Editor’s note: This year, our Thanksgiving meal is a virtual potluck. Writers and editors signed up to provide one of 11 dishes, then tested recipes and brought contenders to a final taste-off for a vote. Here’s the winning gravy.
At its essence, gravy is an imperative afterthought. It isn’t complicated, and it’s a way to reclaim intense flavor that would have otherwise been lost to the pan.
In most cases, you don’t set out to make gravy. It just kind of happens as a byproduct after cooking a hunk of meat.
But if gravy is your only job, there are still ways to make it happen.
Chef Ian Boden of the Shack in Staunton, Va., has put a lot of thought into gravy. After he got married, his in-laws wanted him to re-create the Thanksgiving gravy of a family matriarch. They all loved Grandma Tissy, and they all loved her gravy.
The trick for Boden was that he had never met Tissy, and he’d never tasted her gravy. He had to ignore everything he knew about fine dining before he figured out that a long-cooked, almost-burnt roux yielded the flavor the family remembered. The keys were letting the flour cook unevenly and not fussing over it.
Boden makes his gravy at the last minute, while the bird is resting. But his process can work in advance.
The key is a good stock. You’re more likely to have chicken stock than turkey, but chicken is a pretty neutral flavor, and it’s easy to persuade it to mimic turkey stock by letting it steep with a few roasted necks. You can buy stock in the box at the store, but your gravy will be better if you make your own. Much better.
Remember. This is your only job.
To make a gravy that’s special enough for the holidays, get it a little tipsy. A shot of Madeira adds a sweetness and complexity that’ll make your mashed potatoes that much more interesting. And find out who’s bringing the turkey, so you can arrange to siphon off some of the drippings to bolster the turkey flavor at the last minute.
For Boden, the biggest sacrifice in making gravy in advance is building the roux with butter instead of the fat rendered from the turkey while it roasts.
“I can get over that,” he said.
Which is good, because the gravy is going to go over everything else.
Jim Webster is the co-author, with chef Mario Batali, of “Big American Cookbook: 250 Favorite Recipes From Across the USA.”
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12 servings (makes 5 cups)
This rich gravy is mostly done in advance, which makes it potluck-friendly. The secret to its depth of flavor is a very dark roux. Madeira adds complexity.
We tested the recipe with homemade and with store-bought broth, and we strongly recommend using homemade.
MAKE AHEAD: The gravy can be made a day in advance; reheat over medium-low heat, with fresh roast turkey drippings stirred in just before serving.
Raw turkey necks are available at Harvey’s Market in the District’s Union Market.
Adapted from a recipe by Ian Boden, chef at the Shack in Staunton, Va.
2 to 3 pounds raw turkey necks and/or wings (not smoked)
6 cups homemade chicken broth (see headnote)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 small red onion, minced
6 tablespoons Madeira
8 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt, or more as needed
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more as needed
1 cup strained, defatted turkey drippings (may substitute 1 more cup of broth)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Place the turkey necks and/or wings on a baking sheet; roast for about 1 hour or until dark brown.
Bring the broth to a boil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the roasted turkey parts, then reduce the heat to low and cook, partially covered, for 2 hours. Strain, discarding the solids. The yield is 4 cups.
Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Stir in the onion and cook for about 6 minutes or until it softens. Increase the heat to medium-high; add 2 tablespoons of the Madeira and cook for about 2 minutes or until it has evaporated. Transfer the onion to a plate.
Reduce the heat to medium; add the remaining 7 tablespoons of butter. Once that has melted, stir in the flour. Cook for about 30 minutes to develop a very dark brown roux with perhaps a few black flecks, stirring occasionally.
Quickly whisk in 1 cup of the broth; as soon as that is incorporated, whisk in the remaining 3 cups of broth. Return the onion to the pan, whisking to incorporate. Increase the heat to medium-high, whisking to form a thickened gravy. Add the teaspoon each of salt and pepper and the remaining 4 tablespoons of Madeira, whisking until smooth. Remove from the heat.
At this point, the gravy base can be refrigerated.
Just before serving, reheat over medium heat, stirring a few times to keep the gravy from scorching. Whisk in the cup of drippings. Taste, and add salt and/or pepper, as needed. Serve warm.
Nutrition | Per serving: 110 calories, 2 g protein, 6 g carbohydrates, 8 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 20 mg cholesterol, 490 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 0 g sugar
Recipe tested by Jim Webster; email questions to email@example.com
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