As you might already know, gravy can either be one the highlights of the meal or a disaster. I’ve struggled myself sometimes, trying to rescue a tasteless greasy mess into a decent gravy. Well, it turns out it’s not as hard as I used to think.
One surprise is that the best gravy doesn’t even have to have meat drippings to start. Doesn’t have to have meat at all, because the richest flavor comes from roasted or sautéed vegetables.
I’m first going to tell you how to make delicious turkey gravy. Then I’ll show you how to make it without the turkey, or chicken, or whatever.
Let’s start with the Thanksgiving turkey. We are going to roast the neck and giblets with some vegetables to get started.
You’ll need a pan that can go from the oven to the stovetop. Since it’s not time to do the turkey yet, you can use the same roasting pan. In fact, since I brine the turkey overnight (and I recommend you do, too), I have the neck and giblets available the day before. In fact I usually make the gravy the day before, just to cut down on the activity on T-Day.
First, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Chop into large pieces two or three carrots, a few celery ribs, and a medium onion. Put them in the roasting pan along with the neck and giblets. Drizzle everything with olive oil, sprinkle with garlic salt and pepper, and toss them a little to spread the goodies around.
While the roasting is going on, get these things ready for the Gravy:
1 cup red wine
2 cups chicken stock (instant or canned is ok)
1 cup beef broth (also either instant or canned)
6 sprigs of fresh thyme (or a teaspoon of dried)
2 bay leaves
salt and pepper
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
Roast the vegetables for 45 minutes, until their edges are beginning to brown. Then remove the pan from the oven and put it on the stovetop. The pan is still plenty hot, so you might not want to turn the burner on yet, just to keep things under control.
Add a little wine to the pan to test its temperature. You want sizzle and bubble, but not steaming and spattering. If you need to, let the pan cool a little. Now add the wine and deglaze it, scraping up all the browned bits of stuff sticking to it. This is called the “fond” and adds greatly to the flavor of the gravy. Also add some of the chicken stock if necessary.
Now transfer the veggies and meat to a large pot, and pour in the juices from the deglazed pan. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer the pot for an hour or so. Let it cool, and then strain the liquid into another container that can go in the fridge. You can also pour it into a fat separator. Either way, we are going to recover the fat from the juice and use it to thicken the gravy later.
If it’s been in the fridge for a while or overnight, you will be able to spoon off the hardened fat with a spoon. If you have a separator, you can pour off the juice, leaving the fat behind.
To thicken the gravy, we will make a roux (pronounced “roo”). See, learning to cook means learning French, too. Flour cooked in hot fat or oil will be very flavorful, not lumpy, and will thicken a sauce or gravy.
To make the roux, heat the fat in a saucepan, and add butter if necessary to make a total of about three tablespoons. Stir in the flour, dissolving the lumps and cooking it until it gets a toasty brown color. Now add the gravy, stirring constantly, until you have incorporated it into the roux. Now you should have a gradually thickening gravy, ready for final seasoning with salt and pepper if needed.
If you’re cooking chicken, you can do the same thing with the chicken parts. I describe that on the fried chicken page.
What if you need gravy to go with your mashed potatoes or meatloaf, or some other dish (like soft bread!)? Just mince the vegetables into smaller pieces, sauté them in butter for five or six minutes, and add the flour. Then add the wine (if you want) and the chicken and beef broth, stirring constantly as the mixture thickens. Add the thyme and bay leaves, simmer for half an hour, and strain the gravy when done.