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A great gravy can make (or break) the Thanksgiving meal—that concentrated, rich turkey flavor injects life into ho hum breast meat, adds the right savory touch to mashed potatoes, and is equally good smothered on biscuits. The best part is that gravy takes about as long to make as the bird needs to rest before carving, leaving little excuse not to make your own. To get the most out your gravy, I've compiled some tips for producing a stellar basic gravy, along with four variations if you're looking to change up your gravy game.
The best turkey gravy I've had comes from the drippings of a roasted bird. The rendering fat and juices from the turkey settle into the pan and bake into a dark golden liquid that's nothing but pure turkey flavor.
To get the right amount of drippings for a successfully gravy, a little extra help is required in the form of turkey or chicken stock. I usually add about six cups of stock to the roasting pan. Some of this will evaporate during the cook, but it's enough that there will always be some liquid in the pan to avoid the drippings from hitting the hot surface of a dry pan and burning. Some chunks of veggies—I use carrots, celery, and onion—in the pan only make those drippings more flavorful.
After roasting, it's time to harvest those precious drippings to compile the gravy. To do this, pour out the collected liquid through a fine mesh strainer into a large bowl or fat separator and let it settle for a few minutes. This will the fat time to separate from the liquid. From there, you can skim off the fat with a spoon if using a bowl, or pour out the liquid if you're using a fat separator.
To get that luscious thickened gravy texture, you'll want to start with a roux. Traditionally, this done by melting butter in a saucepan and then whisking in an equal amount of flour, stirring and letting it cook until it reaches a golden-blond color. If you're making turkey gravy from pan drippings though, you can use that rendered turkey fat in place of the butter if you've been able to get a sufficient amount—about a quarter cup.
Once the roux is made, the turkey drippings are gradually whisked in—the gradual part, with constant movement, helps prevent a lumpy gravy—and set to simmer. About ten minutes later, plus a little salt and pepper, you're rewarded with one delicious turkey gravy that'll beat anything you buy in the store.
Of course, I would have loved to make all my gravies for this article with drippings, but roasting five birds seemed like overkill. So instead, I made a large batch of turkey stock to use when developing the recipes. Stock may not have not produced gravies as strongly flavored as the ones made with pan drippings, but it certainly worked well enough, was almost as easy, and can be made well in advance.
For my basic turkey stock, I picked up a few pairs of turkey wings—you can use a turkey carcass, necks, plus the giblets here, too—browned them well in stockpot, then added in enough water to cover them, along with a large carrot, a couple stalks of celery, a quartered onion, parsley, thyme, and a bay leaf. I let the whole thing simmer for three hours, to allow the flavors to fully develop. After straining the solids and skimming the fat, I had enough stock to make all my gravies, plus a little extra for soup later on.
Speaking of all those gravies, here's the line-up that came out of the kitchen:
Basic Turkey Gravy
The classic, made with the drippings done as outlined above. Obviously this was the cleanest and most straightforward in flavor—pure turkey gold.
Porcini Turkey Gravy
I tend to like traditional recipes the best, but I must say I dug this porcini turkey gravy more than the classic. I steeped the dried porcinis in turkey stock, then chopped and browned them in butter. The mushroom-infused soaking stock was used to make the gravy, which I finished with a tablespoon of heavy cream to up the richness, and a couple tablespoons of sherry to give it a little extra body to match its incredibly flavorful base.
Rich and Creamy Turkey Gravy With Fresh Herbs
Basic turkey gravy gets a hefty amount of heavy cream right at the end, followed by a mixture of fresh herbs—I used thyme, sage, and rosemary. Thick and creamy, the gravy is incredibly hearty, with the herbs adding a flavor and aroma that compliment the Thanksgiving meal nicely.
Cider Turkey Gravy
My fridge is constantly stocked with apple cider during fall, so it seemed like a fitting choice to incorporate such a quintessential landmark of the season. The gravy ended up having an earthy touch, with a little bit of tartness that made it unique. A couple teaspoons of sage stirred in at the end paired well with the overall flavor profile.
Red Wine and Shallot Turkey Gravy
Red wine, shallots, and thyme form the base of my favorite pan sauce for steak, so I thought about giving it a try here for turkey. The flavor worked out pretty well, having a slightly dry character with mild fruitiness and a light bite from the shallots. Unfortunately, with the pale turkey stock, the gravy ended up a rather unsightly shade of purple. A couple drops of a gravy browning sauce fixed that. The color shouldn't be an issue if you're making this from already darker pan drippings.