When there are pies to bake, potatoes to mash, and a turkey to carve, the gravy can become an afterthought, often thrown together at the last minute amid the chaos of getting all the food to the table. At that point, there’s no time to eke out a flavorful stock for the base, and the roasted bird may or may not have generated the drippings you were counting on to infuse the gravy with rich turkey flavor. The result—whether gloppy, runny, greasy, or just plain dull—is a shame, since many of us drizzle gravy over the entire plate.
After spending weeks reimagining the gravy-making process from start to finish, I came away with an approach that produces a full-bodied gravy that truly tastes like turkey and can be almost entirely prepared days (or even weeks) ahead of time. Best of all, you don’t need drippings to make it taste great (though you should certainly add them if you have them), and the recipe can be easily tweaked to accommodate guests with dietary restrictions. Read on and I’ll review the important points.
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Start with a Seriously Flavorful Stock
Gravy is simply a sauce made by seasoning and thickening stock, so it’s essential that the stock be full-flavored. And the most critical component in building flavor is creating a good fond.
Fond refers to the flavor-packed browned bits and tacky layer of evaporated juices that form on the bottom of a pan when meat or vegetables are browned. The brown color is a sign that the proteins and sugars have undergone the Maillard reaction and transformed into hundreds of new flavor compounds that can add terrific savory depth when the fond is incorporated into a gravy or another sauce.
The first step in most gravy recipes is to build fond by searing turkey parts such as the neck and giblets. But we came up with an approach that’s more effective:
Our Favorite Turkey GravyOf course it had to taste great. But we also wanted a gravy that could be made in advance, didn't require drippings, and could accommodate dietary restrictions.
1. Simmer Turkey Parts to Create Fond
Instead of initially searing the parts, we simmer them in chicken broth until the liquid evaporates. That may sound counterintuitive to browning, but simmering actually extracts the juices and fat much more thoroughly than searing does. The proof is visible on the bottom of the pot: Once the liquid evaporates, the entire bottom of the vessel is coated with a gorgeously browned layer of fond.
2. Use Broth, Not Water
Many gravy recipes call for a combination of chicken broth and water, but the latter dilutes flavor and requires reducing to concentrate savoriness. We use only broth.
3. Use a Dutch Oven, Not a Saucepan
Instead of a large saucepan, which offers about 40 square inches of surface area, we opted for the 75 square inches of a large Dutch oven. More surface area in the pot allows more of the drippings to make contact with the hot pan bottom and brown; this results in maximum fond development and a more flavorful stock.
4. Add Fat and Skin for Extra Flavor
In addition to using the neck, heart, and gizzard (we avoid the liver; its strong mineral flavor ruins gravy) to create fond, we trimmed excess skin from the top of the breast and excess fat from the bottom of the cavity and added those to the pot as well.
Once we created our great fond, we proceeded with the usual steps for making stock: We sautéed the aromatics, deglazed the pot with wine, added more broth, covered the pot to limit evaporation, simmered the stock for about 1 hour, and strained out the solids.
Don't Defat the Stock
Gravy recipes often call for defatting the stock, but that’s a mistake. In tests, we found that the bird’s fat is integral to making gravy that tastes like turkey—not just generically like poultry—because an animal’s fat is a repository for its unique aromatic compounds.
The Complete Autumn and Winter CookbookThe colder months of autumn and winter are a time of cozying up and gathering with those closest to us. And what better way to spend those chillier nights than cooking new recipes or using new ingredients?
Be Sure to Brown the Roux
The stock is whisked into a roux, a cooked paste of roughly equal parts fat and flour, and the roux transforms the liquid stock into a full-bodied gravy. The key to making a good one is taking the time to cook the mixture until it’s deep golden brown, since that color translates into a gravy with equally rich color and nutty depth. Browning the roux also yields a gravy that stays fluid longer (a boon to dinner guests who go back for second helpings) because the starches in the flour break down into smaller molecules that are slow to link up with one another as the gravy cools.
Add Drippings (If You've Got Them)
If you have them, adding drippings to the finished gravy will make it taste even better. Be sure to defat them first (the stock adds enough fat), and don’t add more than 1/4 cup or the gravy will be too thin.
Make Gluten-Free Turkey Gravy
Flour is used to thicken most turkey gravies, but our recipe works just fine with an equal amount of a gluten-free flour blend. We prefer a non-bean formula, such as those from Pillsbury and King Arthur Flour. (Alternatively, you can make and use the test kitchen’s gluten-free flour blend.) Don’t substitute cornstarch for the flour; because cornstarch contains less protein and a higher proportion of starch, it doesn’t brown as well and yields gravy with a slippery consistency.
Make Alcohol-Free Turkey Gravy
Wine adds bright acidity to gravy, but we found that you can achieve the same effect by adding cider vinegar diluted with water.
Make It Ahead
To avoid as much last-minute work as possible, there are two make-ahead opportunities built into the recipe. The turkey stock can be prepared and refrigerated three days in advance or the gravy can be prepared and frozen up to two weeks ahead and gently reheated with the drippings (if using).