Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Tried and True - Turkey Gravy

I have roasted many Thanksgiving turkeys.  Like a first love, one of those turkeys has a special place in my heart.  My husband and I were young, poor students living far from home.  It was our first Thanksgiving as a married couple and we were only two at the table.  We bought our 18 pound bird at the local Grand Union supermarket for about 29 cents a pound and barely made a dent of course. Thanks to the freezer, we eventually ate it all.  It was good, cheap food.  I don't remember the gravy, but I am sure I made some.

Not that I don't have gravy memories.  I remember often not making enough.  But I think I have finally figured out that part and want to share my secrets with you.  Making gravy is not the same as invading Normandy.  But you do need a plan.  (Note - today I am talking about only the gravy plan.  That is different from the big T-DAY plan.  One step at a time.)

Step 1 - Equipment inventory  
Do this as soon as possible.  Don't wait until the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.
You will need:
One roasting pan, preferably with a rack (This keeps the bird up off the bottom of the pan.)

One bulb baster (This is the easiest way I know to get at the lovely turkey juices - especially during the roasting process.  Mine is plastic.  Some day I am going to get one of the metal ones.  Either should work fine.)

One whisk (This is for making the roux and the gravy.  Lumps begone.)
The fat rises.  You pour the broth out of the bottom.
One fat separator (You could do without this but it is a very nice tool to have around any kitchen.)
I just love the curvy profile of this gravy boat
One gravy boat (This is also optional.  But I believe in good presentation and Thanksgiving turkey gravy deserves its own showboat, as it were.  It will become an icon to your family over the years.  It will stand for the soothing balm of homemade gravy. This is important.  Because Thanksgiving is not just about the food.  It is about the feelings.)

The official Hanson family roaster
This is my speckled enamel turkey roaster.  I got it 32 years ago at Ayers 5 and 10 cent store in the Westover neighborhood of Arlington, Virginia.  It is a sacred vessel to me and I hope someday to pass it on to someone who will appreciate its charms and benefit from its good juju.  Please do not roast your turkey in a disposable aluminum foil type pan unless you absolutely have to.  For one thing, I think they are dangerous.  They can crumble and fold.  Especially if the contents are too heavy.  Better to borrow a roaster.  Or get one at a second hand store.  Or buy one at a hardware store.  You can still get the kind I have.  They are very affordable and perfectly adequate.   It is good if you get a rack to set the turkey on, too.  I do not think you need to spend $149.95 on a roaster.  (If you are planning on using it for half a century or so, it probably would be a good investment.  But not necessary.)

Step 2  About 4 days before Thanksgiving
Bring your turkey home from wherever you are getting it.  Thaw in refrigerator if it is frozen.  Remove the giblets - the neck, gizzard, heart and liver and keep cold in a separate container.  Make sure you have some onion, celery, parsley, bay leaf and carrot in the house.  Salt and pepper too of course.  And you might need a stick of butter depending on how much fat is or is not in your turkey.

Step 3 Two days before Thanksgiving
Yes you can buy broth and that is ok if you need to.  But it is very expensive and just not as good as what you can make yourself.  And if you don't make broth, what will you do with all the giblets?  One side benefit of making broth is that it will make your house smell good.  Who needs potpourri if you have broth on the back burner?

How to make turkey broth - you will need about 6 cups when you are done
7 cups water
turkey giblets (save the liver for sauteeing separately - a special treat for the cook and a friend while everyone else is watching football)
one cup EACH coarsely chopped onion, carrot and celery.  If you have some leek tops use those too.
7-8 peppercorns
1 cup loosely packed parsley sprigs
3 bay leaves
2 t. salt
1/2 t. pepper
Put all ingredients in a pot big enough to hold everything comfortably.  Bring to a boil.  Turn down and simmer, partly covered, for 2-3 hours.  Remove the giblets and put in a dish to cool.  After the broth has cooled a bit, pour through a strainer into a large bowl.  Remove meat from the neck and chop.  Finely cut up the heart and gizzard.  (I usually trim the gristly part from the gizzard.)  Reserve and refrigerate the meat in a covered dish.  Refrigerate the broth.

Step 4 Thanksgiving day -- it's SHOWTIME
I will assume that you have figured out how to roast the turkey and that it is cooking away in your oven and you are basting it occasionally.  About half an hour before you think the turkey will be done, pull off some turkey juices with your baster and put them in the fat separator.  You want about 1/2 cup of fat as well as some rich broth. If you don't have at least 1/2 cup of the turkey drippings, then melt some butter so you have a total of 1/2 cup fat.
Make a roux in a large pan with the 1/2 cup fat and 1/2 cup of white flour.  Stir with a whisk about 10 minutes - the mixture should be smooth.  Heat  turkey broth while the roux is cooking.  (You will need about 7 cups total of broth.)  Add hot broth to roux mixture, 1 cup at a time, whisking all the while.  Also add broth from the turkey roaster which you have hopefully extracted with the turkey baster. If gravy is too thick and you don't have any more broth, you can add a little milk or cream to the gravy.Taste for seasoning.  If you have it, add a little chopped fresh parsley.  Just before you are ready to serve the turkey and the trimmings, put HOT gravy in the gravy boat and serve.  Keep reserve gravy hot because you will need to refill the gravy boat several times.

Good luck and may your gravy be smooth.

If you didn't catch this link on Featherstone's FACEBOOK page - check it out.  Root vegetables roasted. Basic skills.


  1. For 30 years my brother-in-law has been in charge of The BIRD, actually plural - two birds. It's a large group (one year it took us 14 bottles of wine). There is always an adventure turkey, which is different every year - Cajun or a heritage breed, or deep fried in peanut oil, etc. Then there is ... THE BIRD, which is to be free range, freshly killed and preferably the size of a small duck boat. A rule of thumb (which I will not defend): The bigger the bird, the better it tastes. Have good Thanksgiving.

  2. roux. The bane of my cooking existence. I was off-duty this year cooking the turkey but I've been trying for TWO YEARS to make my favorite southern tradition, macaroni and cheese. Strike that. My favorite southern tradition is sweet tea. Gallons and gallons of terrible-for-you, thick with simple syrup sweet tea. Mac and cheese is a close second.

    Reading this post reminded me of my second failure in a row with this year's batch. It tastes fine but I can't seem to figure out the roux so it turns out all greesy-like and separated!! Is it my ingredients? My process? My luck? Who knows? I keep telling myself that I'm going to sit down and watch a million YouTube videos on making roux.

  3. Manda,
    Sweet tea and mac and cheese? No offense, I've eaten lots of Peg's food. I think I'll take my chances with her's.

    I hope you have a Merry Mac and Cheese Christmas.

  4. Thanks Mr. Berg.
    I learned all about sweet tea the year I was a waitress at the Holiday Inn in Oxford, Mississippi. And that is not all I learned at that gig.
    Anyway - Manda I am going to be working on some videos next year and I promise I will do one on roux. Do not give up yet. Roux is too important. I will be roux-ting for you!