Thursday, December 9, 2010

Canning Turkey

One of my favorite things about November is the super cheap turkey. I never actually have to roast a turkey for Thanksgiving, but I buy several turkeys anyway just so I can do this:

Canned turkey and broth! It's like having my own soup starter in the pantry waiting for some noodles and carrots. It's also super cheap to do it myself. The turkey costs me 39 cents/lb this year. I got a 12lb turkey and ended up with 12 cups of meat from that. I can it in 3 cup jars so each jar costs me $1.17. It's the perfect amount for one meal for my family. The broth is basically free because I have to boil the carcass anyway to get all of the turkey off the bones. You will probably want to use pints for your turkey meat unless you have a large family, then quarts might be more useful for you. If you are lucky enough to have pint and a half jars like I do, then those are perfect. (Pint and a halfs are rare because they are no longer made. You might be able to find some around, but don't stress about it. The other sizes are fine.)

Disclaimer: Please keep in mind that turkey is of course a low acid food and that means it absolutely no questions asked must be canned in a pressure canner to be safe. You can not safely use a water bath or steam canner to do any kind of meat. I use one like this: Presto 23 quart pressure canner. Please follow the instructions on your particular canner. I will not be giving specific numbers because it's important that you follow the time/pressure rating/water amounts for your elevation and equipment. All of that can be found in the instruction manual for your canning equipment or at the Ball Home Canning website. You can also use the Ball Blue Book as a reference.

OK, done with the warnings. Just so you know, as long as you follow directions, canning is perfectly safe and a great way to preserve foods. Don't be scared by your equipment or the process. Just read your instructions thoroughly and don't rush through the process. You'll be fine.

Do go to the Ball website and read through the process of canning low acid foods before you start your turkey canning. Be familiar with the steps because there are some basic canning steps I will skip in these instructions. I will only be giving instructions that are specific to canning turkey.

To start you need to have a thawed turkey. Plan ahead just like you do for Thanksgiving because even a small turkey takes several days to thaw. I like to put my turkey in a pie plate while it's thawing so it doesn't make a mess in my fridge. Once your turkey is thawed, open the package in a clean sink and remove the neck and little sack of nasty turkey parts. Save those for later. Next, place your turkey on a kitchen towel on a large cutting board. My cutting board is 2' square, yours doesn't have to be quite that big; I'm just bragging. It's a pretty awesome cutting board.

With a sharp boning knife, remove the skin from the turkey. I like to start at the back. Pull the skin away from the bird, cutting the connective tissue as you go. It's a pull-cut, pull-cut motion. This is easier on some parts of the bird than others. I completely skip skinning the wings.

(I want you to know that I did take pictures of this whole process. I had pictures of raw and skinned bird on my camera. I didn't think anyone really needed to see pictures of this. You're welcome.)

Now get your big chef's knife out. It's time to cut the breast off the turkey. Cut right down next to the breast bone cutting down along the skeleton of the bird. You'll cut down and then curve under the breast. This will mostly separate it. Then pull up and cut off the rest. Wrap the breast pieces in plastic wrap and set them aside in your fridge.

It's time to cook the rest of the turkey. It's very hard to get all the dark meat off the bone while it's raw, so you get to boil it off. You'll need a large stock pot. Drop the bird and the neck and other turkey parts in the pot along with some carrots, an onion, celery, and whatever herbs you like including salt. Follow the recipe for broth in your favorite cookbook if you aren't familiar with making it. You may have to increase quantities because you're making such a large pot of broth. (Most poultry broth recipes are sized for chickens.) Add enough water to the pot to cover the bird. Well as much as you can. My stock pot is just slightly small so the ends of the legs stick up out of the water just a tad. It's not a big deal. Get the water boiling and then turn it down to a simmer. Let this cook until the meat is falling off the bone. Remove the carcass from the broth and let it cool for 10-15 minutes.

Now get your turkey breast out of the fridge and cut it into roughly 1" cubes. They don't need to be exactly the same size, but they should be close. Stuff these into the jars. When the jars are full with one inch left at the top of the jar, pour in some broth from your stock pot. You'll need to run the wooden handle of a spoon around the inside of the jar. Just gently shift the meat back and forth in different places to work the broth down into the jar. The top of the jar will have about an inch where the lids screw on. At the bottom of this is a small ring of glass. This ridge is used to lift your jars with jar lifters. Fill the jars only to this ring, both meat and broth. You may need to add a bit more broth at this point to fill them to the right level. You can also add in a little more salt to your breast meat, maybe 1/2t-1t depending on how much salt you use in your cooking and how much salt you put in the broth.

When the turkey is cool, pull the meat off the bones and stuff it in your sterilized jars. You can cut the bigger pieces at this point but you don't have to. Most of it will come off the bones in bite sized pieces. Fill your jars in the same way you filled the breast meat jars.

Most canners will fit 7 quarts and some will fit two layers of pints. Fill (within 1" of the top edge of the jar) as many sterilized jars with broth as you need to make a complete batch to process. I was able to do three more quarts and two pints. Use whatever sizes of jar you have. What's best depends on what you want to use it for. If you want to make soup with it, then quarts are nice. If you use it in other recipes in smaller amounts, you might want to do pints. (Whatever you have left in the stock pot at this point you can either turn into tonight's soup or you can put it in freezer bags in 1-2 cup amounts. To fill freezer bags, set open bags in a 2 cup measuring cup and then pour in the broth. The measuring cup holds the bag upright.)

Top your jars with sterilized lids and rings. Process the jars according to the directions in your canner manual. Do not leave the canner unattended. Keep a good eye on it. You should start the canner on high and then turn it down to medium high after it's vented. Turn it down again when it reaches the proper pressure. You may have to turn down the stove gradually to maintain pressure. Don't just turn it down to low right off. Keep an eye on the pressure. It's ok if it goes a little over your target PSI, but it is not ok if it goes below. You will have to start the processing time all over again if it does drop below that PSI (you won't have to start all over with the proccessing. Just turn up your stove, leave everything else the same, and restart your timer.)

When the jars have processed for the specified length of time, take the canner off the stove. It will be heavy, so have your hot pads/trivets/whatever ready right next to the stove. You can just pick it up and shift it over a couple of feet rather than trying to carry across the room. Leave the canner alone until the pressure gauge reads 0. Do not attempt to open or remove the pepcock until this point. Removing the pepcock will cause a pressure difference between the inside of the jars and the inside of the pot, sucking half the broth out of your jars. It's not good. It can take over an hour for the canner to get down to 0 PSI, so be patient and don't try to rush it.

When the canner is cooled down to 0 PSI, you can open it. I like to use a jar lifter to take my jars out. If you don't have one, you can use a standard pair of tongs, but they will be slippery. Be sure to support the jar on the bottom with a hot pad so you don't drop it. Set the jars on a kitchen towel to cool. When they are cool, test the lids to be sure they sealed tightly. The lid should be concave and not pop back when you press on it. If any jars did not seal, put them in your fridge and use within three days or freeze the contents in a freezer safe container.

When the jars are cool, they are ready to store. You may remove the rings before you store them or leave them on. Your choice. Enjoy your turkey and broth! I love having mine ready to use at any time.

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