Perfect Thanksgiving Gravy
Making perfect Thanksgiving gravy is gastronomic alchemy. Everyone knows the classic pitfalls: it's lumpy, pasty, watery or just plain wrong. But it's easy to work this culinary magic if you understand this basic equation: drippings + flour + broth = gravy.
The foundation of any gravy is right under your beautiful roasted bird — the pan drippings. Mix these drippings with a bit of flour and cook until they are a little toasty, (this is called roux, if we're getting formal). Now you have the power to thicken. Gradually add liquid, bring to a boil and presto: You've got gravy. There will always be variables, of course. Is the liquid a full-bodied broth or a combo of broth and milk? Do you add wine or other liquor? Was the bird super-juicy or lean? Do you add giblets, herbs or mushrooms? How you negotiate these details contributes to making Thanksgiving gravy your own.
- Broth: While the bird is in the oven, make a flavorful broth from turkey necks, heart and gizzards (no livers - the gravy gets bitter) and bones or infuse a low-sodium chicken broth with turkey giblets from inside the bird. Add aromatics, cover with water and simmer for two to three hours. Strain and discard the solids.
- Aromatics: Adding vegetables to the broth rounds out the flavor; carrots, onion and celery are standard. You can make it your own with other vegetables as well; garlic gives it a robust flavor, mushroom stems and trimmings make it earthy and parsnips sweeten.
- Flavorings: Flavor the broth with herbs or spices that complement your turkey. Sage, thyme and parsley are traditional. But if you have a bird, make it your own with a bit of garlic and coriander instead.
- Drippings: Roast turkey pan drippings are the base for gravy. Don't wash the pan till you get all the goodies out of it. (If you cooked your bird in a sturdy roasting pan you can make your gravy right in that; if you used a disposable one, you will need to make the gravy in a sauce pan.)
- Degreasing: You need to separate the fatty pan drippings from the roasted pan juices. Pour all the liquid that has collected in the pan into a degreasing cup to separate the fat from any meaty liquid. If you don't have a degreasing cup, pour pan drippings into a measuring cup and refrigerate until the fat separates from the pan juices. What you will get is a layer of fatty pan drippings and dark rich roasting juices. The fatty parts you will need for your roux. How much fat you get will depend on your bird and basting. Half a cup of fatty pan drippings is enough for 7 to 8 cups of broth. If you are shy, add a bit of butter. Save the roasting juices for adding to the finished gravy.
- Deglazing: If the brown bits stuck to the roasting pan are golden, you want them; if they're burned and bitter you don't. Set the roasting pan on a low burner; pour about 1/2 a cup to 1 cup broth or white wine into the pan. Scrape up all the browned bits with a wooden spoon as the liquid simmers. Add the liquid and bits to the roasting juices.
- Making the Gravy: Warm the broth. Heat the drippings in the roasting or sauce pan over medium heat. Scatter flour (equal parts to the drippings) over the drippings. Stir the mixture with a wooden spoon to make a smooth paste, taking care to spread it to the edges of the pan so it cooks evenly. Cook until it is light brown and toasty.
Switch to a whisk. Gradually add the hot broth while stirring constantly. This is when gravy typically gets lumpy, so whisking continuously and adding the liquid slowly is important. Ask someone to pour while you whisk if you find this difficult. Bring to a full boil. Enrich the gravy with the reserved roasting juices. Simmer until thick, but not pasty. Add chopped giblets, if desired.
Gravy Wisdom: If your gravy is lumpy, don't panic, simply strain the gravy and no one will know. If it's too thick, add more broth or a little water. If it's not thick enough, knead a little butter and flour together to make a paste and whisk this into the gravy, then boil until it's thick enough.
Final Flourish: Season with salt, pepper and a dash of Worcestershire sauce. For a satiny richness, whisk in a couple tablespoons of cold butter just before serving. Serve and wait for everyone to say, "Pass the gravy, please."