Gravy Train

As we get down to the Thanksgiving nitty gritty, many of you have been inquiring about gravy basics. Let's get right to it.

Gravy consists of three major components: liquid, fat and flour.

Make sure you like the stock you’re using: If it’s salty, it will make salty gravy; if it tastes like dirt, you’ll need to wash your mouth out with soap, and so on….

I am an advocate of making my own stock, but then there’s this thing called life that gets in the way. Should you decide on store-bought chicken stock, try to avoid brands that contain MSG or excessive sodium.

Feel like making stock? Here’s what you do:
Get a couple of turkey wings and/or a turkey neck (I’ve also used thighs). Salt and pepper the parts, and roast them on a rack sitting inside a roasting pan at 400 degrees. You can add a quartered onion if you’ve got room. Roast for about 45 minutes, until golden brown and crackly. Remove from oven and place turkey parts in a stock pot.

Barely cover with water, a quartered onion, a few unpeeled cloves of garlic, a handful of black peppercorns and a chopped leek or a handful of parsley stems. Bring up to a boil, then cook at a gentle simmer, for about 90 minutes. Allow to cool completely before storing in the refrigerator or freezer. (For a basic veg stock, simply omit the turkey and proceed similarly, but simmering for 45 minutes.)

By the way, the drippings from the roasted turkey parts can be scooped up and stored in the fridge until gravy time. This is particularly useful if you’re brining, deep frying or smoking a bird, or if your turkey drippings taste overly salty.

Whatever you decide, measure out your liquid – and yes, do the math; it really makes a difference between kick-butt gravy and a concoction that resembles gravy.

For four servings, you’ll need 2 cups of liquid (for eight servings, double this amount; for a party of two, reduce by half, and so on). Get it warmed up in a saucepan before you proceed with the other components.

Additional liquid options: White wine, vermouth, sake. Should you decide on boozing up your gravy for flavor, you’ll only need an ounce or two, and you’ll want to add in the beginning so that it can boil off.

Fat 'n’ Flour
If you only use butter to fatten up your gravy, it would be tasty and life would be grand. But if you’re a turkey lover, and you’ve got roasted bits at the bottom of the roasting pan, you’ve got a gravy gold mine in the works.

While the turkey rests (and it really does need to rest and cool), place the roasting pan on top of the stove. It’s okay to straddle between two burners. To loosen the stuck-on bits, add a wee bit of stock, water or booze to pan, over medium heat, with the help of a wooden spoon. Keep the heat on low, and add liquid, stirring to combine with the drippings.

Meanwhile, in a separate saucepan, measure out two (2) tablespoons of flour and two (2) tablespoons of unsalted butter (Alternatives: Earth Balance spread, bacon grease, duck fat ) to make a roux. Note: These amounts apply to four servings. For eight servings, double roux amounts and so on.

With a wooden spoon, stir the fat and flour over medium heat. You will notice how it combines into a butter ball, then quickly melts and morphs into a liquid. It will also change color. Cook the roux until it is yellow-brown; it need not cook for more than five minutes.

Ladle in a few spoonfuls of liquid from the big roasting pan, then incorporate all of the roux into the roasting pan and briskly whisk or stir until gravy is thoroughly combined and free of flour lumps. Taste for salt, and season accordingly. Add herbs if you like.

Strain gravy over a saucepan and return to heat, on a simmer. Pour half into a gravy boat and serve immediately.

What happens if my gravy is too thick?
Gradually add more warm stock, thinning it to desired consistency with a whisk or wooden spoon.

And what if it's too thin?
Make more roux, and remember to temper it with a little gravy before adding to the entire batch.

By Kim ODonnel |  November 25, 2008; 2:00 PM ET Thanksgiving
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Kim, thanks for the directions. I have a question: what about the greasiness in the drippings? Every time I try to make gravy, it turns out uber-greasy as in there is a lake of oil/grease sitting atop the gravy. Which then I try to combat with flour. That in turn becomes a porridge-y looking thing with a pool of oil on top. Gross. Granted, the last time I tried this, I tried to take the drippings from the roasting pan of the whole turkey. Where am I going wrong?

Posted by: suemember | November 25, 2008 1:23 PM

Suemember, good point. First thing to do is assess the state of your roasting pan. If it's really greasy, drain most of it off, and use the more solid drippings instead. THEN proceed. That should help.

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | November 25, 2008 2:17 PM

Hi, Kim!

Just wanted to share a make-ahead gravy tip--I make 90% of my gravy the day before by making the stock, making a roux out of flour and butter (I cook it longer, until it's the color of peanut butter), slowly adding the hot stock into the roux, and simmering until thick. This is my gravy base, and I store it in the fridge overnight. The next day, while the turkey rests, I bring the base back up to a simmer, deglaze the roasting pan, add the (de-fatted) drippings along with some wine, correct for seasoning, and I'm done. No sweating over lumpy gravy or mixing a roux the day of--it's great!

Posted by: jbs280 | November 25, 2008 2:42 PM

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