It’s that time of year again: the cooking marathon that happens the third week of November of every year. Thanksgiving. Love it or hate it, it brings families together, and destroys kitchens everywhere. If you’ve landed here, chances are you are the chosen one who has either been volunteered (aka voluntold) or have offered to host Thanksgiving this year. With any luck, you’re reading this a week or two before the big day, if not, you’re in for a long night of frustration.
Coming from a line of women who made the entire production of Thanksgiving appear easy, I had no idea what I was actually in for the first year I offered to host Thanksgiving dinner for friends and family. I was 23, and I kid you not, was calling my grandmother non-stop asking for advice and questions I had about everything from green beans to gravy. I was in over my head and my only lifeline was more than 1,000 miles away preparing her own Thanksgiving. Looking back, I can see the irony in looking to a German immigrant for help preparing an All-American feast.
That was the year I learned I needed more than 24-hours to put together a meal I could be proud of. That was also the year I learned that it’s perfectly fine to buy some things already made from the grocery store in order to save my sanity.
The following year, I took my grandmother’s advice and ordered my Thanksgiving turkey the first week of October, and came home with a bag full of turkey wings, chicken wings, and drumsticks to make turkey stock well in advanced of Thanksgiving. It sounded early to me too, but it quickly dawned on me why my grandmother and great grandmother made it look so easy: they did a bulk of the prep work well in advanced. They made their pie crusts and stashed them in the freezer until they were needed, and also made large quantities of turkey stock which made making gravy and stuffing a breeze.
A few months after my grandmother passed away, I stumbled across two of her turkey stock recipes written in her very German handwriting that was sometimes difficult to read. I remember spending half the morning trying to decipher her handwriting so I could type up both recipes and share them with other family members who had grown up with those recipes.
After making both stock recipes, I quickly recognized which one of the recipes was her foundation for her gravy and the stock she used in her stuffing. It was no surprise it also happened to be the stock that contained both wine and brandy (which I’ve swapped out for cognac, but you can still use brandy if you’d prefer).
Like so many other great Thanksgiving recipes, this stock can also be made over a day or two. She usually roasted the wings and drumsticks on one day, and then made the stock the next. Since I’ve started making this stock, I’ve actually been making this recipe over three days: roast the turkey on day one, make the stock on day two, and on day three after it’s had enough time in the refrigerator to do its thing, put the stock into jars to freeze it.
After I roast the wings and drumsticks, I pour the fat into Tupperware and stash it in the refrigerator until the stock is done cooking so I can make gravy, which I also freeze until its needed. To make my favorite gravy, I simply render the pan drippings over medium heat in a sauce pan, add a couple tablespoons of my favorite bourbon, diced white onion, salt, fresh sage and corn starch.
Turkey Stock Ingredients & Cooking Instructions
2 pounds chicken wings
2 pounds turkey wings
2 pounds turkey drumsticks
1 onion, unpeeled and quartered
2 carrots, roughly chopped
2 celery stalks, roughly chopped
1 head of unpeeled garlic, halved
8 ounces baby Bella mushrooms, halved
1 small smoked ham
1 bunch parsley
3 fresh sage leaves
3 fresh bay leaves
1/4 cup white wine
2 tablespoons cognac, optional
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
Generous amount of course kosher salt
Preheat oven to 425º and place wings and drumsticks on a rimmed baking sheet, brush with oil. Roast until brown, about 35 minutes. Set aside.
Heat enough oil over medium or medium high heat to coat the bottom of a large stockpot or another large vessel that will easily hold 2 gallons of liquid. Once the oil is hot, add all of the vegetables, periodically stirring until everything is lightly browned and soft. Add the ham hock, parsley, sage, bay leaves, wine, peppercorns and a generous pinch of salt. Bring the mixture to a boil, and cook until the wine has evaporated, about 10 minutes over medium heat. With a wooden spoon or silicone spatula, scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Add the wings and drumsticks, along with another generous pinch of salt. Add two gallons of water and cognac and bring the mixture to a boil.
Once boiling, reduce the heat to medium low and simmer for at least 4 1/2 hours. The meat will be fall off the bone tender.
Remove vegetables and pour the liquid through a fine mesh sieve or strainer to remove any large chunks of vegetables, herbs or meat. Refrigerate the stock for two hours, up to overnight to allow the fat to coagulate on the surface. Remove the fat and ladle the stock into airtight containers such as jars or freezer bags and chill or freeze until ready to use. The stock can be frozen for up to six months.