining breast meat from the bones, followed by the dark meat. Then the legs and wings are separated from the carcass. The bird is gently stuffed into a stock pot and water (this year's took somewhere between six and eight quarts) is filled until the bones are covered. Medium heat for 60 minutes, simmer for 60 minutes, low heat for 60 minutes. The pot is left to cool, then placed in the fridge overnight.

The next morning I normally place the pot on very low heat for the day...just before I leave for work. When I get home it's time to play surgeon again. I drain the stock pot into one or more pans, then pluck portions of the carcass out to get the last bits of meat which might still be attached to the bones. My dog hates me by this time of the day. The meat goes into the container with the large chunks of turkey taken the previous evening. Once the turkey is either bones in the trash or meat in the Tupperware I can refill the stock pot with the boil, cut the meat into chunks of desired size, and add the veggies.

At that point my "work" is pretty much complete, and Suzanne takes over the task of soup maintenance. She'll add veggies or rice as the circumstances warrant, and make certain we have good bread for the next week or two. And I have to admit there is something therapeutic about running your fingers around the skeletal structure of an animal, feeling about for fleshy parts to tear away. Something that lets me get in touch with my inner animal, I guess.

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