Stock is often specified in recipes when the cookery writer merely intends that we should use something liquid. Who hasn’t seen the instruction: “Use chicken stock or water”?

As if it didn’t matter.

It matters.

One is silky, salty and buoyantly rich, and the other is merely wet.

However, the best of stocks is immune to such insult. Turkey stock. One never sees the instruction “Use turkey stock or water.” This is probably because arriving at turkey stock takes work. It’s not falling off the shelves in canned versions, and most of us have a shot at it only during the winter holidays.

This is odd, because it is thoroughly delicious--so much better than the bird itself. There’s the pure turkey flavor but no dry white meat to choke down. It’s got the lovely supple body of chicken stock and the richness of veal stock but with something else, a rich accessibly gamy flavor.


To make a really good turkey stock, you’ll want some meat still on the bird. So don’t let the sandwich makers in the kitchen. The best approach is to put the bird in the pot as you clear up after Thanksgiving dinner.

Once the stock pot is set up, one must also be vigilant about relatives trying to slip in their plate scrapings. My late mother-in-law thought no stock was complete without everyone’s uneaten Brussels sprouts, cranberry sauce and yams. (She also, bless her, once made wine with unrecognizable sludge found when she defrosted her freezer).

Rather, when making stock, one wants simple, largely fresh stuff--a couple of stalks of celery, carrots, a leek perhaps, onions and peppercorns (four for a chicken, six for a turkey).

Then, while cooking it, the only real trick is keeping the stock short of an out-and-out boil. Hard cooking can make it at once tired and burnt tasting.

I cannot speak about temperature control of electric stoves. My own range is gas. It’s even got a super-low soup setting, which is very low indeed, because it usually goes out. The upshot is that the only sure-fire method to control the heat is to keep it at a low but reliable setting and to use a heat diffuser atop the flame.

Heat diffusers are metal disks, invariably from Europe, about 8 to 11 inches in diameter. Sur La Table stocks an Italian model for $17.95 and a larger Swiss one for about $36. Restaurant supply shops sell them much more cheaply.


They are worth seeking out because stock pots, being so large, are by necessity light, and their contents burn easily. These metal pads will do the work of a far heavier pot, spreading the heat and eliminating hot spots. Start using one and you soon find them indispensable for all cooking.

The only other stage in stock-making that can catch out a novice is clarifying the stuff. It’s worth doing this well, because one of the great joys of good stock is calling it consomme and drinking it neat with an invigorating squirt of lemon juice.

In the line of clarifying stock well, I probably overdo it: sieving, straining and skimming as it reduces. The sieving catches the bones, the straining nabs the grit and the skimming grabs the fat as this coagulates and rises during cooking.

There is much folklore surrounding clarification rituals. An egg white broken into simmering stock will catch a certain amount of gunk, but not a lot if you’ve strained it. The rest is just patience, skimming about every 10 to 15 minutes or simply as you remember while it reduces. Simply leave a large spoon in a bowl by the stove. Don’t worry about nabbing good stock, you’ll lose a little, but not much. Plus, the scum will be quite distinct and easy to spoon off.

Whatever you do, beware shortcuts. A bit in his cups, a food writer acquaintance once slyly let drop another method to clarify stock, which he insisted was favored by a hot chef of the day. “His secret is . . . “ he whispered, “soy sauce!”

It was a boozy confidence, but the chef in question made very good stock, so at home I once dropped a bit of soy sauce into some chicken stock to see if the clouds somehow miraculously cleared. My conclusion was that this droplet belonged in the compost heap, along with my mother-in-law’s Brussels sprouts.

As one reduces and clarifies stock, it’s a good idea to taste it regularly. If it is relatively weak, then one knows to turn up the heat and reduce it more; if it is strong, one should dilute it. When it’s right, you’ll know.

Once it’s done, the final danger is an impulse to gild the lily. Besotted with my turkey stock, nay, positively smug, I was recently possessed by a rush of misbegotten creativity. First I tried making the traditional ham hock-split pea soup with my wonderful turkey stock. It was perfectly edible, but the marriage took two fabulous things and made them a dull couple.

Then, after being sold what the grower insisted were not turnips but exotic white beets at a farmers market, I decided to reinvent beet soup. The idea was to garnish the white soup with some diced red beets that had been quickly cooked in the microwave.

