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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|3 Quarts (Approx.)||20 minutes|
|Cook Time||Passive Time|
|3-1/2 to 4 hours||3 to 3-1/2 hours|
- 4 pounds turkey legs and/or thighs bone-in, skin-on
- 2 pounds turkey wings
- 2 large carrots roughly chopped
- 2 celery stalks preferably with leaves, roughly chopped
- 2 yellow onions roughly chopped with skin on
- 1 head garlic unpeeled and halved width-wise
- 8 - 10 sprigs thyme (about 1 small bunch)
- 10 sprigs parsley
- 2 dried bay leaves
- 2 t-spoons whole black peppercorns
- 3 - 4 tablespoons olive oil divided
- Splash dry white wine such as chardonnay (optional)
- Turkey neck and giblets (EXCEPT liver)
- 5 quarts cold water
- 2 - 3 t-spoons kosher salt
- 1/2 cup flour
- 4 tablespoons butter softened at room temperature
- 6 - 7 tablespoons pan drippings from turkey roasting pan (strained through a fine mesh sieve)
- Place a enameled cast iron Dutch oven or some other large, heavy-bottomed pan over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes to heat it through.
- Toss the turkey legs and/or thighs with enough oil to lightly coat them. Increase the heat to medium/medium-high, give it a minute or two, and sear the turkey skin-side down in batches until browned. Flip them over and sear another few minutes before moving to a large stockpot (something fairly wide, too, to aid in the reduction of the stock) and carry on with searing, including the neck and giblets.
- Add a bit more oil to the pan and tumble in the vegetables—cook for about 5 – 7 minutes, until slightly browned on the outside and just beginning to soften. Toss in the herbs, bay leaf and peppercorns and stir just to combine.
- If you’re using the wine, glug in a splash or two to deglaze the pan before dumping everything into the stockpot with the turkey. Pour over the water, and bring it to a gentle simmer without letting it boil. Season it with salt and skim any impurities that float to the top.
- You can simmer for 1 ½ hours before removing the turkey and continue to simmer for 1 – 1 ½ hours more (using the turkey meat for another purpose). If you simmer the stock with the turkey in it for the entire time it won’t have much flavor left to it when done so it’s best to just discard it.
- Strain the stock through a colander to remove all the vegetables and such, and then again, having lined the colander with at least 2 layers of cheesecloth to catch any stray bits. Check for seasoning, adding a bit of salt if needed, and for strength—keep in mind that when it comes time to make the gravy you’ll simmer the stock a bit so it will reduce a little then especially if you’re fortifying it with the neck and giblets later.
- Cool the stock to room temperature and then chill in the fridge for a day so you can scrape the access fat off.
- This will keep in the fridge for about a week, or in the freezer for 4 – 6 months.
- (If you have necks and giblets to fortify the stock with heat a bit of butter and oil in a saucepan, about 4-quart in size. Sear the necks and giblets (EXCEPT the liver—save this for another use or discard it) in the pan on each side briefly before pouring in the stock. Bring to a gentle simmer and keep it there for an hour. Then, remove the organs and such, discard, and carry on.)
- Put the stock in a saucepan that fits it very comfortably (about 4-quart in size). Bring it to a boil.
- Meanwhile, mash together about ½ cup flour with 4 tablespoons of butter until it’s combined as much as possible. Take any pan drippings from your roasted turkey, having strained them through a fine mesh sieve to catch any stray bits until you have about 6 – 7 tablespoons, and whisk enough into the flour-butter mash until you have a smooth, but thick, paste.
- Once the stock is boiling, add about half of the flour-butter-dripping mix to it, whisking the stock vigorously all the while. Let it boil for a couple minutes, then knock back the heat and simmer for about 5 minutes. Check the thickness—if you want it thicker, repeat the boil-whisk-simmer process above. The additional thickening required will vary; the natural collagen and gelatin in the turkey bones and skin help to aid thickening (which is why the stock will shake like Jell-O when it’s cold), but the levels of collagen vary slightly per animal, as do our preferences for gravy thickness. I usually end up using the whole flour mix in mine.
- Make the stock at least 3 days in advance—this way it has time to chill in the fridge so the fat can be easily skimmed
- I usually use the neck and giblets from my turkey, so I wait until Thanksgiving day to sear and simmer them in the stock