Gravy should be the Thanksgiving host’s pièce de résistance, not a last-minute afterthought that’s thrown together amid the chaos of getting all the food to the table. This approach 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). Read on and I’ll review the key points.
1. Start with Seriously Flavorful Stock
The most critical component in building flavor is creating a good fond: the flavor-packed browned bits and evaporated juices that form on the bottom of a pan when meat or vegetables are browned. Most gravy recipes build fond by searing turkey parts such as the neck and giblets, but I found that first simmering the turkey parts in chicken broth until the liquid evaporates actually extracts the juices and fat much more thoroughly. Once the liquid evaporates, the entire bottom of the vessel is coated with a gorgeously browned layer of fond. To maximize the effect, do the simmering in a large Dutch oven instead of a saucepan, since it offers almost twice as much surface area for fond development.
2. Bolster The Fond with Fat and Skin
Trimming excess fat and skin from the raw turkey (found at the top of the breast and the bottom of the cavity) and adding it to the pot along with the neck, heart, and gizzard will generate more drippings to enrich the fond. (The roasted bird will look prettier, too.)
3. Don't Defat the Stock
Turkey 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.
4. Brown the Roux
Before adding the stock, take the time to cook this fat-and-flour paste 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.
5. Add Drippings (If You've Got Them)
Drippings aren’t essential, but will make the finished gravy 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.
6. Make It Ahead
To cut back on last-minute work, prepare and refrigerate the turkey stock up to three days in advance. Alternatively, prepare and freeze the gravy up to two weeks ahead and gently reheat it with the drippings (if using).
Sign up for the Cook's Insider newsletter
The latest recipes, tips, and tricks, plus behind-the-scenes stories from the Cook's Illustrated team.