Good Gravy!

Tonight I had the pleasure of making 1/2 gallon of gravy for my husband’s office Thanksgiving dinner.  I got to practice last night in a Thanksgiving Sides and Seasonings class, so the process was fresh on my mind.  I don’t make gravy often.  Pan sauces sometimes, but gravy is a real indulgence around here. 

Too bad I was so full from my shared burger from the Napa River Grill – really good.  I have to say it is one of the best burgers in town. But too full to slurp up some gravy samples, I put the pan in the freezer to do a quick chill and we’ll move it to the crock pot for it’s transport to Franfort tomorrow.

It’s a good thing sometimes to block the early days of one’s learning to cook.  I suppose that I take gravy making for granted, but if I really puzzled on it, I could think back to some really lumpy, really bland batches of gravy.  So, it’s understandable that beginners would be a bit nervous about the upcoming big day.  Not to worry!  Good gravy is just a few minutes away.

I use two basic techniques for making gravy.  Roux based gravy begins (as you might imagine) with fat and flour.  The fat can be butter, oil, bacon fat or even rendered fat from the turkey (chill the juices reserved from roasting the bird, then remove the fat that accumulates on top of the liquid).  I usually just use butter.

The second method is to add a slurry of cornstarch and cold liquid to the pan juices, bring to a boil to completely thicken the gravy and cook away the pasty taste of the cornstarch, then season as desired.  I use this method most when thickening a gravy in a pot roast or adding a bit of texture to a soup or stir fry.  The roux method is my Turkey Day choice.

Before I give the 1-2-3 of the recipe, let’s talk about seasonings and stock.  I really like the look and the taste of fresh herbs in my gravy (and stuffing, and turkey…) and I am still harvesting fresh parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme (hummm…) from my herb garden. If you aren’t that lucky, find a neighbor who grows herbs, or go to a local fruit market to get your little bundles of joy.  Since my tarragon is long gone from my garden, I will rely on dried.

For the liquid in the gravy, I like to use a combination of chicken stock base, pan drippings (minus the fat) and chicken or turkey stock.  My chicken stock base is Better than Boullion.  In a paste form, you can use as little or as much as you need to flavor your gravy.  BTB comes in a turkey variety too, but I use the chicken regularly, so I just go with that.  It keeps a long while in your refrigerator and takes up much less space than boxes or cans of broth.

So, here is my method for gravy.  It’s pretty straightforward.  You could even make it a day or so ahead of time, and re-heat it prior to serving.  Adding the skimmed pan dripping will really enhance the flavor.

Thanksgiving Day Gravy

4 Tbls unsalted butter

1/2 small onion, minced

2 ribs celery, minced

salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup flour

2-3 oz dry white wine

1 quart chicken or turkey stock

Better than boullion (chicken or turkey flavor)

Fresh herbs, as desired ( I like parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme and tarragon)

A bit of additional liquid to adjust viscosity (pan drippings, cream or water)

Begin by melting the butter and sauteing the onion and celery until very soft.  Add the flour and cook for 2-3 minutes or until the flour begins to brown a bit.  Don’t worry if the browning flour coats the pan, the liquid will deglaze the pan and the browned flour bits (fond) will flavor the gravy nicely.  Add the wine to the pan and allow the alcohol to burn off by simmering for 2 minutes or so. 

Add the bulk of the stock to the pan, stirring with a whisk to smooth out the sauce and help to get the fond incorporated into the mix.  Once the sauce is uniformly smooth, you’ll begin to make some decisions.  Taste the sauce and see what you think.  If the sauce is very bland, I would begin by adding a bit of BTB, maybe about 2 tsp.  You can alway add more.  Then, add some fresh herbs, stirring to incorporate.  Taste again.  Does the gravy need a bit of salt, pepper or even a tiny pinch of cayenne pepper?

Add the seasonings in small amounts, then decide whether you’d like the gravy to be thicker or thinner.  If it’s perfect, you’re done!  If you’d like a gravy on the thin side, you may choose to add some additional liquid or even the pan drippings.  If the gravy is too thin, simmer it for a bit to reduce the liquid level by evaporation.

If you have gotten a bit carried away with the seasonings, don’t despair!  Add a bit of cream or some additional broth and see if that helps. 

You might like to add the giblets from the turkey to the finished gravy.  Also, mushrooms would be good.  Add these when the celery and onions are nearly soft.




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