turkey-detailSometimes it all comes together just a little too neatly.  You’re trying to eat healthier, focusing primarily on foods as they exist in nature.  You’ve just smoked a turkey and you wish there were something more you could do with the bones.  And you KNOW that kale is really good for you, but you just can’t seem to find a recipe that makes it, well, edible.

Enter Alice Water’s The Art of Simple Food.  Time and again, this cookbook/kitchen lifestyle guide has provided us with inspiration as we’ve tried to figure out ways to eat better without sacrificing flavor or having to seek out hard-to-find ingredients.  When it comes to that most unwieldy of Thanksgiving leftovers, the turkey carcass, Waters comes through in a big way.

turkey-stock“Big deal,” you may say, “My family has been making turkey soup (or skeleton juice, as it’s known in Elizabeth’s family) for decades!  We don’t need Alice Waters to tell us that.”

I don’t care if your family’s recipe for turkey soup came from Squanto himself at the first Thanksgiving, you’ll want to check out Waters’ recipe.  The addition of hearty kale and sauteed mushrooms elevates this from leftover disposal system to a cravable meal in and of itself.  And in our case, the brining and smoking that we put the turkey through resulted in an even more complex and flavorful broth.

The recipe and what we learned from our second attempt to smoke a turkey after the jump.

That’s right – we made turkey soup from the bones of our SECOND smoked turkey.  As you’ll remember from our descriptions of Fakesgiving, we first smoked a half of a farm-fresh turkey from the Organic Butcher of McLean to test it side-by-side with a roasted half.  Generally speaking, anyone who had a preference chose the smoked meat over the roasted.

turkey-soupWhen we got back from Thanksgiving in Kansas City, we saw that the guys from Market Poultry at Eastern Market had a display case full of free range Amish turkeys on sale for half price (these birds weren’t frozen, so they wanted to move them while they were still fresh).  Seeing this as a great opportunity to take a crack at smoking a whole bird, I bought a 14-pound turkey and brought it home. 

We knew that a big part of our success at Fakesgiving was due to brining the bird before cooking it, so I decided to make use of a Bourbon-based brine recipe that I got from Gina Chersevani’s cocktails class at EatBar.  I let the turkey soak in a mixture of two cups Bourbon, two cups cider vinegar, two cups kosher salt and two gallons of water for 36 hours before putting it onto the Big Green Egg.  I also took the precaution of alerting the Fire Department in advance this time, to preempt another convention of firetrucks on the corner.

The smoking went off without a hitch, but we found that the resulting turkey was simply good, not amazing.  The brine worked to hold in the moisture, but it didn’t impart the rich Bourbon flavor we hoped it would.  And the taste of the turkey itself seemed muted in comparison to our Fakesgiving bird.  We’ve attributed the difference to the fact that our first bird was as fresh as they come – having arrived at the butcher fresh from the farm – and our second turkey was not only packaged (it even had a pop-up timer), but several days past its anticipated showtime.  If you can go the fresh route through your local butcher, we would definitely recommend it.

ready-to-be-skimmedAfter picking the turkey carcass (relatively) clean and setting most of the meat aside, we began the process of making the turkey stock.  Per Waters’ instructions, we broke up the carcass and submerged it in 3 quarts of water.  We added half an onion, half a carrot, six sprigs of thyme, three sprigs of parsley and a bay leaf, and then we brought it all to a boil.

You may notice the absence of celery from what is a pretty standard soup base above.  The reason?  We’re just not big fans of the stringy vegetable, so we left it out.  Feel free to add a half a stalk of celery if you think the soup needs it.

Once the broth came to a boil, we brought it back down to a simmer and let it cook for two hours.  Then we departed from Waters’ recipe a bit by taking the stock off the heat and letting it cool overnight.  In this way, we were better able to skim off the fat from the broth (and we weren’t spending an entire night making the soup after a day at work).  When we came back to it the next evening, we skimmed the stock, brought it back up to a simmer and started on the ingredients of the soup itself.

cooked-kaleWe cooked one peeled and diced onion and one peeled and sliced carrot in two tablespoons of olive oil until the onions were translucent and the carrots were tender.  While that was going on, we boiled a bunch of chopped kale leaves in salted water for about ten minutes.  We found ourselves marveling once again at the vibrant green color of the kale (it practically screams “I’M GOOD FOR YOU!!!”) as we drained it and set it aside.

Then came the kitchen acrobatics – straining the stock into the pot where the carrots and onions were cooking.  At that point it became clear why the recipe tells you to pick the carcass clean.  Our strainer gave us away – we had been a bit lazy in some spots and the now long-boiled pieces of turkey that had fallen away from the bones joined the aromatics that had helped to flavor the stock in the sieve.  But the broth strained through clean, a rich caramel color that was due to the Big Green Egg’s smoke.

We added a generous helping of chopped turkey, the boiled kale, and some sliced baby bella mushrooms and allowed the soup to simmer for another five or ten minutes before turning off the heat and serving.

The results were really impressive, and well worth the time and effort that went into it.  Our broth was savory without being overly salty, and the smokiness of the turkey really came through.  Most importantly – we actually enjoyed the flavor of the kale.  I’m not kidding when I say that this is the first time we’ve actually found a recipe where the kale was more than just tolerable – it was actually quite delicious.  And the addition of the mushrooms (one of the helpful ‘variations’ that Waters includes at the end of the main recipe) was a nice touch, giving the soup even more body.

Keep this one in mind when you approach your upcoming holiday meals – or save up the bones from a roast chicken or two and try it with them.  And if you haven’t picked up The Art of Simple Food yet, do yourself a favor and take a look.  Waters may have become a bit overcommercialized in her advocacy of “the Delicious Revolution,” but we have yet to find a recipe in the book that we haven’t thoroughly enjoyed.