Nowadays, you can cook a turkey just about any way you want. We have the technology and equipment readily at our disposal, from traditional roasting—radiant or convection—to smoking, deep-frying, and even boiling.
But, if your goal is to bathe just about everything on your Thanksgiving dinner plate with a silky rich, light-brown layer of homemade turkey gravy, then you need to narrow your choices and follow tradition: oven-roast the turkey. As a side benefit, your home will fill with the signature aromas of our annual Thanksgiving traditions.
Roasting—particularly roasting a stuffed turkey—melds the varying flavor components of seasonings on and within the turkey and captures them for transformation into the nectar of Thanksgiving dinner.
Thanksgiving dinner is no time or place for inferior gravy. There’s just no reason for it. Yes, there are several steps to making your own gravy, but each is simple and straightforward. And the result of your efforts will be rewarded generously with a gravy of glistening, silky texture, possessing an inimitable depth of flavor with complexity and nuance.
To start with, you need a wonderful roast turkey. For tips on that, see our online tutorial How to Roast a Turkey.
Pair that tutorial and the gravy instructions below, together with an absolutely fresh and incomparably delicious turkey from Lobel’s, and you’re well on your way to creating a roasted turkey dinner like none before it.
Tools of the Trade
Make sure you have on hand a few tools of the trade that will simplify the gravy-making process and help ensure impeccable results.
- Bulb baster – This is really a roast-turkey must-have, but it all works toward the same goal. The baster allows you to get to the bottom of the roasting pan to pull up the pan juices with which you baste the turkey. While you want the pan juices to concentrate during the roasting time, you do not want the roasting pan to run dry and burn. In this case, the baster can be used to add stock to the pan to keep the level about 1/4 inch deep.
- Colander – This is used to separate stock from the aromatic solids.
- Cheesecloth – This has two uses: The first is to line the colander for separating the stock. The second is to cover the turkey. When basting the turkey, the cheesecloth will absorb the basting juices and hold them to the turkey longer before evaporating.
- Gravy separator – Once you’ve separated the stock from the solids, you need to separate the fat from the stock. Of course, this can be done by chilling the stock and then removing the hardened fat, or skimming with a paper towel that’s been snipped into a row of strips to resemble a comb. But with hot stock, the most efficient way to go is a gravy separator.
The separator looks like a measuring cup with a spout at the bottom. To de-fat the stock, simply pour it into the separator, wait until the fat rises to the top and then pour off the stock from the bottom, leaving the fat inside the separator.
Now, you can use the separated fat in making the roux for the gravy, and then add the stock to the roux to finish the gravy.
- Whisk – When making the roux and stirring the simmering gravy, a whisk is best for keeping things smooth and the lumps at bay.
- Fine mesh sieve – If whisking hasn’t taken care of all the lumps, pour the gravy through a fine-mesh sieve.
- Chilled heavy cream – If you break the gravy—meaning allowing it to get too hot causing the emulsion to break down so the gravy solids separate from the liquid—add a couple of tablespoons of cold, heavy cream and whisk like mad. This should reconstitute the emulsion. If not, try a couple more.
Making the Gravy
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
3 ribs celery, coarsely chopped
2 cups baby carrots, coarsely chopped
3 to 6 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
2 to 4 cups turkey stock
Flour, as needed
- Before you put the turkey on the rack and into the oven, add onion, celery, carrots, and garlic to the roasting pan.
- Depending on the size of the turkey, you’ll need 2 to 4 cups of homemade or low-sodium prepared stock. You can also use a mixture of stock and wine.
- Pour the stock or mixture into the roasting pan to about 1/4-inch deep.
- Baste the turkey every 15 to 20 minutes with the juices accumulating in the bottom of the roasting pan. Replenish with stock or the mixture as needed to maintain at least 1/4 inch of juices in the bottom of the roasting pan.
- When the turkey is done, remove it to a platter, tent with foil, and let it rest for 15 to 20 minutes before slicing and serving.
- Meanwhile, put the roasting pan over low to moderate heat (depending on the type of pan) and add any remaining stock or mixture. De-glaze the pan and pour through a sieve lined with cheesecloth into a large measuring cup or bowl. Press against the solids firmly with the back of a wooden spoon or potato masher to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard the solids.
- De-fat the liquid or pour it into a gravy separator and then pour into a saucepan.
- Put the saucepan over medium heat, bring just to a boil and then reduce the heat to a steady simmer. Taste; if you think the pan juices are not concentrated enough, raise the heat and reduce the juices to achieve a stronger flavor.
- In a heatproof bowl, mix flour with heated pan juices (1 tablespoon of flour per 1/4 cup of stock) to make an uncooked roux that you will use to thicken the gravy. Add a tablespoon or so of the roux at a time to the pan juices whisking thoroughly; let it cook for a minute to thicken. Add more roux as necessary for a thicker gravy. Taste and adjust with salt or pepper as needed.
- Don’t worry about a few lumps—you can run the gravy through a sieve into your gravy boat.
- Serve hot with the roast turkey, and stand back for the oohs and aahs.
Have you ever made your own gravy before? Do you reserve home-made gravy just for turkey, or do you make home-made beef gravy as well? Have you ever had a gravy disaster? Did you recover? Does your gravy have a secret ingredient?