In the event, the white beets turned gray and were less singing and sweet than the red garnish. I could swear that the white beets are starchier than the red ones. Whatever, the upshot was awful, if slightly worse to look at than to eat.

The same white beets provided a final comeuppance for my fiddly fancifications. They had come with huge sprays of indefatigable greens. These had tasted bitter raw, but I had saved them for a weekday meal. Maybe a stir-fry, I had thought. But chopped and stirred into some softened onions, then topped with turkey stock and simmered, these greens in turkey stock proved an unbeatably simple and delicious soup.

So though turkey stock is delicious stuff, it can’t make bad ideas good. Pity that.

What else? It should be stressed that turkey stock is a slow food. Making it takes work, if only a little bit spread over a long period. And one has to love it: The aroma fills the house. When it comes to turkey stock, even one’s neighbors have to love it. It will fill their homes too.

But then there is the ultimate feel-good factor. To be willing to take the trouble to make it, one has to see stock as the root of cooking, as fundamental as eggs, milk, rice and flour.

One then has to see turkey stock as a special treat, something as luxurious as veal stock, in reach only once or twice a year. This turns work to pleasure. It guarantees a greedy glow when good kitchen husbandry--respecting the carcass of the day’s feast--brings with it the promise of so many good dishes (and, in my case, some interesting mistakes) to come.

Turkey Stock

Active Work Time: 25 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 4 hours plus 1 hour standing

1 meaty turkey carcass from about 12-pound turkey

2 onions, cut in quarters

2 stalks celery, cut into thirds

2 carrots, cut into quarters

1 leek, roots trimmed, outer leaves removed, halved lengthwise, each half cut in thirds

6 peppercorns

1 tablespoon salt

About 6 quarts water

* Using cleaver, chop off wings of turkey (cracking bones helps release marrow. If you’ve got any turkey legs--meat, skin and all--or better yet, if you’ve kept one back, crack it too.) Put stockpot on stove before starting to load it up. It will get heavy. Fill pot, starting with carcass and trimmings, then add onions, celery, carrots, leek, peppercorns, salt and enough water to cover carcass so only tip of breastbone protrudes.

* Cover pot and bring to boil over medium heat, 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes. Once it starts simmering, reduce heat to low and simmer 2 hours, uncovered, never allowing a rolling boil but instead keeping it at a steady burble.

* Scraps of meat will be falling off bone. Remove pot from stove and cool at least 1 hour. Remove largest pieces of carcass with tongs and discard. Reserve what meat you want for soup or to feed to a pet.

* Set large mixing bowl in sink, then set large colander inside it. Carefully and slowly pour stock and vegetables into colander. Colander will float a bit like a lobster pot, full of bones, leaving good broth in bowl. (Most of contents of colander are now spent and ready to discard, though you may wish to fish out remaining good meat and carrots, which will be infused by stock and quite delicious and can go in turkey minestrone or to a very good dog. Discard bones, fat and other cooked vegetables.)

* The next several bits are rather sloshy: Rinse stock pot and colander. Line colander with cheesecloth. Pour stock through colander into pot. This will catch grit.

* Return pot of strained stock to stove and, over low heat, bring slowly to boil, 20 to 30 minutes. Reduce heat to low so stock simmers just enough that scum begins to rise. Skim intermittently. Simmer until reduced by 1/4, 45 minutes.

If storing stock to use later, cool to room temperature before placing in clean jar or ice-cube trays in freezer. Refrigerated stock should be used within 2 to 3 days. (Or, after 2 to 3 days, boil stock again then store in clean jar another 2 to 3 days to make sure it doesn’t become a science experiment.) Remove frozen stock from ice cube trays and store in plastic bags in the freezer.

18 cups. Each cup: 169 calories; 453 mg sodium; 62 mg cholesterol; 7 grams fat; 3 grams carbohydrates; 22 grams protein; 0.25 gram fiber.

Black Bean Soup With Salsa and Sour Cream

Active Work Time: 1 hour * Total Preparation Time: 3 hours plus 4 hours standing

Look for Mexican limes in Latino supermarkets.


