Getting to know your inner turkey


Turkey Soup is a thing of beauty once it’s finished, and you can vary the other ingredients to your liking. Photo by Laura Groch

One of my favorite post-holiday meals is turkey soup. Not only does it taste good, it’s a deserving second act for all the leftover turkey parts. And I do mean parts: the skin, the bones, the drippings, the neck and whatever giblets didn’t end up in the stuffing.

Even if this weren’t National Soup Month, I’d be telling you about making soup from turkey carcasses (sorry, there’s no pretty word to use). To my mind, this is not only thrifty, but respectful. I don’t like waste, and using every last bit seems to me a fitting way to be mindful of what that bird gave up for me.

I’m going to show you a basic recipe you can use all year round: how to boil all the leftover bits together, pull the meat off the bones and strain the broth, which will then become the base for a delicious, warming soup.

What’s nice about making your own soup — besides being able to control what goes into it — is that it’s so adaptable to whatever else is in the fridge. First, you don’t have to make this with turkey. Collect a gallon freezer bag of chicken bones, skin, necks and giblets, and use them. (Tip-Top Meats in Carlsbad sells frozen bags of chicken bones with lots of meat on them for soup-making.)

Second, you can switch around the other ingredients to your liking. Soup is forgiving and flexible. Some good additions:

— A quarter-cup of leftover tomato sauce or a chopped tomato.

— Leftover white beans, zucchini, chopped mushrooms or green beans.

— A couple of spoonfuls of mashed potatoes or cooked squash.

— Leftover gravy.

— Spinach, chard, chopped green cabbage, or frozen sliced okra instead of kale.

— Chopped parsley or cilantro to garnish.

— Cooked rice or barley or kasha instead of pasta.

Third, if you’re cooking for one or two, making a pot of stock or soup gives you lots of options. You can portion out the defatted broth and cooked meat into freezer containers to combine later on with some of the abovementioned veggies and leftovers, or put it all together and then freeze your finished soup in one- or two-serving containers.

To that end, as you prepare your next bird for cooking, save the giblets and neck (if you don’t have another use for them) in a plastic bag and freeze them. Some people cut off the wing tips and discard them, but they’re great to add to the soup pot, so freeze them, too.

After the feast, collect the bones, drippings and any skin scraps. Add them to the giblets, neck, etc., and freeze till you’re ready to make soup. If you have a lot, portion them into several bags — about a half-pound to a pound (about a half-turkey’s worth of bones) to each bag should be ample. Then freeze what you won’t be using right away.

I usually make my broth in a slow cooker, but you can also simmer it in a large pot on the stove. (This is Part 1 of the recipe.)

After encountering bone fragments once too often, I’ve finally learned to strain my broth. I use a wire mesh strainer, not a colander, and strain the broth into a large stockpot. The strainer may hold some pieces you want to keep, such as large pieces of meat, so pick them out and add them to the strained broth. If you’ve used celery, onion, etc., they’ll look pretty limp and unappetizing at this point. Some recipes tell you to discard them with whatever else remains in the strainer. Others tell you to puree them and add back to the soup. Your call. (I go back and forth on this, depending on my mood.)

I usually refrigerate the broth and the bowl of meat to work on the next day. By then, any fat will have congealed on top of the broth, and I can easily scoop it off and dispose of it. (NOT down the garbage disposal. Put it into your regular garbage or freeze it in a disposable container and then throw it out on garbage collection day.)

Next, pick off the meat from the boiled bones and scraps. Here’s where you will really get to know turkey anatomy. It’s a personal challenge to remove every last bit of meat from the bones (and you’d be surprised how much usable meat a turkey neck can yield). The best way to do that, IMHO, is with fingers, not a knife and fork. I usually collect a good cup and a half of meat.

You can stop at this point and freeze everything for a later cooking session. Pack the meat into a freezer bag or a freezer container, and do the same with the defatted broth. (Be sure to label everything!)

Otherwise, keep going with Part 2 of the recipe. Some notes:

— Adjust the seasoning as the soup veggies cook. They throw off some sodium, so it’s best to keep tasting.

— My favorite green in turkey soup is chopped kale. Since the leaves cook quickly, I add it at the end, with the pasta (see below). The stems are sturdier, so I remove them and dice them into about 1/4-inch pieces, then add them with the carrots, onions, etc. (My dog loves inch-long pieces of kale stems as a treat.)

— Pasta is my go-to starch. A small pasta — something that will fit in a spoon — works best. Try little stars, ditalini, orzo, alphabets, small elbows or shells. You can also use short lengths of broken-up spaghetti, or regular noodles. A cup will probably work, but I usually use at least 1 1/2 cups (no doubt compensating for being noodle-deprived as a child).

I hope you enjoy this soup as much as we do, and have fun adapting it to your own taste!


1 turkey carcass, broken into pieces: This includes leftover wing, leg and thigh bones, skin (also neck and giblets if you have them), and skimmed pan juices

8-10 cups water or enough to mostly cover turkey carcass

1 medium onion, chopped

1 rib celery, chopped

1 carrot, chopped

1 clove garlic, chopped

1-2 bay leaves

Combine all ingredients in large slow cooker or large pot on stove. If using slow cooker, cook on Low for 4-6 hours. If using large pot, bring ingredients to a boil, then lower to a simmer, covered, with the lid slightly open. Cook 2-3 hours.

Remove from heat. Using tongs, remove as much of the bones, skin, and meat as possible and put in separate bowl. Refrigerate until cool; then separate meat from bones and shred into small pieces. Discard bones and gristle. Cover and refrigerate meat until ready to use in soup.

Using wire mesh strainer or colander lined with cheesecloth, strain broth into separate large pot or bowl. Pick out pieces of meat from strained ingredients and add to other turkey meat; be careful to remove all bones. If you wish, you can puree the vegetables and add back to the soup; otherwise, discard vegetables and bay leaves. Refrigerate broth until fat has risen to top, then skim fat from surface and discard.

Defatted broth and meat can be frozen for later use. Otherwise, proceed with Part 2.


1 medium onion, chopped

1-2 ribs celery, chopped

1-2 carrots, sliced

1-2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon olive oil

8 cups turkey broth from Part 1 of recipe

2 teaspoons chicken bouillon

1/4 teaspoon each sage and thyme, rubbed between palms to pulverize leaves

1-2 kale leaves, shredded or torn, with stems removed and finely chopped

1 to 1 1/2 cups noodles or small pasta

In large skillet, saute onion, celery, carrots and garlic in olive oil until soft. Scrape contents of skillet into soup pot with broth from Part 1 of recipe. Add chicken bouillon, sage and thyme, and chopped kale stems. Bring to a boil, then simmer, partly covered, until vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes. Stir in shredded kale leaves and pasta; cook for another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until pasta is done. Stir in turkey meat and bring back to a boil. Turn off heat and adjust seasonings. Makes about 10 cups soup.

(c) copyright Laura Groch 2014


One thought on “Getting to know your inner turkey

  1. Thanksgiving recipes bring back memories – beyondbites

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