We all know that the turkey is the star of the Thanksgiving table (or the tofurky, if you’re a vegetarian). And while a banquet table laden with a gorgeously carved bird, sumptuous sides and home-baked biscuits is a lovely thing to behold, if the gravy on the table isn’t up to snuff than, frankly, I’d rather have takeout. Gravy–silky, savory, loaded with robust, meaty flavor–is the universal condiment of the holiday table. It livens up dry turkey, takes stuffing to new heights, and perks up those potatoes, both mashed and sweet.
Gravy can be perplexing–what is it, exactly? It’s a sauce culled from the pan drippings and liquid, usually a turkey or chicken stock, mixed with thickeners which create that silky texture. Flour and butter, whisked vigorously into a roux, are one way to thicken a gravy. You can also use cornstarch or arrowroot, or Wondra, an instant flour which doesn’t need to be cooked, to thicken your gravy. For novices, a canister of Wondra on T-day will get the job done. Because it’s pre-cooked, it won’t lump up the way that raw flour does, causing dreaded lumpy gravy. You might also want to have a bottle of Gravy Master on hand as well. It’s packed with umami flavor and does a bang-up job of livening up gravy.
While there are lot of opinions and tons of different ways to make delicious sauces, the basic template is always the same. If you care to have homemade turkey stock (if you need convincing, read this article from Gourmet) on hand, you’d be smart to do it ahead and have it in your freezer or fridge. Store-bought low-sodium chicken stock will also do the trick, though the flavor won’t be as rich. Plan to have your stock ready before you start to prepare the gravy. You’ll need about 4-6 cups of stock, depending on how much juice your turkey yields during cooking.
Making Turkey Gravy
Step 1: When your turkey is done, remove it from the oven and set it aside. Strain the liquid from your roasting pan or pour into a fat separator and let it sit until the fat has risen to the top. Discard the fat and pour the juices back into the pan, setting it on top of the stove.
Step 2: Straddling two burners if necessary, with both burners on high heat, bring juices to a simmer and deglaze the pan (stirring up the cooked bits of turkey from the bottom) using up to a cup of dry white wine or sherry, until all browned bits have been dislodged. This should darken the color of the turkey juices.
Step 3: Add your stock (for a 16-18 lb turkey you’ll want about 8 cups of gravy, so add stock to existing liquid in pan until you have about 8 cups) and whisk briskly while you bring it to a simmer.
Step 4: Thicken your gravy to desired consistency. You may find that you don’t need to add anything, and if you prefer a lighter, thinner gravy than your job may be done. If you desire a thicker, velvety gravy, this is where you add in your roux or Wondra thickener. Start with just a small dash (a teaspoon), and whisk vigorously, adding small amounts until you have your desired consistency. Keep it piping hot until you bring it to the table in gravy boats.