If there’s one condiment Southerners treat with great respect, it’s gravy. So much so that the Southern Foodways Alliance named its quarterly journal after the savory dressing. For the next four weeks, Sheri Castle, author of The New Southern Garden Cookbook, will share her favorite gravy recipes in the SFA series Inside the Boat.
Ah, Thanksgiving—our national day of gratitude and gravy. Turkey gravy comes from a flightless bird, yet it benefits from a long runway. Good turkey gravy requires exceptional homemade turkey stock and appreciates meaty drippings. Good turkey gravy is premeditated.
As with nearly all meat gravies, turkey gravy originated as a way to use up every last bit of the deeply flavorful and satisfying roasted turkey drippings. When there are many hungry mouths to feed, gravy miraculously transforms a little into a little more. Even when the holiday table resembles a groaning board, much depends upon good gravy. It is the balm that can soothe—not to mention moisten and camouflage—any shortcomings in the rest of the Thanksgiving menu.
We know that the first celebration that came to be known as Thanksgiving was at Plymouth Colony in 1621, a collaborative effort between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag. As young schoolchildren, we are taught that their feast included turkey. Given the abundance of wild turkeys and other game reported by William Bradford, that is certainly plausible. But we’ll never know for sure. Not a single attendee pulled out a phone and posted his dinner plate on Twitter or Instagram.
As with dressing or stuffing, most people prefer the style of gravy that they grew up with. For some, that is gravy so full of giblets and other bits that a trowel is in order. As for me and mine, we like gravy that is smooth and silky, so that’s the kind I offer here.
My gravy is rooted in rich homemade double-strength turkey stock so fully formed that it could pass for clear soup. This type of stock has body and soul. Good stock isn’t difficult, but it isn’t quick, either. The heartening news is that the turkey stock can be made well before T-Day, letting us check something big off our to-do list.
Rich and Redeeming Turkey Gravy
This recipe assumes that you have roasted a turkey in a sturdy roasting pan, rendering delicious drippings to use in the gravy. If you deep-fried your turkey or don’t have drippings for some other reason, you can use all butter, but the gravy won’t be quite as flavorful. This recipe can be doubled for more servings or more deliberate leftovers.
Makes about 4 cups
1/2 cup dry white wine
4 tablespoons turkey fat and pan dripping
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
1/2 cup instant or all-purpose flour
4 cups Rich Turkey Stock, warmed (recipe follows)
1/4 cup cream or half-and-half
2 tablespoons dry Sherry or Madeira
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- After the turkey is done and has been transferred to a carving board or serving platter to rest, carefully pour off all but about 4 tablespoons of the fat and drippings, leaving the browned bits stuck to the bottom of the roasting pan.
- Place the pan over two stove-top burners and heat over medium-high heat. When the browned bits begin to sizzle, add the wine and scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan with a heat-proof spatula. Add a splash of water if needed to loosen it all up. When the liquid has nearly cooked away, add the butter.
- When the butter stops foaming, sprinkle in the flour. Cook, whisking constantly, until the flour is toasty brown and smells nutty, about 4 minutes. Don’t let it scorch.
- Whisking constantly, add the warm stock in a slow, steady stream. Change from the whisk to a heat-proof spatula or wooden spoon that covers more of the surface of the pan. Stir constantly until the gravy thickens and comes just a boil, about 8 minutes.
- Stir in the cream, Sherry, and thyme and heat through. Season to taste with salt and plenty of pepper.
- To adjust the consistency, add more hot stock to thin the gravy or simmer for a few minutes longer to thicken it. Keep warm over low heat or in a large Thermos until ready to serve.
Rich Turkey Stock
Because so many cooks roast only breasts instead of full birds these days, it’s easy and astonishingly inexpensive to buy turkey parts a la carte. You can buy wings, thighs, and legs, the bony pieces that yield the natural gelatin and deep flavor that gives this stock enough body to congeal when refrigerated. Even if you plan to cook a whole bird, buying extra spare parts lets you make more stock, and in turn, more gravy than one bird will yield. Use any stock not needed for gravy in the dressing, day-after soups and casseroles, or other recipes.
Homemade stock takes a while, but most of that time is unattended.
Makes 2 quarts
6 to 8 pounds bony turkey parts, such as wings, thighs, and legs
2 cups water, plus more as needed
1 large yellow onion, quartered
1 large carrot, cut into 2-inch lengths
2 large celery stalks, cut into 2-inch lengths
1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
2 large sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 large sprig fresh thyme
- Preheat the oven to 400°F. Arrange the turkey pieces in a large roasting pan. Roast until well-browned, about 1 1/2 hours. Transfer the pieces to a large stock pot.
- Set the roasting pan over 2 burners. Add the 2 cups of water and bring to a boil, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom. Pour the liquid into the pot.
- Add the onion, carrot, celery, peppercorns, bay leaf, parsley, and thyme. Cover with cold water to a depth of 1 inch.
- Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat, partially cover the pot, and simmer until the bones fall apart and the vegetables are very soft, 2 to 2 1/2 hours. From time to time, skim off the foam and debris that collects on top.
- Strain the stock, gently pressing on the solids to extract the liquid.
- Rinse out the stock pot and pour the strained liquid back into it. Simmer uncovered until the stock reduces to about 2 quarts, about 1 hour longer. The stock should be deeply flavorful and be the color of weak tea.
Make-Ahead Note: The stock can be made up to four days ahead. Let cool uncovered. Transfer into an air-tight container and refrigerate. Just before using, remove the layer of fat that collects on top and bring the stock just to a boil. Use the fat to supplement your pan drippings in the gravy, if needed. The stock can be frozen in airtight freezer bags or canning jars with tight-fitting lids for up to three months.
▪ Got giblets? People either adore the innardy je ne sais quoi that giblets give to gravy or are horrified by the very thought and sight. If you love them, use them. Cut the turkey neck into 1-inch pieces with a cleaver or heavy knife. Cook the neck pieces, wing tips, heart, and gizzard in 2 tablespoons of butter in a skillet over medium heat until well-browned all over, about 10 minutes. Add them to the stock pot along with the roasted turkey parts. (Don’t include the liver because it can make the stock bitter. If you are a fan of liver, add it to your stuffing or dressing instead.)
When you strain the stock, retrieve the neck and giblets. Pick the nubbins of meat from the neck and discard the skin and bones. Finely chop the neck meat and giblets and refrigerate until needed. Stir them into the gravy in Step 5. Don’t be tempted to use the rest of the turkey meat. It will have given its all to the stock.
▪ Don’t salt the stock. It’s an ingredient, not a finished product. Season the gravy instead. This is especially true when roasting a brined turkey, which might yield salty drippings.
▪ If you want to use your leftover turkey carcass to make stock, use it instead of the turkey parts. There is no need to roast or brown it further. Instead, just place it in the stock pot along with the vegetables and herbs, cover with cold water, and proceed with the recipe. Because there is less meat left on a carcass, this method yields only about 1 quart of stock.
Sheri Castle is a food writer, cooking teacher, and author of The New Southern Garden Cookbook. She lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and is fueled by farmers’ market fare, good stories, and excellent bourbon.