For the home cook, Thanksgiving can be the most stressful day of the year. The crux of the problem is not only the extravagant length of the menu, but the need to serve every dish piping hot at exactly the same moment, a problem made all the more acute by the fact that the oven is probably going to be hogged by the big bird for most of the day.
What’s a cook to do?
I’ll offer two pieces of advice. First, keep in mind that the turkey will stay rip-roaring hot for up to an hour after you pull it from the oven. This gives us ample time to use the oven to cook stuffing or pies. Secondly, many dishes can be made a day ahead, such as the gravy. Here’s how it’s done.
Start by making a stock. Ideally, your turkey will have defrosted enough to allow you to extract the package of giblets and the neck from inside the bird’s cavity. You should also cut off the last joint of the turkey wings.
Combine all these parts in a pot with chicken broth and vegetables and simmer for several hours. (Leave out the liver, which would make your stock bitter.) Starting with chicken broth rather than water seriously amps the flavor. Then again, if making turkey stock from scratch strikes you as too much trouble, just omit this step and start your gravy with store-bought chicken broth.
How much gravy do you need? I recommend ½ cup per person.
To turn the stock into gravy, it must be thickened. The formula is 2 tablespoons each of fat and flour for every cup of liquid. So, a quart of stock (4 cups) will require ½ cup (one stick) of butter and ½ cup of flour, preferably Wondra, which is formulated to help prevent lumps.) If you can’t find Wondra, all-purpose flour will do.
Start by melting the butter in a saucepan, adding the flour, and cooking it for several minutes. Heat the stock to roughly the same temperature as the roux (the flour-butter mixture) before mix them together.
Mix well and constantly when you combine the roux and the liquid.
To maximize the flour’s thickening ability, it must be heated to no less than 200 degrees. Then let the gravy simmer for at least as many minutes as you have tablespoons of flour. Season it, then place a sheet of parchment paper or plastic wrap on the surface to prevent a skin from forming while it cools, then chill it.
On the great day itself, after you’ve transferred the turkey to a platter to rest, you should “marry” the gravy to the pan drippings by deglazing the bottom of the pan (with all those tasty bits) using wine, broth or water. Then add your make-ahead gravy and heat it up.
MAKE-AHEAD TURKEY GRAVY
The turkey stock used in this gravy recipe takes a few hours to make, but it is mostly hands off. It can be done up to several days ahead of time and refrigerated. Don’t feel like making your own turkey stock? Use chicken stock and start the recipe at the “To prepare the gravy” stage.
Start to finish: 4 hours (30 minutes active)
For the stock:
The giblets, neck and wing tips from the turkey
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth or water
1 small yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1 small carrot, halved lengthwise
1 celery rib, halved lengthwise
1 small parsnip, halved lengthwise
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 sprig fresh parsley
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
For the gravy:
½ cup turkey fat (skimmed from the stock) or butter
¹/³ cup Wondra flour or all-purpose flour
Salt and ground black pepper
1 cup dry white wine (optional)
To prepare the stock, in a small to medium saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the giblets, neck and wing tips with the chicken broth. Bring to a boil, then immediately reduce to a simmer, skimming and discarding the scum that rises to the surface.
After about 20 minutes, when there is no more scume, add the onion, carrot, celery, parsnip, thyme, parsley, bay leaf and peppercorns. Return to a simmer and cook, adding water as needed to maintain the level, for 3 to 4 hours. Set aside to cool. Once cooled, skim off and reserve any fat that accumulates on the surface. Strain the stock and discard the solids. Set the stock aside.
To prepare the gravy, if your stock has been chilled, heat it just to a simmer.
In a medium skillet over medium-low, heat the turkey fat until melted. If you don’t have a full ½ cup of fat from making the stock, substitute butter for the missing fat. Add the flour and whisk until the roux (the butter-flour mixture) looks like wet sand, about 2 to 3 minutes.
Add the warm stock in a stream, whisking or stirring, and bring it to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer the gravy, stirring occasionally, for 8 minutes. Don’t worry if the gravy seems thick, you will be adding more liquid when you finish it. Season with salt and pepper. Let cool slightly, transfer to a bowl and cover the surface of the gravy with kitchen parchment. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill until ready to use.
When the turkey is cooked and resting on a platter, it is time to finish the gravy. Pour off any fat from the roasting pan, then place the pan over 2 burners. Heat the pan over medium heat. Add the wine, if using, or a cup of chicken broth or water to the pan and simmer, scraping up the brown bits with a metal spatula, until the liquid is reduced by half.
Add the make-ahead gravy, stirring, and some of the juices from the turkey resting platter. Simmer the gravy in the pan until it is reduced to the desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper.