Homemade gravy is one of those joys of life. True, the turkey, dressing (stuffing with cornbread made in a pan, for the Yankee readers), vegetables, and pies bring a wonderful scent and flavor of home and family, but the gravy ties everything together. Okay, I don’t use gravy on pie, but a little gravy may hit everything else on my plate for a holiday feast! As good as gravy is to eat, some folks have a hard time making it. I’m going to give a recipe today for basic gravy that you can start with broth from the turkey neck bone and then expand with pan drippings.
When you prep your bird for brining, remove the turkey neck (it’ll be long, skinny and bony) and the heart, liver, lungs, etc. If you wonder whether or not to brine, read here. I have two cats that love turkey innards, and since they deserve a happy holiday too, I cook the innards separately for them. I may address giblet gravy in a future post nonetheless. To make starter broth, boil the turkey neck, broken into a couple of pieces with a stalk of celery (cut into chunks), about half an onion, and a carrot, with enough water to cover. I’ll also add fresh herbs from the garden, including a 6-inch piece of rosemary and a few sage leaves. You could add a teaspoon or so each of dried sage and rosemary if you are not growing them fresh in your garden. Rosemary and sage are perennials where I live, if you give them a little help. I cover them for a few months when it gets really cold, but just south of here I know of people who leave them exposed all winter and never lose them. Simmer the turkey neck and veggies and herbs for about an hour. You’ll notice that this is a light broth, with very little fat. You want it that way now, since you’ll be adding pan drippings later. After that hour (or so), strain off the broth; that’s the base of your gravy. Toss the veggies and herbs in your compost–they’ve done their job–or if you are really frugal you could save them for soup later. Reserve the neck. After the neck cools, you can pick off the meat. It is full of good turkey flavor, making it perfect for turkey soup. The remaining broth is a wonderful, protein-rich stock. If you were to refrigerate now (which you could!), it would separate into a tiny line of fat on top with a jelly-like, fat-free aspic on the bottom. The gelatin is protein.
Now the boiler where you were making the broth is empty but may still have some good stuff stuck inside, so let’s use it for phase two. Begin by putting about 2 tablespoons of flour in the bottom, and then whisk in just enough broth to wet all of the flour. Now add a little more broth until you have a smooth, thin paste. Keep adding broth until it is all incorporated. Now simmer the gravy base for at least 15 minutes, until the gravy base stops tasting like wallpaper paste. No, it won’t taste good yet–we’ve added absolutely no salt yet–but it should be starting to look and smell like gravy. Now turn off the heat and walk away. If you’ve done this step well before when you’ll be serving the bird, refrigerate your gravy base.
When the turkey comes out of the oven (thirty to forty-five minutes before you want to serve it, since you need to let it rest to retain its juiciness), pour off as many pan juices as you can easily reach. You can put the drippings in the freezer to speed its solidifying if you want to skim off the fat. That said, it’s a holiday; just eat it! Now start adding your pan drippings to the gravy base you made earlier, stirring as you add. If you used salt in a brine or in other bird preparation, your pan drippings will give up some of that salt to your gravy. Simmer the gravy to incorporate the pan drippings. As you get the bird out of the pan, use a few tablespoons of apple cider vinegar or white wine to de-glaze your pan and get the fons (those wonderful brown bits!). Incorporate the de-glazing mix in the gravy. Taste the gravy. How is it? Does it need a little salt or pepper? That’s easy! Does it need something else? See below for easy fixes to common problems.
Not enough gravy for your big family? If you are thinking of what you’ll need for days to come, don’t worry. Just use your turkey carcass to make more broth after you disassemble the turkey. It’ll have that great pan flavor with no additions. Just follow the steps for above for making the broth and adding the flour. If you need more gravy now, though, you can use a commercial chicken broth mixed with flour (see above) and simmered with rosemary to get a quick addition. Follow the steps below to doctor the results.
Pan drippings didn’t give enough flavor? Consider adding apple cider vinegar, white port, or sherry, one tablespoon at a time. Consider adding quality soy sauce (umami!) a couple of quick dashes (shakes) at a time. It’ll solve both the flavor and the color problem.
Does your gravy look pale? This problem can happen especially if you’ve had to use commercial chicken broth to add to your home-created turkey broth. Take a trick from Southern red-eye gravy and add a few grains of instant coffee (won’t affect thickness) or a teaspoon or so (add very carefully!) of brewed coffee. Your gravy will take on a warm color and flavor.
Is your gravy too thin? Remember that gravy will thicken a little as it cools. (See the protein-gelatin note above.) If you think it won’t thicken enough, you can add more thickener now, but you need to be really careful about what you add. The easiest thing to add to hot gravy to make it thicken without lumping is potato flour (not potato starch). Sprinkle about a tablespoon of potato flour on the top of your gravy. Whisk for a couple of minutes, and it will disappear like magic. If you don’t have potato flour but have already fixed boiled potatoes, you can take half a medium red potato (no skin) and mash it into the gravy. Start by mashing the potato half in a small bowl and then add gravy a little at a time to make it thinner and smooth. Once it’s thinned down quite a bit, add the mixture into the gravy. If you’ve made traditional mashed potatoes without anything funky added, you could do the same thing with it. Whatever you do, do not add wheat flour or corn starch to hot gravy. You’ll make dumplings of wallpaper paste.
Lumpy gravy? This happens to everyone at some time. If you have an immersion blender (a long stick that will go straight into the pot), pull it out and blend those lumps away. If you don’t have an immersion blender, use a regular blender. Just be very careful! Hot liquids tend to sort of explode in the blender, so start by spooning just the lumps in the blender and then adding just enough liquid to blend. No blender or food processor of any kind? Strain the gravy as your pour it into your gravy boat.
Do you have a gravy problem I haven’t mentioned here? questions? Feel free to post!
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