Yes, turkey day happened on a Wednesday – in February – at our house. As a family of four on a very tight budget, I have found some tricks to keep all bellies, including the bottomless pits that are Thing 1 and 2, full and happy. Every year the week of Thanksgiving you will probably notice ridiculously good deals on huge frozen turkeys. They need to move them, and no one has time to thaw them before the big event, and unless you have a huge brood, it can be really intimidating to take on that much meat. I always try to buy two 20+ pounders on top of the bird I make for the event. I throw them in our chest freezer and they are good up to a year so long as you don’t let them thaw out – don’t worry it takes at least a week for the big guys. When we fall into a food drought , or I merely have a craving I pull the bad boy out and plan out a weeks worth of food. I stuff my bird because I was taught that it is sacrilegious not to. This also benefits you later on down the line.
If you’ve never made a turkey, fear not, it is the easiest thing you will ever do. Take it out a few days (a week in the case of the monster seen here) before you plan on making it. Rinse off and out, making sure you pull out the neck and gizzards. Throw away disgusting chemical gravy packet, but bag up and save the rest in the fridge for later. Lay it down tits up in your roasting pan and pat it dry – I don’t use paper towels, so I use a kitchen towel (a flour sack cloth to be more accurate) that I throw in the sink, pour boiling water over and wash immediately. Pour a melted stick of butter over it and rub it all over. Melt another stick of butter in a small bowl and throw a piece of cheesecloth large enough to cover the bird into it, allowing it to soak all the butter up. In the mean time stuff your bird. I would give you my recipe, but I fear the fearless German women of my family might kill me if I did. I will seek approval and update at a later time if permission is granted. Tie the legs up and sew the cavity shut – this is not a neatness contest, just make sure she’s closed up. Grab your butter soaked cheesecloth and tuck her in. Let her rest for a while, she’s been through a lot, and preheat your oven to 325. Plan on about 15 minutes per pound – this beast took 5 1/2 hours. Once preheated throw it in the oven and plan on basting it roughly every 30 – 45 minutes. If your skin doesn’t seem to be browning enough for you near the end just remove the cheesecloth and throw it back in. After the bird is done allow it to rest (I do 30 minutes) as it helps to keep it moist.
So, make up your Thanksgiving on your appointed day (if you work choose Saturday, because you’re going to need to spend another day using up/ storing the rest). Enjoy your Thanksgiving in (insert month). I carve both breasts off the bird for lunch meat. Freeze this! I didn’t do it this time and I had to mourn losing at least 2 pounds of meat. Save any drippings you didn’t use for gravy and store everything in the fridge. On the next day make yourself some stock and soup. I left out the noodles and pressure canned 10 quarts that will be good in my cupboard for up to a year.
To make the stock you’ll want to grab your carcass and any other meat you haven’t reserved for sandwiches or other purposes and your neck and gizzards. Throw these into the largest stock pot you have and cover with water. (I had to do 2 batches this time around using the legs and thighs for one and the main part of the carcass for the other).I throw in 2 carrots that I scrub (I don’t peel these) and either halve or cut into three depending on the size of the carrot, 2 stalks of celery cut the same, one onion quartered, a few sprigs of parsley, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and skim the foam. Reduce heat, cover and simmer an hour or until it is to your liking potency wise. When your stock is how you like it remove the meat to a cutting board to cool. Strain through a cheesecloth lined sieve and toss your veggies and wilty parsley. You can jar up and store your stock for a couple of days in the fridge or allow it to cool and then freeze it. I virtually always opt to just make soup, and so I strain my stock directly into another stock pot. For soup I repeat the same ingredients, but chop them finer and increase them just a bit – 3 carrots, 3 stalks of celery, one onion, minced parsley. I always add in a tablespoon of my drippings in the place of bouillon here. Bring your stock and veggies to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until the carrots begin to be tender. While waiting for the carrots I clean the carcass and get all the meat I can off of it – be careful you get all the little bones! Once the carrots are tender, add in the meat and if desired or not canning, the noodles. Heat to boiling again until your noodles are to your liking and enjoy! If you are canning, leave out the noodles and have your pressure canner and heated jars ready to fill and process with 50/50 mix of solids and liquids. I process this for 90 minutes at 10 pounds.
I also make a hot dish of sorts out of all left overs – throw everything in a 9×9 making sure your turkey is in the middle of moist stuff (potatoes, stuffing, green bean casserole, whatever) pour gravy over the top, cover with tin foil, bake at 350 for 45 minutes, uncover and throw it back in for another 15. My kids totally don’t realize they’re eating the same thing. I love a good hot dish! (Did I mention I’m Minnesotan?) If you have a massive surplus of breast meat like I did this time is to make mini pot pies. Just a simple pie crust used to line a muffin tin for however many you want, fill them, cook them, allow them to cool and throw the whole pan in the freezer. Once they’re all frozen nice and solid, pull them from the pan and transfer them into a ziplock and throw them back in the freezer for when you need one. I will have to post the whole process some other time as like I said, I lost my pot pie meat this time around *expletive here*. As far as those drippings you saved goes, anything you haven’t used for your hot dish or pot pies I freeze. I also do this with my chicken and beef drippings – I substitute a tablespoon of it any where that I would normally use bouillon and I have yet to have a problem with it and I think I enjoy the end result of my dishes much better.
Even if you don’t do anything but make it and freeze everything to pull out for single meals later on, who doesn’t like this?!