Making Pan Gravy on Thanksgiving

I’d like to think the reason I’m the one assigned to make the Thanksgiving gravy each year has to do with my superior way with seasonings or proficiency with a whisk. But that’s wrong. Rather, it’s what I get for squawking too much. “Fine, you do it next time,” is what Mrs. Banks finally said to me a few holidays back after I commented, for what she later insisted was “the umpteenth gosh darn Thanksgiving in a row,” that while the dinner was just great, the gravy had been a bit on the thick/thin/dark/lightly seasoned/too salty side. I apparently also complained that there wasn’t enough. What can I say? Thanksgiving gravy must bring out the fusspot in me. I blame the tryptophan. Worse, I’d always end up being wrong on the facts–which I’d  realize the next day when I’d go to make a turkey sandwich and see to my horror that the leftover gravy had already been eaten entirely.

Anyway, the Thanksgiving gravy is my bailiwick now, and over the years I’ve developed a process for making it that turns out gravy that isn’t just reliably lump-free but also downright tasty. The main challenge with turkey pan gravy has of course to do with the sheer volume of liquid involved. When Mrs. Banks makes a gravy to go with roast chicken, for instance, she just sprinkles some flour over the drippings, whisks it into a roux and lets it cook for a few minutes, and then slowly whisks in some liquid. That doesn’t work as well with turkeys. A fully stuffed 20-lb bird will produce an ocean of drippings that won’t take well to being sprinkled with what would have to be a mountain of flour. The resulting gravy will likely be lumpy, too thin, too greasy, or some combination thereof.  Rather try it this way:

Turkey Giblet Pan Gravy

Remove the bird to a carving board, and pour the pan drippings from the roasting pan into a gravy separator. Place the empty roasting pan over a burner on your range. Turn on the hot water in the kitchen and keep it running. Spoon or pour a goodly portion of the fat that’s floated to the top of the separator—don’t be shy, a quarter cup or more—back into the pan. Set the heat on low. Whisk in an equivalent amount of flour into the fat. The resulting roux should be moist but not too greasy. Let it cook for two to three minutes.

Now, the moment of high drama: fill a large measuring cup with hot water and slowly whisk the water into the roux. Then whisk in another until it’s clear that the roux is thickening the mixture and not lumpening it. Once the thickener has set, add the drippings from the bottom of the gravy separator. If you’ve made stock from the turkey’s neck and giblets, pull out the liver and heart and set them on a carving board to cool. Add some turkey stock to the gravy until you get to the desired thickness. My brother-in-law Tom Moran likes to add a splash of white wine at this point, and I can’t say that that’s a bad idea. If the gravy gets to be too thin, don’t worry, let it cook down for awhile. Finely dice the liver and heart and add to the gravy. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

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