Call in the spin doctors. Gravy needs a new image. Gravy's been maligned--it's good name destroyed by bad cafeteria versions and, worse yet, by instant and jarred varieties. But good homemade gravy is wonderful. It moistens turkey. Elevates mashed potatoes. Beats butter on biscuits. Too bad it's so hard to find.

Maybe there was a time when everyone who could cook could make gravy. But changing times have relegated it to special occasions only. Lack of practice has made even the best of cooks gravy phobic. Fear of lumps, fear of grease, fear of failure--call it what you will--gravy is a cooking challenge.

Now the good news: Gravy may be the easiest thing to cook on your Thanksgiving menu. All you need is a decent chicken or turkey stock (even a good canned broth will do) and the drippings from the turkey. Whisk the fat from the drippings with some flour, add stock or broth and bring to a simmer. Season with extra drippings and salt and pepper to taste and the gravy is done. Follow this recipe and you can leave the ranks of the gravy fearful forever.

Turkey Gravy

(Makes about 2 cups, eight 1/4-cup servings)

Keep this recipe on file and pull it out when the occasion arises.

4 tablespoons turkey fat (from the drippings) *

4 tablespoons flour

2 cups turkey stock (recipe follows), chicken stock or chicken broth, heated until almost boiling, plus additional if needed

Defatted drippings from the turkey-roasting pan to taste

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a medium saute pan or pot over medium heat, heat the turkey fat. Add the flour, whisking it with the fat, and cook for 2 minutes. Add the hot stock or broth, whisking to combine. Continue to heat, whisking occasionally, until the gravy simmers and thickens, about 5 minutes. Add the defatted drippings and salt and pepper to taste and strain if desired. If the gravy is thicker than you like it, thin with a little more stock. Serve immediately.

* Note: The simplest way to separate the fat from the drippings is to pour all the liquid from the roasting pan into a fat-separator cup. After it stands for 1 to 2 minutes, you can pour out the drippings through the spout, leaving the fat behind.

Per 1/4-cup serving (with low-sodium chicken broth): 83 calories, 1 gm protein, 4 gm carbohydrates, 7 gm fat, 7 mg cholesterol, 2 gm saturated fat, 10 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber

Turkey Stock

(Makes about 8 cups)

Here's the key to superior gravy--a rich stock. It can be made days or even months ahead (just freeze until needed), and it adds incomparable flavor. You can use the turkey neck, heart and giblets that come inside the turkey (but not the liver, which would make the stock bitter). And supplement with extra turkey wings to come up with the 4 pounds of parts for this recipe. This recipe makes enough for plenty of gravy and can also be used for the turkey-leftovers soup.

The stock is only lightly seasoned. Add salt and pepper to taste before serving.

4 pounds turkey parts

1 pound onions (about 2 medium), coarsely chopped

1/2 pound carrots (about 4), coarsely chopped

1/2 pound celery stalks (about 3 medium), coarsely chopped

12 cups water

1 tablespoon salt

1 teaspoon peppercorns

3 bay leaves

In a large stockpot, combine all of the ingredients. Bring the mixture to a boil, skimming and discarding any foam that accumulates on the surface. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 2 to 2 1/2 hours.

Strain the stock; discard the vegetables, meat and bones. Place the stock in a clean stainless-steel pot and cool in an ice-water bath. Skim off any fat that accumulates and reserve. (If you want to make the gravy ahead of time, you can use this fat and later reheat the gravy, adding hot broth to thin if necessary.) Refrigerate until ready to use.