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How-To

Making a Savory, Smooth Turkey Gravy

A smooth roux and tasty drippings equal great gravy

Fine Cooking Issue 24
Photos: Scott Phillips
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A river of rich gravy. Paying attention to technique gives you deep flavor and a beautiful, lump-free sauce.

When it’s time to make gravy for the turkey, I make it the same way my mother always made hers. Why? Because her way is simple (important when you have so many other things to think about) and it’s delicious—rich and full of flavor.  Here’s how she does it: While the turkey is roasting, she makes a broth from the turkey’s giblets and neck. When the turkey is cooked, she hoists the bird onto a serving platter and covers it with foil. She pours the liquid left in  the pan into a large measuring cup so she can separate the juices (which sink to the bottom) from the fat (which floats on top). She skims off the fat with a large spoon. Most of it gets thrown away, but a few tablespoons go back into the roasting pan, along with some flour. She whisks the flour and fat over medium heat, scraping up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. These are juices that have caramelized during roasting; they add a ton of flavor to the gravy.  

To this roux, she adds the reserved pan juices, the giblet broth, and some chicken or turkey stock if she’s feeding a crowd (and with four sons, she usually is). She gently simmers the gravy for 10 minutes to cook away the floury flavor and thicken it slightly. A little taste, a little salt and pepper, and the gravy is ready to be strained into a saucepan or gravy boat.  

Visit our Guide to Thanksgiving Dinner for Thanksgiving recipes, planning tips, and how-to videos. You can also watch a video demonstrating how to use turkey giblets to make a flavorful broth, the base of a rich turkey gravy.

My mother can probably make her gravy blindfolded, and she probably doesn’t even think about all the techniques involved. But if you’re new to making gravy, it’s good to keep a few things in mind so that yours will be as good as hers.  

Don’t let the drippings burn. The drippings are the liquid fat and juices released by the bird as it cooks. If the juices land on a roasting pan that’s too hot, they can burn. To prevent this, use a heavy-based roasting pan that’s just large enough to hold the turkey. If the pan is too big, the area not covered by the bird will get too hot. A too-thin pan can also cause burned juices. If your pan is too big or too flimsy, coarsely chop an onion or two and sprinkle it around the turkey in the pan to act as a heat absorber. If you do this, leave the onion out of the giblet broth.  

Be sure there’s ample gravy. There’s an unfair relationship between a perfectly cooked stuffed turkey and pan drippings. If a stuffed bird is cooked so it’s nice and juicy, there may not be enough of the delicious juices—the liquid left in the pan minus the fat—to make enough gravy. (Ironically, an overcooked, unstuffed turkey releases lots of juices.) This means you often have to add extra stock. Homemade giblet broth (see how-tos in the photo at right) is best, but you may have to supplement with homemade or canned stock. If using canned stock, use a low-sodium one or the gravy will be salty. To decide how much stock to add, measure the juices with the giblet broth; add stock to get the amount of liquid you need (see Gravy Math, below).

Make a broth from the giblets and neck. Add a halved onion, about 20 small sprigs of parsley, a bay leaf, and enough water to cover. Simmer gently for at least 1-1/2 hours.

Gravy math

Figure on about 1/3 cup gravy per person. To determine the amount of liquid you need, measure the turkey juices (the pan drippings minus the fat) and add enough giblet broth to get the amount of gravy you need. If there still isn’t enough liquid, add homemade or low-salt chicken or turkey stock.

As a general rule, use about 1 tablespoon of fat and about 1-1/2 tablespoons of flour for each cup of liquid. We’ve done the math for you:

For 6 servings:
2 cups liquid
2 Tbs. fat
3 Tbs. flour

For 8 servings:
2-2/3 cups liquid
2-1/2 Tbs. fat
4 Tbs. flour

For 10 servings:
3-1/3 cups liquid
3 Tbs. fat
5 Tbs. flour

For 12 servings:
4 cups liquid
4 Tbs. fat
6 Tbs. flour


 

 

Make the gravy smooth and pourable, but not watery. If the gravy is too thin, thicken it with a slurry of water and flour. Blend 2 tablespoons flour with 3 tablespoons water and add this, a bit at a time, to the simmering gravy until it thickens. Then simmer the gravy for about 10 minutes to cook off the floury taste.

Tailor the gravy to your taste. While the technique I’ve outlined makes a delicious gravy, you can embellish on it without muting the flavor of the roast. For a bright, fresh flavor, add 1 or 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh herbs (chives, parsley, chervil, basil, or tarragon) a few minutes before serving. For a luxurious touch, stir in 1 or 2 tablespoons of soaked, drained, and chopped dried porcini mushrooms or morels. Strain the soaking liquid through a coffee filter and add that, too. Roasted garlic adds great flavor to gravy and can act as the thickener. Work the roasted cloves through a food mill or strainer to extract the pulp and stir it into the gravy.

 My mother’s favorite addition is the cooked giblets and neck meat. She’d chop these finely, but not too finely, and heat them in the gravy just before serving. This “lumpy” gravy is still my favorite.

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