1 pound dried black beans or 2 (15-ounce) cans black beans

8 cups water

1 bunch Italian parsley, stems removed

1 bunch cilantro, stems removed

8 dried red chiles, stemmed and seeded

8 cloves garlic, chopped

Zest of 1 Mexican lime or 1/2 regular lime

Juice of 3 Mexican limes or 2 regular limes

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 onions, finely chopped

Splash of rum, optional

Turkey stock

1/2 cup sour cream

* Rinse dried beans, then place in large pot with water. Bring to boil over medium heat and cook 2 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand 4 to 6 hours, until beans are slightly softened.

* Spread parsley and cilantro on cutting board and chop roughly. Cut each chili into 8 parts and sprinkle over partly chopped herbs. (Take care not to touch your eyes and to wash your hands immediately after handling the chilies). Sprinkle garlic over herbs. Grate lime zest over herbs. Once these are in a workable pile, chop with cleaver until you have a fine green spice paste. You should have about 1 cup. Place 1/2 paste in small bowl. Add lime juice. Stir, cover, and set aside somewhere cool. You’ll be making salsa with this shortly.

* Put olive oil in 8-quart heavy-bottomed pot and heat over medium-high heat until oil reaches smoking point. Quickly reduce heat to low and add onions and spice paste. Stir to coat onions with oil and mixture, making sure nothing is burning, and cover, allowing onions to soften for about 20 minutes. (A sudden herbaceous perfume rises and bystanders come sniffing around.)

* Once onions are translucent and sugary, add splash of rum, give it a couple of seconds to cook off, and add black beans. Stir well. Add 6 cups turkey stock or more if needed--enough that beans are covered by several inches in what looks a suddenly disheartening greasy green water. Raise heat to medium-high to reach a boil, then reduce to low and simmer 2 hours, uncovered, if using dried beans, and 1 hour if using canned beans. Check occasionally to see beans are not drying out; if so, add more stock.

Once done, puree beans in blender in batches. Soup will be thick enough to serve as a bean paste, or you can add enough stock to thin it to soup consistency. Serve it with plenty of Salsa and sour cream.


3 tomatoes, skinned, seeded and chopped

Coarse salt

Freshly ground pepper

* Stir tomatoes into remaining lime herb paste. Season with sea salt and pepper. Serve as garnish with soup. About 1 1/2 cups.

8 to 10 servings. Each of 10 servings, with salsa and sour cream: 210 calories; 512 mg sodium; 6 mg cholesterol; 7 grams fat; 27 grams carbohydrates; 12 grams protein; 2.28 grams fiber.

New Potatoes in Stock

Active Work Time: 10 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 1 hour

Many years ago, a Cypriot correspondent sent me this recipe. It is made, she said, when the new potatoes start cropping and the spuds are served incessantly, until everyone is bursting. This sort tends to turn up as part of a mezze with a dip made from yogurt spiced with fresh mint, parsley and garlic. Of course, in Cyprus, the spuds are not cooked in turkey stock but with chicken stock or, for a very bitter, grown-up flavor, even with wine.

2 pounds new boiling potatoes

1/2 cup olive oil

4 cups turkey stock

* Wash potatoes, and pat dry--you’ll be dropping them into hot oil, and water will cause splattering.

* Heat oil over medium-high heat in a heavy frying pan--cast iron, if you’ve got it. Using tongs, add potatoes, 1 at a time, working quickly. Take care not to overcrowd pan; you may have to fry them in 2 batches. Cook potatoes until skin is crinkled and a rich cooked potato skin smell makes your mouth water, about 5 minutes each side. Place finished potatoes on plate as remaining potatoes cook.

* While potatoes are browning, bring stock to simmering point in large, heavy skillet over medium heat.

* When all potatoes are fried, add them to simmering stock. Raise heat to high and cook until stock has almost evaporated and potatoes are coated with a rich, caramelized turkey essence, 25 minutes. Reduce heat dramatically as stock gets toward the bottom, or glaze will burn, but keep heat high enough for stock to simmer. Keep an eye on potatoes and shake pan frequently last few minutes to evenly coat potatoes and prevent burning.

If potatoes go straight to the table, they will have a treacly, rich glaze. There should be a little stock left in pan when potatoes are done. If potatoes are glazed but a little underdone, finish cooking them at 350 degrees in a covered baking dish. If held back for part of a dinner course, they can be dried up in low heat in the oven.

4 servings. Each serving: 457 calories; 790 mg sodium; 1 mg cholesterol; 29 grams fat; 42 grams carbohydrates; 10 grams protein; 0.96 gram fiber.