Last Saturday, my family gathered for a belated Thanksgiving dinner at my cousin Angie’s house. It was one of those really fantastic family gatherings where everyone was genuinely happy to be there and spend time with one another. Ages ranged from four to 96 and there was much discussion about family history and connection (at one point, a family tree had to be drawn to explain to my cousin Sam’s girlfriend just exactly how we were all related).
Scott and I were the last to leave, having stuck around to gather abandoned plates and help put away the leftovers. When we finally headed home, we did so with a gallon ziplock bag of cut fruit (remains from a massive Costco tray), a dozen empty jars (returns from previous homemade gifts), and a disposable roasting pan holding two turkey carcasses, swaddled in a black plastic garbage bag. My cousins, knowing my fondness for making use of every scrap, had saved it just for me.
When we got home, instead of crashing out in front of a movie as had been previously planned, I headed to the kitchen to break down all the turkey into usable parts. In the end, I had three very large plastic bags of goodness. Two held bones for stock and one held usable meat (half went into a batch of turkey shepherd’s pie, the other half is frozen for a future batch of soup).
As I separated out the meat from the bones, I started thinking about all the times I’ve pressure canned various stocks and broths over the last four years and realized that it had been far too long since I talked about the magic of pressure canning here. The only stock canning post went up in the very early days of this site and I’ve learned a great deal about the dos and don’t of preserving under pressure since then.
The next morning, I started the first batch of stock (there was more than enough for two batches). When making turkey stock, I like to keep it simple and so don’t add carrots, celery, or onion. Instead, I combine the turkey bones with freshly filtered cold water in a 12 quart stock pot. I put it on the stove and slowly bring it up to a simmer. Once it’s near a boil but not rolling, I cock the lid so that some steam can escape and cook it over medium heat for 4 to 6 hours (I’m after maximum flavor extraction for minimal effort). Whenever you make stock, try to avoid a vigorous boil, as it will make your stock cloudy.
You really want to make sure that you make your stock within a day or two of the turkey’s roasting, as you’ll get the best flavor. If you wait until the carcass has been picked clean during the leftover stage, it takes on a funky, old poultry flavor that really isn’t worth preserving.
Now, in an ideal world, here’s how I’d preserve stock. I’d cook it one day, strain it, chill it overnight, skim the fat, bring it back to a boil and then can. However, I rarely manage to do it that way because I have a very small refrigerator and so almost never have the space for the volume of stock I’ve made. I also don’t have any outdoor space, and so can’t even use nature’s icebox this time of year. And so, instead I make and can my stock in the same day.
Because I can’t remove the fat through chilling, I spend some time carefully spooning it off. There are a couple of reasons why it’s a good idea to defat your stock. One is that if the stock siphons out of the jars during the processing (and it happens a lot during pressure canning, thanks to the increased ferocity of heat and pressure), the slippery fat can put your seal in jeopardy. The other is that fats can go rancid during storage and that will give your stock an off-flavor. Because I know that my stock still has some residual fat, I make a point of using it promptly (to me, this means within 6 to 9 months) so that it doesn’t have a chance to develop a funky flavor.
While I’m painstakingly defatting my stock, I set up my pressure canner. I use a 16 quart Presto canner with a dial gauge that I like a great deal. It holds seven quarts or nine pints, fits on my comically small stove, and doesn’t take up TOO much storage space. I fill it with about three inches of warm tap water, set the jars in it and fill them with just enough warm water to prevent them from floating. I also pour about half a cup of white distilled vinegar into the water in the canning pot, to ensure that the jars don’t get covered in scum during processing. I drop the lids in alongside the jars and bring the whole mess to a simmer to warm things up.
Once the jars are hot and the stock is skimmed and just off a boil, fill ’em up. Remove one jar at a time from the canner to retain as much heat as possible. Fill it, leaving a generous inch of headspace. Wipe the rim, apply the lid and twist on the ring. Return that jar to the hot pressure canner and repeat the process with the next jar.
When it comes to pressure canning, forget everything you know about the rule of fingertip tight. In this case, you want to take the time to really tighten the rings. The reason for this difference is that the intensity of the pressure canner has a tendency to loosen up the rings during the processing time, so you want to compensate for that. Don’t worry, the oxygen in the jars will still be able to exit during the pressure canning process.
Once all the jars are filled and are in the canner, lock the lid into place. Bring the pot up to a boil and let the steam vent via the vent shaft for at least 10 minutes. You do this by running the pot without the pressure regulator in place. That’s the little black and metal hat that sits atop the vent shaft. The reason for this is that a canner that has been properly relieved of its air through venting can reach a higher temperature. The higher the temperature, the more effectively the canner will kill any botulism spores present.
After you feel like the pot has been sufficiently vented and you see a steady stream of steam flowing out of the vent shaft, apply the pressure regulator and bring the pot up to pressure. Once it hits the correct pressure (this depends based on what you’re canning), adjust the heat so that you stay at that pressure. This can be a little tricky if you have a pokey electric stove like mine, but it certainly isn’t impossible. It just takes a little extra attention and learning how your stove adjusts. If your canner drops below the required pressure level at any point during the timed process, you have to start the time over again as soon as it comes back to the correct level.
Stock of any stripe gets pressure canned at 11 pounds of pressure for 20 (pints) or 25 minutes (quarts) in a gauged canner and at 10 pounds in a weighted canner. The National Center for Home Food Preservation has all the details and they can be found here. And remember, if you live at higher elevations, make sure to adjust your pressure accordingly.
Once the time is up, you turn off the stove and leave the canner alone. If your burner stays hot for a long time, you can slide it to a cooler spot on the stove, but other than that, just let it sit. I like to give my canner two or three hours to cool before I even attempt to open it (it will take at least half an hour for the pressure drop enough for the canner to unlock). When the jars are finally cool enough to handle, remove them from the pot, twist off the rings and give everything a good wash with warm, soapy water. Dry the jars and store them in a cool spot out of direct sunlight.
The last time I had my pressure canner checked, it ran true, which means that I don’t have to make any adjustments to my pressure during processing. Sometimes a gauge registers a higher or lower pressure when it’s actually at 10 or 11 pounds and so you have to do adjust your pressure point. That’s why it’s important to have your gauge checked yearly to ensure that you’re preserving safely.
Now, the reason the subtitle of this post is that while I’m talking about turkey stock in this post, this technique is one that can be used for all manner of flavorful stocks and broths. This time of year, we all tend to invest a bit more money in hams, big beef roasts, turkeys, and mountains of vegetables. There are always scraps and trimmings to be gleaned from these holiday meals that can be cooked down into gorgeous, rich liquids. Save that ham bone or the bone from that celebratory steak. If you don’t have the time for stock making now, stash those goodies in the freezer and make a project of it after the holidays are over. You’ll be happy you did.