The gravy train
With all the hoopla surrounding the Thanksgiving turkey—to brine or not, to stuff or not, to baste or not—not to mention the myriad sides, the gravy is often relegated to the back burner, so to speak. But this essential sauce can mask a multitude of sins (dry turkey, gluey mashed potatoes, leaden stuffing) and deserves more careful consideration. There are several schools of thought on what makes the best gravy, though pan drippings and giblets are generally involved, and for some reason it seems to be a frequent source of anxiety. So what if I told you a rich and flavorful version could be yours without the bother of skimming fat and whisking in flour?
Yes, stock is required, and I’m going to recommend that you make your own. Most turkeys come with the neck and giblets stowed in the cavity and these (without the liver, its taste is too strong) can be simmered with onion, carrot, celery, parsley and a bay leaf while the turkey roasts. The resulting stock usually becomes the base of a gravy that requires a roux and defatted pan drippings to achieve the desired thick texture. It is not unusual for chalky lumpiness to ensue. But there’s another technique, taught to me by an old friend many moons ago, that forever banished disappointing gravy from my Thanksgiving table.
It starts with a great big pile of onions, shallots and garlic—far more than you think necessary. Peel them all and pile them into your roasting pan. Then you can either set your turkey on a rack or directly on top of this vegetable layer. I’ve done both and find that I don’t care that much about the skin on the back of the turkey getting crisp, so I usually just skip the rack. Then proceed as usual. Baste the turkey with whatever you like—butter, stock, apple juice—remembering that whatever it is will get absorbed by the onions, shallots and garlic in the bottom of the pan. And this lovely mess will become your gravy.
When the turkey is done and you’ve removed it to a carving board to rest, simply puree everything left in the pan in your blender or food processor. The vegetables, the fat, the browned bits—they’ve absorbed every bit of the gooey goodness of the drippings, making an unbelievably thick, sweet, oniony sauce that is totally irresistible. It will be so thick, in fact, that you’ll need that stock you’ve made to thin it out a bit. Place it in a heavy saucepan and add some dry sherry, fresh sage and black pepper to balance out the flavors. A little cream is optional. If you’ve salted your bird generously, you probably won’t need to add any more now. This brings up an important point: the drippings from a brined turkey can be quite salty, so you may want to consider a quick blanch before roasting, which leaches out much of the salt. It makes a little more work at the outset but the rest, as they say, is all gravy.
Oniony Pan Gravy
Makes about 4 cups
8 yellow onions, peeled and quartered
18 shallots peeled and halved
3 heads garlic, separated into cloves and peeled
1-2 cups homemade turkey stock
1/4 cup dry sherry, or to taste
10 fresh sage leaves, finely minced
1/4-1/3 cup cream, optional
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Mix together the onions, shallots and garlic and spread them on the bottom of your roasting pan. Place turkey on top, with or without a rack, and roast according to your recipe.
When turkey is done, remove pan from oven and place turkey, lightly covered with foil, on a platter or cutting board to rest. Using a slotted spoon, remove cooked vegetables and cool slightly. Then puree in blender or food processor, in batches if needed, adding stock to keep things moving.
Transfer puree to a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-low heat and thin with additional warm stock to desired consistency. Stir in sherry, sage and cream, if using. Season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.