Let’s face it: Good gravy can save the day when the turkey is less than stellar. Come to think of it, just about everything on the Thanksgiving Day dinner plate tastes better with good gravy. Nothing from a can or packet compares to the flavor and texture of homemade gravy. And it is easier and faster to prepare than you might think.
This step-by-step guide will help you fill the gravy boat Thursday with a lump-free, rich-flavored sauce that everyone will love.
Gravy has three critical components: broth or stock, turkey fat and pan drippings.
The broth contributes the biggest volume of liquid and can be made ahead of time. But the gravy itself can only be made once the roasted turkey comes out of the pan, since you get the fat and flavorful drippings from it.
You can make gravy in the roasting pan, setting it across two burners on the stove. I use a saucepan instead, because I never seem to have enough room on the stove to place the big roasting pan.
There are different ways to thicken gravy. One way is with a "slurry": flour or cornstarch mixed with water and added to the liquid at the end of cooking. I prefer to use a roux ("roo"), a mixture of flour and fat that is cooked before the liquid is added. (Butter can be used, but a little turkey fat from the drippings adds more flavor.) When the liquid (our turkey broth and pan drippings) is whisked into the roux and simmered, the mixture becomes thick and silky-smooth.
With broth as a gravy base, you don't need to rely on the liquid in the roasting pan to create all of the flavor for the gravy. If you had the time and planned ahead, you could make a rich broth from about seven pounds of turkey parts that you have simmered for hours. But unless you have been stockpiling turkey wings and backs in your freezer, it is much more practical to make broth from the bird at hand.
You can make flavorful broth in about half an hour when you first put the turkey in the oven. Just use the neck and tail that you remove from the turkey when you prepare it for roasting. If you are a fan of giblet gravy, you also can add the giblets that are in the sealed bag inside the cavity; just don't add the liver (the darkest piece) — it will make the broth bitter.
You could skip making the turkey broth and substitute plain chicken stock in the gravy recipe.
But don't skip making the gravy. It really is easy to prepare and its homemade flavor will make everything on the plate taste delicious.
Sometimes the flavor of the finished gravy isn't as delicious as you'd like. You can improve flavor by whisking in any of the following (about a teaspoon at a time): soy or Worcestershire sauce; red currant or seedless raspberry jam; sherry, port, or Madeira; salt; lemon juice or white wine.
If the gravy is not as rich-tasting as you like, whisk in a pat or two of cold butter.
If your gravy is too thick, whisk in more water, broth or chicken stock. If your gravy is too thin, remember it will thicken as it cools. But to thicken, make more roux: Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a small pan, add 2 tablespoons flour, whisk constantly for two minutes over medium-low heat. Whisk roux into warm gravy, let simmer until thicker.
If you brine your turkey, the roasting pan drippings might be too salty. If so, add only ¼ to ½ cup of the strained drippings to the gravy. The only way to correct gravy that is too salty is to increase the overall volume of liquid, so you would need to whisk in unsalted or low-salt broth, and then thicken with roux as above.
QUICK & EASY TURKEY BROTH
Makes about 3 ½ cups
1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil
1 turkey neck, tail, and giblets, if using
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
1 carrot, cut in one-inch chunks
1 celery rib including leaves, cut in thirds
4 cups low-salt chicken stock
1 tablespoon whole peppercorns
2 bay leaves
1 Heat oil in a 2-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Add turkey neck and tail and sear on all sides.
2 Add onion (and giblets if using) and cook for about five minutes, stirring often. Add remaining ingredients, bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes.
3 Pour stock through a fine-mesh strainer set over a bowl or large measuring cup. Discard solids.
4 Cool slightly, then cover and refrigerate until ready to make gravy. Can be made up to three days ahead.
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Roasting pan drippings
½ cup flour
3 cups turkey broth
2 teaspoons dry sherry (optional)
Salt and freshly cracked pepper
1 Pour roasting pan drippings through a fine-mesh strainer set over a liquid measuring cup (one with a spout), bowl
or fat separator. Let the liquid settle and use a soup spoon to remove and save the fat that rises to the top.
2 Reserve the defatted drippings. Meanwhile, heat the turkey broth to simmering.
3 In a medium-size saucepan over medium heat, warm four tablespoons of the turkey fat. Add the flour and whisk constantly. The mixture will look like paste.
4 Continue whisking for two minutes to cook the flour. Add the hot turkey broth, about a half-cup at a time, whisking constantly to incorporate each addition of broth.
5 When all the broth is added, let the mixture come to a simmer, and cook for about 5 minutes until mixture thickens, whisking occasionally. Slowly whisk in about a cup of the defatted pan drippings.
6 Add the sherry if using. Taste the gravy and add salt and pepper to taste.