Here's a weekend project for you: Make turkey gravy! It takes a few hours, but you're left with a bounty of good eating. There will be shredded turkey meat for sandwiches, extra turkey stock for stuffing or for slurping, and the golden stuff itself: Thick, savory turkey gravy stashed in the freezer for Thanksgiving Day. When your Thanksgiving turkey is roasted and the guests are seated you don't have to worry about your gravy. It's already done.
The process here is multi-step, but almost entirely hands-off. It is the perfect activity for a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. You roast turkey parts, save the drippings, then shred off some of the meat (however much you think you'll eat). You can freeze the meat, or eat it straightaway. Then add what's left of the meat, the bones, and some aromatics to a big pot and cover with water. Simmer for a few hours, then strain.
All that's left, at that point, is to take a few cups of the stock, the turkey drippings, and some flour, and make your gravy. Cool, freeze, and enjoy your turkey broth, meat, and peace of mind.
It's really lovely to have all my gravy done. As Elizabeth notes in this post, you never know what kind of drippings you're going to get from the turkey, and it's nice to not be standing over a stove at the last moment before dinner!
One more note on this whole process: The key, for me, to making stock is not to sweat perfection. Yes, I'd love to skim my stock a few times and have just the right mix of meat, herbs, and aromatics. But you know what? Even if I'm making stock with half an onion, a piece of limp celery, and a few spare bones, the result will still be infinitely better than commercial canned stock. This is especially true of turkey stock, which has such a rich, rounded taste; it beats chicken stock hollow, in my humble opinion.
So remember that, as you go through the steps of your stock-making and gravy-cooking. If it's homemade, you really can't go too wrong. And your house will smell wonderful.
How To Make Turkey Gravy (Before Thanksgiving!)
Makes about 1 quart (4 cups). Adapted from The New York Times.
What You Need
2 to 4 pounds bone-in turkey, a mix of breast, thighs and/or legs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup white wine
1 large onion
2 fat carrots
4 stalks celery
1 tablespoon peppercorns
1 bay leaf
Fresh thyme and parsley, if you have them
1/4 cup flour
Metal roasting pan
2-quart saucepan or sauté pan
Sauce whisk (optional)
1. Heat the oven to 400°F. Pat the turkey pieces dry and place them in a roasting pan. Salt and pepper generously. Roast for 90 minutes, or until the turkey is cooked through.
2. Remove from the oven and let the turkey cool slightly. Then shred some of the meat from the bones. How much you shred is up to you: If you don't leave anything on the bones it will be to the poverty of your stock. But it is not necessary to leave all the meat on the bones; certainly remove a good deal of it for eating. (I removed a little over half.)
3. Now that the turkey is removed from the pan, you can deglaze all the fat and juices it left behind in the roasting pan. Place the pan on a stove burner over medium-high heat until the fat begins to sizzle. Pour in 1/2 cup white wine (I used dry sherry), a few tablespoons at a time, stirring constantly and breaking up any bits clinging to the bottom of the pan. When the pan is clean and only liquid remains, turn off the heat and pour the liquid off into a clean jar or heat-proof bowl. Refrigerate.
4. Place the turkey bones and remaining meat in a 4-quart pot (or larger). Peel and roughly chop the onion. Don't peel the carrots. Chop them and the celery and add them to the pot along with the peppercorns, bay leaf, and herbs, if you're using them. Fill the pot with water.
5. Put the pot on the stove and bring to a full, rolling boil. Reduce the heat until the pot is simmering. Cover, partially, with a lid, and go about your business. Simmer for as long as you can let it go. (This is one of many steps in the process that are really up to you. If you can only cook it for an hour, it won't be as rich, but it will still be wonderful.) It's ideal to let it simmer for several hours at least. Check it frequently, however, and make sure that the liquid level isn't slipping down too far.
When you're done simmering the turkey stock and are ready to make gravy, turn off the heat and strain the broth into a bowl. Press down on the turkey meat and bones to release all the liquid. You should have at least 6 cups of stock — hopefully more. (This might sound like heresy to some, but honestly, there is nothing wrong with setting your first, richer stock aside and refilling the pot and going for a second round. The resulting stock will be thinner and not as rich, of course, but it's still extremely delicious for soups and other cooking projects.)
6. So now you have your turkey meat, and a big pot of turkey stock. Time to make the actual gravy! If you have refrigerated your turkey stock, scrape any fat off the top and set aside. Measure out 5 cups of turkey stock and set it aside.
7. Add about 1/4 cup fat to a 2-quart saucepan or sauté pan. What kind of fat is up to you. Scrape what you can off the pan drippings you set aside earlier, and augment with fat off the stock, if you have it. Make up any difference with unsalted butter. This doesn't need to be exact; it can be approximate.
8. After the fat foams up in the pan, add the flour.
9. Cook the flour over medium-low heat, stirring constantly. When it turns a pale brown, it's time to add the stock.
10. Add about 1/2 cup of the stock and whisk vigorously to smooth out lumps. Add the rest and whisk again.
11. Bring to a boil, whisking frequently. (A flat whisk like the one here is very helpful.) When it boils, whisk very vigorously, until the gravy thickens. Turn off the heat. Taste and season, if necessary, with salt and pepper.
12. Depending on how well you strained your stock, there may be bits of turkey in your gravy at this point. If you want to, you can strain the gravy again into a bowl.
13. Let the gravy cool slightly, then pour into a freezer-safe container or bag, and freeze. To reheat on Thanksgiving, thaw in the fridge overnight, then reheat over low heat, whisking to smooth out any separation.
• I call for 5 cups of stock for 1 quart gravy, because there is inevitably some evaporation. I have often started making gravy with a quart of stock, but ended up with only 3 cups of gravy! This gives you a little room.
• This produces a relatively thin gravy. I like gravy to taste of the turkey, not of the flour or the roux. It won't spread out all over your plate, but it's certainly not thick like pancake batter.
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(Images: Faith Durand)