Sunday, November 17, 2013

All About the Gravy

Thanksgiving is about 10 days away, so it's time to get serious about cooking again. The nice thing about Thanksgiving is that it is really all about the meal - that opulent turkey dinner that most of us only muster this one day of the year. And because that turkey is really the cornerstone of the day, you want to bring your A game.

To help prepare for this major cooking event, today's posting is all about the gravy.

Perfect giblet gravy

But first, an important note about the turkey, because the wrong bird will stop you dead in your tracks. I bring this up because over the last few years I've seen an increase in turkeys that come with a sad little packet of pre-made gravy instead of the traditional packet of neck and giblets. Read the packaging carefully and make sure you pick up a bird with the giblets. Pull them out of the carcass, and trim the ends off the wings, and set them all aside for a moment.

Here's also a nice trick for roasting that will keep the bird moist and flavorful. Turkeys are pretty lean and are prone to drying out in the cooking process. While a free range bird is less likely to dry out than conventional birds, many of us keep it from drying out by adding fat like butter. Put the butter away and try this: Mix dried rubbed sage and salt into a couple of tablespoons of duck fat and rub that on the exterior of your turkey. Duck fat is easy enough to come by. Sometime between now and Thanksgiving, pick up a duck and treat yourself to a duck dinner. Drain off the fat and save it until Thanksgiving.

Neck, giblets, wing tips, and butter

Once the turkey is in the oven, go back to those giblets. Now, most of us just cover them with water and leave them on the back burner to stock all afternoon. The key to a really flavorful giblet gravy is to brown them first - neck and all - in about a tablespoon of butter with some more sage and maybe a bit of oregano.


A bit if veg will also boost up the flavor. You'll want to add some carrot, leek, onion, and celery hearts as if you were preparing a mirepoix. Let the veg cook until softened. Then add a couple of cups of water to the pot and throw in about half a bullion cube. Now you can set it aside to simmer while the turkey roasts.

Giblet stock

When the turkey is cooked through, you'll want to let it rest for a moment. While it is resting, go ahead and cut off some of those nice fatty bits near the butt. And, if you really want all those juices, pull the stuffing and turn the bird on its end to let everything drip down into the roasting pan.

Letting gravity do its thing

With giblets, stock, pan drippings, and some nice fatty meat, you are now ready to make your gravy. You will also need flour, butter, olive oil, heavy cream, and some variety of flavoring like Worcestershire sauce. We use a bit of sriracha sauce and some Pik-a-Peppa.

A little extra flavor

Start with a simple roux. In a heavy pan, melt down 3 tablespoons butter and 1/2 tablespoon olive oil. Add to that about 4 tablespoons flour and mix with a spatula until the flour has blended with the fats and has cooked off. This is important because cooked flour makes sauce but raw flour only makes paste. Mind the heat so that you don't end up at the other extreme with scorched flour as this is not appropriate for this application.

Cooked flour makes a sauce

Add your flavoring to the roux along with some heavy cream.

Then, remove your turkey from the roasting pan and place it on a platter because it's time to add the drippings.

Pan drippings

Use a spatula to scrape everything off the sides and bottom of the pan and carefully pour it into your gravy. Then, take those giblets off the back burner and strain the stock into the roasting pan to deglace the remaining sucs and add this to the gravy, keeping the heat fairly low.

Making use of the giblet stock

Now, before you add the giblets, you'll want to get out the immersion blender to smooth out the roux. If you have a uniform texture to your gravy before you add the meat, your gravy will be much more like a sauce. Which is actually what it is.


You'll now want to mince the giblets and that fatty turkey butt meat and add them to the pot. And, finally, you'll take on the neck. This will need to be done by hand to ensure you get the maximum amount of meat without also getting any of the bone. And it's worth it. This is some tender flavorful meat. Carefully pick as much as you can from the neck and mince it up before adding it to the gravy.


Neck meat

Just needs a quick stir

Give everything a good stir. If it is not as thick as you'd like, get out the potato starch.You can find this at Asian markets, as well as at some kosher grocers. Mix a little with some water before adding to your gravy; then give it a couple of minutes to thicken up.

And, that is the perfect Thanksgiving gravy.

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