The Big Decision in November

In just a matter of days, each of us, as Americans, will be faced with a decision of critical importance, and with profound consequences.  It is a choice not to be taken lightly, for it carries the weight of generations of tradition and obligation, and the path that each of us takes will have lasting effects on how we are viewed and respected by our family and our friends.

I’m talking, of course, about making your own gravy for Thanksgiving.

I like cooking for Thankgiving.  It’s one of the few days where there is nothing else that needs to be done other than preparing the big meal, and, for me, preparing gravy from scratch is my favorite part.  It signals the turn into the final stretch of cooking, and the process, and results, are immensely gratifying.  It also throws all caution to the wind with respect to calorie counts and fat content.

The idea for this post came when our supermarket recently went into holiday mode, and with it comes many many endcaps filled with gravy in a can, gravy in a box, or gravy in a pouch.

This year, if I hear that any of you bought gravy from a store, or made it from a mix, I will personally come to your house and punch you in the head.  I’m that serious about gravy.

Before I list the recipe, let me explain the process and try to convince any of you gravy-purchasers of the validity of my argument.  Gravy, at its essence, is nothing more than a mixture of a thickening agent with liquid.  For my gravy recipe, I use butter and flour to thicken a combination of pan drippings from the turkey and stock.  That’s pretty much it, so you see why I am so vehemently against packaged preparations.

The long form is this – when start to prepare the turkey on Thanksgiving morning, I throw the giblets and the neck into a pot with some vegetables and water, and get a stock going, which simmers for most of the afternoon, extracting as much turkey flavor out of the meat and bones as possible.  When it’s time to make the gravy, I make a roux out of butter and flour, and let that cook until it’s a deep, deep brown, then strain the stock into the roux, mix it up, and keep it at a low simmer.  The pan drippings from the turkey get stirred in whenever the turkey’s done and been transferred to a carving platter.  And that’s it.

I realize that some people may be apprehensive about cooking in general, and for this reason Thanksgiving tends to kick off the holiday season of stress.  The only thing that I can think of that could go wrong with this recipe is you could burn the roux, either by cooking it on too high a heat setting or letting it cook for too long.  Remember, making a roux is the act of toasting flour in butter – some words to remember are “toast” or “peanut butter”, which are the levels of browning that you are looking for.  If you reach this point and discover that you haven’t strained the stock, or are otherwise not ready to add stock, just move the pot with the roux to a cool burner and keep stirring until it cools off a little.

Thanksgiving Turkey Gravy by The Best Food Blog Ever

Stock (can use prepared stock if necessary)
[stock] 10 cups water
[stock] Olive oil
[stock] Contents of giblet bag from the turkey, minus the liver
[stock] 2 carrots, unpeeled
[stock] 2 onions, unpeeled, hacked into halves
[stock] 3 stalks celery, broken in half
[stock] 1 Tbs peppercorns
[stock] Fresh parsley and thyme, no need to chop

1 stick of butter

1/4 cup of flour

Salt

Pan drippings from the roasting pan

Red or white wine

If you are using prepared stock, make sure you have 10 cups available, heated, and proceed past the next part.

If preparing your own stock, take a large pot and heat a thin coating of olive oil over medium heat until shiny.  Add the contents of the giblet bag (no liver) and the turkey neck and saute until browned, about five minutes per side (flip with tongs).  Throw your carrots, onions, celery, and peppercorns in, along with half of the parsley and thyme, give everything a stir, and cover.  Turn the heat down to the lowest it can go and let that cook for 20 minutes.  This is called ’sweating’ and the process extracts a lot of flavor out of the pot ingredients that would otherwise not be available by just boiling them in liquid.

After 20 minutes, add the remaining parsley and thyme and 10 cups of water.  Cover, bring the heat to high, and bring it all up to a boil.  Once boiling, you can reduce the heat and let that simmer on the back burner until you need it.  When you need it, you can either strain the solids out or just use a slotted spoon to scoop most of the solids out and use a ladle to pull out the stock you need.  Keep the giblets and the turkey neck, though.

Make the roux – in a saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the stick of butter until its fully melted and no longer foamy.  If you want to live on the edge, you can even wait until it starts to brown a bit.  Dump all of the 1/4 cup of flour in at once and stir vigorously to absorb the butter (a whisk will help immensely with this part).  At first, all of the flour will clump up into chunks and balls, but as the mixture heats up and relaxes it will become more viscous.  Keep on stirring until the roux has darkened to the color of peanut butter, then add 10 cups of hot stock, whisking mightily as it bubbles and squeaks.  Once all of the stock has been incorporated, maintain the gravy at a simmer while you finish preparing Thanksgiving.

Once the turkey is done and moved out of the roasting pan and onto a carving platter, drain all of the pan drippings into a bowl or large measuring cup (or even a defatting beaker).

Set the roasting pan across two burners set to high heat (if you have a vent fan, now would be a good time to turn it on).  Using an oven mitt to hold onto the pan and give it some stability, pour a good amount of wine into the pan and use a wooden spoon to scrape up all of the bits that are stuck to the bottom.  Once everything is loosened up, let all of it cook for about a minute, turn off your burners, and (use two mitts) carefully pour all of it into the simmering gravy.  Add the pan drippings, defatted or not as is your preference (if there’s a large amount of fat, it’s probably better to defat it).   Stir it all together.

This part is optional.  If you’d like, you can now take the meat off of the turkey neck with your fingers, and chop the meat up along with the giblets.  Add all of this to the gravy, taste, and adjust for salt just before serving.

I want everyone to join the homemade Thanksgiving gravy revolution.  Feel free to email me at ddl[at]bestfoodblogever.com if you have any questions about this recipe.