Make no bones about it: The holidays inevitably result in a gigantic turkey carcass that you’re stuck staring at, wondering how to use up. In the past, it was Mom’s job to make the most of those leftovers, but times have changed, and it’s now up to you to step up to the (holiday) plate. Here’s the painless way to make the most of those leftover bones, including a few nifty uses you definitely haven’t thought of yet.
First, clean those bones.
Even after your holiday guests have ravaged as much food as they possibly can, the turkey — or chicken, if you’ve got it — is going to need a bit of a makeover (need help with a turkey recipe? Done!). So roll up your dress sleeves and put on your best cleaning groove tunes, because you are going to hand-pick the meat scraps off the bones. It’s not as bad as it seems, trust us. And you can save those scraps for eating — in a soup, salad, or casserole the next day. Bonus. Just get off as much meat as you can from the bones, and you’re ready for the next step.
Next, boil those bones.
That’s right, you’re making a real chicken stock (or turkey), just as Grandma Emily used to do. Place your bones in a heavy pot full of water, add a tablespoon of any vinegar you have on hand (it brings out the minerals), bring to a boil, and simmer away for about 4 hours. What’s the big deal about homemade chicken stock? Lots, actually. Those bones are loaded with essential nutrients like calcium, iron and immune-boosting nutrients, and only a homemade stock extracts all the goodies out. Best of all, those bones are full of gelatin, which contains collagen, protein and minerals, and has been shown to help arthritis, boost the immune system and restore digestive health (here are some other calcium-rich foods to check out). Oh, and light a few dozen candles while this simmers, because really soon your house is going to smell like Grandma Emily’s, unless you take preventative measures.
Finally, strain and store that stock.
This part’s easy. Strain the pot to get all the filtered, delicious stock you’ve just created. Save the bones, because we’re not quite done with them yet. Store your stock in an airtight jar or container in the fridge for a few weeks, or store it in the freezer for months on end. Remember that awesome gelatin we referenced? That stuff is going to make your stock become, well, gelatinized, once chilled, so don’t be freaked out when you take your jar out of the refrigerator and it looks like chicken jelly. That’s the sign of a good stock, because it reflects all the essential minerals within.
Now use that stock!
Obviously, stock is perfect for all your soup-making needs. You’ll find that it outweighs any store-bought broth in flavor and depth a thousand times over. Aside from soup, use it when cooking rice and other grains, in gravies and sauces, and any other savory dishes where water or broth is called for. And if you really want to experience the full-on power of a homemade stock, drink a small warmed cup as a tonic for hangovers, stomach aches, and when you’re feeling under the weather. Close your eyes and take a sip. We promise, you’re going to like it.
Now use those bones!
Bet you thought you were finally done with those old bones, eh? Nope, they have more life to them yet! Once you’ve strained the bones from your homemade stock, you’ve got a few options. First, you can compost them. Typically, animal foods shouldn’t be composted, but these bones have been boiled to the point of compost-worthiness, so go ahead and toss them into your pile. Otherwise, you can make pet food out of them. Turkey and chicken bones are too small for Fido and can cause splinters, so don’t give them the whole bones — but now that they’ve been boiled, you can make them into a pet stew. Toss those bones in a pot or pressure cooker with rice and veggies, and cook until they are mushy soft. Mushy mushy. Your pets will love it. And finally, if you’ve still got more bones, dry them on a baking sheet in the oven, then place them in a food processor until crumbly. What have you made here? Not bone flour — gross. It’s bone meal, the perfect organic fertilizer for your plants. Aren’t you green now.