Y'all, I cannot seem to help myself.
For our first Virginia Thanksgiving, we're not hosting but are going to another family member's home. My part of the meal is my grandfather's macaroni pie, cranberry relish with apples and oranges, and a sweet potato souffle from a fondly remembered Savannah friend.
So I'm not cooking the turkey, gravy, or dressing. And yet: There's a big pot of turkey broth simmering away in my sunny yellow kitchen as I write this, and I'll roast a turkey breast later on for sandwiches, creamed turkey over dressing, and turkey soup.
The thing is, it's just not Thanksgiving if my house doesn't smell like roasted turkey and broth, so I put together the broth first thing and then went to work washing cranberries, apples, and oranges for the relish. While that ripens overnight in the refrigerator, I'll precook the sweet potatoes, and early tomorrow make the macaroni and roast the turkey breast.
If you've never made your own broth for the dressing and gravy, all I can tell you is that you're missing out on half the aroma and flavor that's the difference between a good Thanksgiving dinner and a great one.
For added flavor and color, you may roast the turkey parts first, but that takes forethought and planning, neither of which are my strong points. To do it, rub a rimmed sheet pan with oil, then add the turkey parts, drizzle lightly with oil, and toss to coat them. Position a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat to 400° F. Roast the turkey parts, turning them once or twice, until they're nicely browned, about 45 minutes.
Makes about 2 quarts
1 large onion
1 large or 2 medium-sized carrots
2 medium-sized leafy ribs celery
2 pounds turkey wings and/or necks
1 large, leafy sprig sage
2 sprigs parsley
1 large bay leaf
1 teaspoon peppercorns
3 quarter-sized slices fresh gingerroot
3 quarts water
1. Choose a heavy-bottomed 6-8 quart stock pot or Dutch oven. Trim, split lengthwise, peel, and thinly sliced the onion and put it into the pot. Scrub the carrots and celery well under cold running water. Trim and cut the carrot crosswise in 2-3 pieces. Quarter the thickest pieces and halve the smaller ones. Slice crosswise and add it to the pot. Cut the leafy tops from the celery and add them to the pot, then slice the stalk and add them. Lay the turkey parts on top o the vegetables and add the herbs, peppercorns, ginger root, and water. Add a couple of large pinches of salt, put it over medium heat, and bring it slowly to a boil. It'll take about 30-45 minutes.
2. As scum begins to rise to the top, skim it off until it no longer forms. Adjust the heat as low as you can get it and let it gently simmer, loosely-covered, for at least 3 hours, checking periodically to make sure it never boils, but simmers very slowly, the steam bubbles not quite breaking the surface. You want to lose about a quart of the liquid—but no more than that, so if the liquid evaporates too much, bring a teakettle of water to a simmer and replenish as needed. Turn off the heat and let it cool enough to handle.
3. Strain the broth into lidded stainless steel, enameled metal, ceramic, or glass containers, discarding the solids. Leave it uncovered until it has cooled completely, then cover it tightly and refrigerate. When the fat solidifies on top (about 3-4 hours), remove and discard it. It will keep for at least 5 days. To store it longer, once it's chilled and its fat is removed, spoon it into freezable containers, seal, and freeze for up to 3 months.