I am proud, though maybe I shouldn’t be, to say that I have made a lot of gravy. Thanksgiving is my holiday. Some people go gangbusters for Christmas, or outdo Roseanne on Halloween, but if there were one holiday that I put the most thought into it would be Thanksgiving. I start thinking about it weeks in advance; hell, I start cooking weeks in advance.
Don’t be alarmed when I say that—I make stock. When it comes to a Thanksgiving turkey, there’s nothing like a good homemade turkey stock for basting and, of course, gravy. I’ve used chicken stock, both store-bought and homemade, and it works fine, but the subtle nuance that turkey stock brings to everything is sorely missed when you substitute with chicken. Don’t get me wrong, a good Homemade Chicken Stock is nothing to scoff at, and in fact tastes very good still, but if you’re going to go through the effort to make stock—not that it’s troublesome by any means—why not make it turkey? Don’t confuse difficulty and time; this is easy as it gets, but takes some time though it’s virtually inactive on your part.
I tend to make a fairly large batch of about 3 quarts; for one, I’m not always certain exactly what I’ll be making or how many I’ll be feeding when I’m making the stock so this way I have enough for whatever I may need it for, but it also gives me extra stock for leftovers, should I need it. That said, you can always halve the recipe, and I do from time to time, especially if I’m only doing a lone turkey breast for the holiday, or plan on making my Day-After Turkey Stock for soups and other leftover purposes (though I always plan on making the Day-After Turkey Stock… No waste!). I typically get bone-in and skin-on turkey thighs in addition to a few wings, but this year there were no thighs when I went shopping so I opted for legs—they’re a bit more cumbersome, being a little harder to flip and move about when searing, but they work just as well. Either way, the thighs, legs, and wings are all fairly inexpensive so they’re perfect for stock-making, not to mention they have a far better flavor than the white meat. All in, I think the meat cost me about $9.00. Not bad.
Speaking of the meat, I don’t typically buy it for the sole purpose of making stock; it seems wasteful to me somehow. You simmer the meat for such a long time that you get a rich-tasting stock, but end up with totally flavorless meat at the end that’s only worth of the trash. I typically use scraps from chicken for chicken stock—backbones and wings from broken down chickens (nobody here touches the wings so I don’t bother cooking them—just save them for the stockpot) and picked-over carcasses of roasted chickens. Since I don’t typically have turkey scraps lying around, I do have to buy them. I know it’s inexpensive, but I still hate to throw any of it out. Then it hit me; chicken soup. Whenever my mother or grandmother made chicken noodle soup or Chicken & Dumpling Soup, a whole chicken was simmered in water until it was just cooked to make a broth before being removed, shredded, and added back to the broth before eating. The broth is flavorful, but so is the meat. So, I remove the meat from the pot after about an hour to hour and a half so that it’s cooked and still flavorful. The stock has the essence of the meat and just needs to be simmered for another hour or so to really concentrate and enrich its flavor, while the meat itself is still flavorful enough for another use—say Turkey Pot Pie, Turkey Noodle Soup, and so on (a co-worker was just telling me about turkey Bolognese… think about it).
The stock also gets some deep flavor from the turkey neck and giblets. As I mentioned in my Chicken Stock recipe, I don’t use the liver here because it can make the stock livery, and give it a slightly funky flavor so better to save it for another use—some people add it to their stuffing, I use it in lieu of ground beef or pork in some ragú. Typically I make the stock ahead of time (freeze and defrost it), and then once my turkey is thawed and ready to brine, I sear the neck and other giblets (sans liver) in pan before pouring in the stock and simmering away for about 30 minutes to an hour (you can keep it covered to keep it from reducing down too much). That said, you could also buy some necks and giblets from the store and sear them while you’re searing the thighs/legs and wings, saving the offal from the turkey for some Day-After stock. It’s an optional step, but it gives the stock such a rich flavor… and nobody needs to know they’re in there.
As easy as the stock is, the gravy itself is even easier. Basically, mash some flour and soft butter together before whisking in enough pan drippings from the turkey roasting pan to get you a smooth paste, that’s thick but still pourable. I strain the pan drippings from the roasting tray before whisking them into the flour paste to catch any weird bits of fat that hasn’t melted. With your stock at a full rolling boil, slowly stream in the flour mash while you whisk the stock vigorously. Keep it at a boil for 2 – 3 minutes, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 5 minutes, until thick. Perfect every time and just as easy as opening a gravy packet.
I promise you that you will not be disappointed with this. A perfect stock for basting your bird and making the best gravy you’ve ever taste. Don’t be ashamed if you find yourself taking a lone spoonful or two—yeah, it’s that good. And if you need a great turkey recipe check out my Orange & Pink Peppercorn Brined Turkey, or one of these.
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