I promised a turkey a day, but I have had a lot of questions about gravy in my classes. I understand the dilemma, as the way that most of us were taught to make gravy almost ensures lumps. My grandma simply stirred (she didn't have a whisk to smooth out lumps) flour into the fatty pan drippings to make a paste, and then added giblet stock. If you think of gravy as a sauce, made with a roux of turkey fat and flour with stock (and the degreased drippings), you'll have success. Want to learn more?
Pan Gravy 101
Makes about 3 1/2 cups
There are a lot of ways to make gravy--thickening with a slurry of flour and water paste or cornstarch, starting the gravy in a saucepan, or making directly in the roasting pan. Here's my detailed version of the most delicious, grease-free, lump-less, dark mahogany brown gravy in the world.
•Treat gravy as a classic French roux-based sauce, which has exact proportions of fat, flour, and liquid. Many cooks just stir enough flour into the pan drippings to make a paste and add broth to make gravy. The problem here is that one never knows how much fat will be released during roasting, and if the proportions are off, the paste gets lumpy or greasy. And in the flour-water paste method, where the paste is whisked into the simmering drippings, the flour does not combine properly with the fat, so the gravy still turns out greasy. My recipe uses a measured amount of the fat skimmed from the drippings and turkey stock to give rich turkey flavor. I prefer a flour-based gravy to a cornstarch-thickened one, as the latter turns out glossy rather than opaque, and is more a sauce than a gravy.
•Homemade turkey stock makes the best gravy. You want brown, not pale beige, gravy that tastes like turkey, and stock’s color and depth of flavor help achieve this. If you don’t want to make the full large-batch recipe, at least make the small-batch version with the neck and giblets (without the liver). Some upscale butchers make turkey stock during the holiday season, and that is another alternative. Canned turkey broth is another option, as long as you simmer the neck and giblets in the canned broth for an hour or so. Plain canned chicken broth will only do if you are under the direst time restrictions. I know that may sound a bit heavy-handed, but after making countless batches of gravy, I am not talking through my hat.
•The proportions for gravy are 1 1/2 tablespoon each fat and all-purpose flour to each cup of liquid, part of which should be the pan drippings. Use these proportions for any size turkey and any amount of gravy. For example, to yield slightly less than 4 cups of gravy (some of the liquid will evaporate during simmering), use 6 tablespoons each fat and flour, and 4 cups of liquid. If you family likes thicker gravy, increase the fat and flour to 2 tablespoons--you can always thin it down with more stock.
•The secret to dark, rich gravy? Dark, rich pan drippings. Let the drippings evaporate into a dark brown glaze during roasting, but don’t let them burn. Whenever the pan looks dry, moisten the drippings with more turkey stock, wine, or water so they don’t scorch. The darker and heavier your roasting pan, the darker and richer the drippings. Aluminum foil roasters make wimpy drippings. .
•Always degrease the drippings and stock before making gravy, reserving the skimmed fat. Pour the pan drippings into large glass bowl or gravy separator. Gravy separators are great, but they are not all created equal. Be sure to use a large 1-quart model, as the smaller 2-cup ones are really for chicken, not the copious amounts of drippings that a huge turkey can produce. The separator should have a wide spout--some of them have narrow spouts clog so easily they are more of a nuisance than a help. Models with perforated tops to strain the drippings as they enter the cup are well worth looking for. OXO is my favorite brand.
•Let the drippings stand for 5 minutes so the clear yellow fat can rise to the top of the drippings. If the fat is in a bowl, use a large spoon to skim off the fat and transfer to a 1- to 2-cup liquid measuring cup. If using a gravy separator, pour off the drippings into another bowl or a 1-quart liquid measuring cup. Now measure the degreased drippings. If you don’t have enough fat to make the amount of gravy needed, add melted butter.
•The degreased drippings add color and flavor to the gravy. Combine them with the turkey stock or chicken broth to get the desired amount of liquid. You’ll never resort to commercial gravy coloring again. If they aren't dark enough, boil over high heat to reduce the volume and deepen the color.
•Use a whisk to avoid lumpy gravy. A flat, paddle-shaped "roux" whisk works better than a balloon whisk to reach into the corners of the pan. If you have a nonstick roasting pan, use a heatproof plastic whisk, available at kitchenware stores. My flat, plastic whisk has become an indispensable tool.
•Allow 1/3 cup gravy per person, more if you want leftovers for sandwiches.
Pan drippings from roast turkey
About 3 1/2 cups Homemade Turkey Stock
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Freshly ground black pepper
1. When the turkey is done, transfer it to a serving platter and set aside. Pour the pan drippings into a medium glass bowl or 1-quart gravy separator, leaving any browned bits in the bottom of the roasting pan. Let stand for 5 minutes. If the drippings are in a bowl, use a large metal spoon to skim and transfer clear yellow fat that rises to the surface to a 1- to 2-cup measuring cup and reserve the fat. For a gravy separator, pour the drippings into a 1-quart measuring cup, leaving the fat in the separator.
2. Assess the color of the drippings. If they don’t seem dark enough, pour half back into the roasting pan and set over two burners. Bring to a boil over high heat. As the drippings reduce and darken, and occasionally pour in the remaining drippings until the liquid in the pan is as dark as you want. The amount of drippings will decrease, but the finished gravy will be darker and taste better without having to resort to bottled gravy coloring.) Return the drippings to the large measuring cup, and add enough stock to the drippings to measure 4 cups total cooking liquid.
3. Set the roasting pan on top of the stove over two burners on moderately low heat. Add 6 tablespoons of the reserved fat to the pan. Sprinkle the flour into the pan, whisking constantly. Let the mixture bubble, whisking constantly, until it turns light beige, 1 to 2 minutes. It is important to let the mixture cook for a minute or two to allow the flour to loses its raw taste, but adjust the heat as needed to keep it from burning. If the flour is overcooked, it will lose its thickening power. Whisk in the stock/drippings mixture, scraping up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, whisking occasionally. If the gravy seems too thin, increase the heat to medium and boil until it is as thick as you wish. If the gravy seems too thick, thin with additional stock. Season with salt and pepper. If desired, strain the gravy through a wire sieve to remove any extraneous browned bits of drippings.
Giblet Gravy: If you have made Homemade Turkey Stock, finely chop the cooked giblets and neck meat. Or, simmer the giblets (excluding the liver) and neck with 3 1/2 cups canned reduced-sodium chicken broth, 2 1/2 cups water, 1 small onion, sliced, and 1 small carrot, coarsely chopped, until tender, about 2 hours. Cool and chop the meat. Strain the mixture and use in place of the Homemade Turkey Stock. If you want to use the liver, saute it in butter or oil in a small skillet over medium heat until cooked through, about 12 minutes, depending on the size of the liver.
Roast Garlic Gravy: For every 4 cups finished gravy, stir in 1 head garlic, roasted and puréed (see page 000).
Wine Gravy: For every cup of gravy, use no more than 1/4 cup dry white wine and 3/4 cup cooking liquid (the combined stock and degreased drippings.) For example, for about 4 cups of gravy, use 3 cups cooking liquid and 1 cup wine. Red wine makes a murky gravy, so stick to the white.
Spiked Gravy: For every one cup of cooking liquid, add 1 to 2 tablespoons dry sherry, ruby or tawny port, Madeira, brandy or Cognac, or bourbon. Do not overdo the alcohol, or the gravy will be too strong.
Herbed Gravy: For every 4 cups finished gravy, stir in up to 2 tablespoons minced fresh herbs, such as thyme, sage, rosemary, parsley, or tarragon, or a combination.