This leftover turkey soup recipe is the perfect way to transform your leftover Thanksgiving turkey into a hearty, comforting soup.
I love this leftover turkey soup because it uses up every part of the bird–from the carcass to the meat–to make the most warming bowl of soup.
Fear not if you’ve never made turkey stock from the turkey carcass! It’s not as difficult as it sounds. This recipe makes a basic stock from the turkey carcass and then uses the resulting stock to make a very simple turkey soup. And if you just don’t feel like making stock? You can use store-bought chicken broth instead to keep it even simpler.
How to make this homemade leftover turkey soup recipe:
This recipe makes use of all the ingredients you probably have lying around from Thanksgiving, including the turkey carcass, warming herbs, aromatic vegetables, and of course, chopped turkey meat.
Don’t overthink this recipe or feel like you need to go out and buy tons of ingredients you don’t have. If you don’t have fennel, forget about it and add an extra rib of celery instead. No thyme? Use rosemary instead or dry herbs of your choice.
You can also add ingredients as you like. Cubed butternut squash would work really well in this. If you have leeks instead of onions, throw them in. I’ll write out substitutions below, but I really mean it: use what you have! This is just a blueprint for a simple soup where the intention is to make use of as many of those leftover odds-and-ends you have hanging out in your refrigerator.
The homemade stock
Making homemade turkey stock from the carcass is easy, but they don’t tell you that you need a literal witch’s cauldron to make it. Next time, I will definitely break down the bird a bit. If you have a smaller stock pot, I recommend using meat shears to break it down into more manageable pieces. I didn’t do that and just let the backbone stick out of the pot. I did flip the bird midway through cooking since part of the carcass was exposed.
- Step 1: Place the carcass in a big stock pot and cover it with water. You may need 12 cups or more water. Do your best to ensure that as much of the carcass is covered as possible. Add a big pinch of salt. If you have extra herbs lying around, feel free to throw in rosemary, thyme, or sage sprigs. You can also add an onion or garlic. I kept it simple with just water, turkey carcass, and salt because I was tired after cooking that big meal!
- Step 2: Boil the water and then simmer. I simmered this for 3–4 hours. The liquid should be reduced by about half. Let it cool and then transfer to the fridge overnight or long enough to cool off. You don’t have to do this, but I did so that I could easily pick off any remaining meat from the carcass. It’s just a big unwieldy thing, and I didn’t want to fuss with it while it was piping hot.
- Step 3: Remove the carcass, pick off any leftover meat if you like, and then strain the stock through a sieve. If your stock is very gelatinous, heat it up on the stove until it liquefies, so it easily passes through the sieve.
- Step 4: Wipe out your pot and set your stock aside. You should be left with 6–7 cups of gorgeous homemade turkey stock.
The leftover turkey soup
Here’s what you need:
- Onion, carrots, celery, garlic, and fennel: This is the base of the soup, but get creative depending on what you have in your refrigerator or pantry. You can use leeks, shallots, scallions, or bell peppers. Make any combination of the aromatics that you like best.
- Thyme: I use a bundle of fresh thyme, but replace it with rosemary if you like. Alternatively, you can add a few shakes of dry thyme instead.
- Turkey stock: Make homemade stock or use store-bought turkey or chicken stock instead.
- Chopped turkey: This recipe is perfect for leftover turkey or roast chicken.
- Pastina: I thought the little star shapes were so cute in this! Use any small pasta shape like ditalini, orzo, or even mini farfalle.
- Finishing touches: I finish the soup with parsley and lemon juice for a little brightness.
Want else can I add to the soup?
This soup is perfectly amenable to lots of other ingredients. Here are a few ideas:
- Cubed butternut squash or cubed sweet potatoes: Throw them in with the sprig of thyme.
- Cubed potatoes: Have some that you want to use? Go for it! Just reduce the amount of pastina down to ½ cup instead.
- Soup greens: Spinach, kale, or escarole would work perfectly. Roughly chop them and add them in with the lemon juice and parsley.
- Peas: If you have frozen peas, add 1 cup with the lemon juice and parsley.
How to make the whole recipe
- Step 1: Make the stock and wipe out the pot.
- Step 2: Fry up the soup aromatics in batches. Add the bundle of thyme.
- Step 3: Pour in the stock and add the chopped turkey. Simmer until the vegetables are soft.
- Step 4: Finish it up! Add in the pastina and finish with parsley and lemon juice.
Hope you love this recipe as much as I did! If you have questions or comments, please drop me a line in the comments!
Leftover Turkey Soup
- Large stockpot
- Fine mesh sieve
Stock (optional to make; can use chicken broth instead):
- 1 turkey carcass
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 yellow onion, peeled and diced
- 4 carrots, peeled and diced
- 4 ribs celery, trimmed and diced
- 1 fennel bulb, trimmed, cored, and thinly sliced
- 5 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- 5 sprigs thyme, bundled together with kitchen twine
- 6-7 cups prepared stock from above or use chicken broth
- 4 cups chopped or shredded leftover turkey; use in addition to any meat you pull off the turkey carcass
- ¾ cup pastina or ditalini
- 1 lemon, juiced
- ½ cup fresh parsley, minced
- Big pinch of fennel fronds, minced
- Crushed red pepper to taste
- Salt and pepper
Make the stock:
- Cover the turkey carcass in a large stockpot with 12 cups of water. You may need more depending on the size of the carcass. Try to immerse the bird with water, but if your pot isn’t big enough, it’s ok if the back bone sticks out a bit. Add a big pinch of salt to the water.
- Bring to a boil and then simmer for 2-3 hours. You may wish to flip the bird once during simmering. The liquid should be reduced by almost half.
- Cover the pot (with foil, if the turkey is sticking out) and transfer to the refrigerator overnight.
- The next day, remove the carcass from the stock. Pick off any remaining meat and set it aside in a bowl to be added to the soup. Discard the carcass.
- If the stock is very gelatinous, place it on the heat over medium-high just until the gelatin melts, and the stock returns to a liquid. Turn off the heat and strain through a fine-mesh sieve.
- Give the pot a quick rinse and wipe it out. Return it to the stovetop.
Cook the soup aromatics:
- Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots, celery, and fennel. Season with salt and pepper. Cook for 8-10 minutes.
- Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute until fragrant. Add the bundle of thyme.
Simmer the soup:
- Pour in the prepared stock and all of the chopped turkey. Add salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove and discard the thyme.
Finish the soup:
- Return the soup to a boil. Add the pastina and cook for 3-4 minutes. Taste and add salt and pepper.
- Finish the soup by adding parsley, fennel fronds, and lemon juice.
- Ladle the soup into bowls and serve with lemon wedges and minced parsley on the side. Enjoy!