Turkey II: Beau--ootiful Soo--oop
If you've got a whole turkey breast and you've taken the beautiful breast meat off the bone to give you two boneless turkey breasts (or perhaps two boneless turkey half-breasts, exactly what constitutes a breast being a matter of some ambiguity), then you've still got a lot of good stuff left to work with. I'll admit right up front that I haven't bothered to do anything with all that skin. Surely the most frugal of cooks will want to render the fat for another use or perhaps make cracklings from the skin, but I just go ahead and throw it away. The horror.
Even after discarding the skin, however, I'm left with a large bone and a small but significant amount of flesh. I suppose that if you're a performance artist, your options for using the carcass are virtually unlimited, but if you're a cook, you will want to make turkey stock. Once you've got your turkey stock, you can do anything that you like with it, though I would, once again, counsel against the performance art options and recommend that you use it more or less the same way you'd use chicken stock. I almost always just go ahead and make soup.
Making poultry stock is a process that does not really lend itself to precise recipes, but I will tell you that in addition to the turkey carcass, which still had perhaps six or eight ounces of meat clinging to it in various places, I used three whole celery stalks, a handful of small carrots, an onion, about ten peppercorns, two small bay leaves, four cloves, and two or three green cardomom pods. In order to get a little more color, I partially caramelized the onion first. One does this by cutting the onion in half and putting it, cut-side down, in a nonstick skillet that has had a quick spray of either cooking spray or oil applied to it. Let the onion cook over medium heat until the cut sides are nicely browned but not black. You have, in essence, created caramel coloring here, but you have also added some good flavor to the onion.
Put your turkey carcass in a big pot with four quarts (or so) of water and your aromatics and spices. There is nothing special about the ingredients I've chosen. If you happen to have some nice leeks lying about, you can use those in addition to or instead of the onions, but I rarely have nice leeks lying about unless I've paid a considerable amount for them. You can use more or fewer spices, and you can vary the amounts. You can certainly use larger carrots, especially given that the small carrots are just large carrots that have been machined down for marketing purposes.
I bring my water et al just to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, cover, and let cook for at least an hour before I add any salt, and then I add only a teaspoon, but as long as you don't forget that your stock is likely to be somewhat concentrated before it's finished, you can add your salt right away and in as large a quantity as you like. Skim as necessary, though I find that a turkey breast carcass requires a good deal less skimming than does, say, a whole chicken.
It does not do to hurry the stock-making process. If you lack time, put your (turkey's) carcass in a bag and freeze it until you're ready to work for it. You really don't have to pay much attention to your stock while it's cooking, but you need to let it cook slowly for a long time so that you can extract the maximum amount of flavor and gelatine from the carcass.
Because it's been pretty cold here, when my stock had been simmering for three or four (ok, six) hours, I pulled out the bones and other solids as well as I could, wiped the detritus from the sides of the stockpot, covered the pot, and set it outside to cool down. I eventually transferred the pot to the refrigerator, and the next day I skimmed off the layer of fat that had formed on the top. The stock was very lightly jelled, which is just what I wanted.
If you're making chicken soup from a whole chicken (and that's something I do frequently), you really only need to cook the chicken for maybe ninety minutes, and then you can let it cool and take the meat off the bones and put it back into the soup, and yum. If you're making turkey stock from the carcass, when you've pulled out the bones and the vegetables and what all, you'll find a significant amount of meat still on the bone, and if you pull it off, you might have a cup or more of very thoroughly boiled turkey meat. You will be tempted to find another use for this meat, but I beg you to resist the temptation.
I didn't. I figured that I could grind the meat, season it heavily, and make some nice quenelles to go in my soup. In this case, seasoning heavily involved dijon mustard, kalamata olives, salt, pepper, and other spices, the exact makeup of which, fortunately, have been lost in the distant past of last weekend. The mixture appeared to grind up nicely, and after I bound it with egg white, it certainly formed quenelles easily, and the quenelles even cooked moderately well in the simmering soup. Alas, they were a big disappointment on the palate. The flavor was acceptable, but the texture was odd in a puffy sort of way. We're not talking repulsive here (at least in terms of edibility: the picture at the head of this post is the soup with the failed quenelles, and they look sort of like fossilized turkey droppings, whereas the improved quenelles look like they belong in soup, rather than on the compost heap), just odd enough that the next day, I fished all the quenelles out, disposed of them humanely, and started over with some ground turkey.
I think the point here is that if you want every bit of the meat to end up in your soup, you should remove it from the bone before you make the stock, reserve it, and make your quenelles from the uncooked turkey breast. The ground turkey I used for the second round was not the 99% fat free ground turkey breast, but the 93/7 lean ground turkey. The second round of quenelles was very nice. They had a light, clean flavor. The texture was certainly denser than one expects in, say, a fish quenelle, but they were solid without being heavy and firm without being rubbery. Also, they held together very well, without throwing off any of the little bits that the first quenelles had thrown off and that made me spend many minutes with my fine skimmer trying to get out fine bits of failed quenelle so that I could bring the soup back to a boil and cook the second round. Let that be a lesson to you.
When your turkey stock is done, but before you make the quenelles (if you're making them: you can certainly make soup without them, with, say, the addition of noodles and cilantro and lime juice), check the stock for salt. If you've only added a teaspoon, you'll need substantially more. You'll probably also want some pepper, and if you feel like it, you can add some fresh dill or cilantro or whatever you have about that you think would taste good. I also added about a cup-and-a-half each of sliced celery and carrots, which I simmered until the carrots were tender but not mushy. Then I added the quenelles and simmered for another five minutes or so until they were done. Yum. And equally yum the next day and the day after that.
Forming quenelles with two teaspoons is one of those kitchen tasks that is highly satisfying. It is a difficult motion to describe, but if you happen to run into me on the street, and you happen to have with you a bowl of quenelle paste, two spoons, and a pot of simmering soup (and, really, who doesn't?), I'll be delighted to demonstrate.
8 ounces lean turkey
1/2 t. kosher salt
1 t. dijon mustard
1/4 t. paprika
A pot of turkey soup that is finished except that it is crying out for quenelles
Combine all ingredients except the egg in the food processor and process to a fine paste. Add the egg and process until well incorporated. Scrape the paste into a bowl. Use two teaspoons to form the paste into quenelles and drop them into simmering soup. They should rise to the top of the soup almost immediately. Simmer for about five minutes.
If you decide to use breast meat that you've scraped off the bone prior to cooking, keep in mind that this meat will be very lean indeed. You may want to add an extra egg yolk or a little bit of oil to the quenelle paste. As I mentioned, I used the 93% lean turkey, and it tasted just right to me.
You can also add all manner of other edible matter to your quenelles. I briefly considered some finely chopped green olives with pimientos or a small amount of minced cornichon, but I decided to keep it simple because it was my first (ok, second) try, and because I thought a limited number of additional flavors would work well with the ingredients I had in the soup. But, as always, feel free to adjust the quenelles according to your tastes and the soup you're making.