Professional and novice gravymakers alike may find this advice useful.
There are tried and true simple steps that will help any home cook perfect their gravy technique for Thanksgiving dinner. Credit: Courtesy of Sandy Oliver

Take a deep breath, calm down. It’s only Thanksgiving.

If your stress level is up over next week’s big dinner, it might be that you are reading too much from food writers who have gone on fretfully non-stop since just before Halloween. Unless you are a restaurant angling for five-star rating, you can rest easy if you keep in mind that Thanksgiving is mostly about getting together with people you care about (at least, I hope so) and spending a few moments pondering in gratitude all the blessings we enjoy.

Stick to the traditional meal, which was, in the past, a seasonal and local dinner featuring all the harvest plenty — potatoes, squash, turnips, pickles made with summer’s cucumbers and other produce, pumpkin, apples, cranberries, turkey with stuffing and,here in Maine with luck, mincemeat made from venison. You might add brussel sprouts, a favorite corn pudding, or whatever it is that you and your gathered company say that “it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without.”

Preparation of nearly any of this can be very straight-forward — make pies a day ahead, cook and season the vegetables to taste (they don’t have to be bland), garlic is good in mashed potatoes, sage is lovely in squash — and so is brown sugar and butter. Make creamed onions with a hearty dose of curry, and roast the bird, basting it enough to keep it moist.

Don’t forget the gravy. It doesn’t have to be canned, or made with packaged stuff. A generous ladleful over turkey and on the mashed potatoes on the big day is all that is needed to evoke our gratitude. Leftover gravy eases leftover turkey into usefulness for days.

If you aren’t a confident gravy maker, allow me to advise. If you are a pro, perhaps you’ll find a couple useful ideas here or send me your advice and best ideas.

Make stock from the giblets and neck

Find the little paper bag in the bird, pull it out and dump the contents with the neck into a largish saucepan. Add a rib or two of coarsely chopped celery, a carrot also chopped into chunks, an onion halved, a garlic clove or two, a bay leaf, a couple stalks of parsley, salt and pepper. Cover with water and set over low heat to cook all during the turkey roasting time.

Season the turkey

Sprinkle any roasting bird with a dusting of allspice, dried thyme, dried sage, paprika, black pepper and salt. I do top and undersides. No specified amount — I just sprinkle as I would if adding salt and pepper to my plate at the table. I rub it around, and put the turkey in its pan on a rack. Often I pluck out the blob of fat that clings close to the vent and lay it on top of the turkey where it melts and oozes down over the bird, and seasons the drippings.

Baste the turkey.

Using the stock simmering on the stove, and a big spoon or baster, liberally dribble stock over the turkey. As the bird roasts, fat will collect in the roasting pan and mingle with the stock. When enough gathers in the pan, you can baste using the collected drippings. Add hot water as needed to the pan of stock to keep the giblets and vegetables covered.

When the turkey is finished and out of the oven, move it to a platter, tent it with foil and let it rest while you make the gravy.

Strain the stock pan, and add a couple of cups of the liquid to the roasting pan. Put the roaster over the heat and cook, stirring and scraping the pan to loosen all the stuck on bits. Pour this into a fat separator or large measuring cup, allow it to rest, briefly, until the fat floats to the top.

Spoon off a few tablespoons of the fat and put it into a large saucepan or back into the roaster. Heat it, and sprinkle in flour, stirring or whisking to incorporate the flour, cooking it as it bubbles and thickens in the fat. If it doesn’t thicken or you see fat separating out, sprinkle in a little more flour until the fat is absorbed and the mixture is bubbling nicely. This process cooks the flour. Some folks like to toast the flour in the oven or stovetop to brown it a little before using it for gravy. You may like to keep a jar of toasted flour on hand.

After a few minutes, add the rest of the stock. If you don’t have a fat separator, use the baster to pull up stock from under the layer of grease in the measuring cup. Whisk steadily to prevent lumping and cook until you have a smooth gravy as thick as you like.

If it gets away from you, and thickens too much, add water or broth. If it never thickens enough, shake a little flour with cold water and dribble it back into cooking gravy and cook more. Be sure to take a taste and add salt or pepper as needed.

More gravy is better than not enough. If you end up with leftover gravy, refrigerate it to use for open faced turkey sandwiches, or for a turkey casserole of meat and gravy, with mashed potato or stuffing topping. Freeze what you don’t use for a later gravy need.

Mainly, give thanks for gravy, a blessing in our kitchens.

Gravy basics

Yields 2 cups of gravy.

To toast flour:

Spread a cup of flour on a baking sheet spread with parchment paper. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for a minimum of five minutes or more until it is golden, stirring occasionally. You can also toast it in an ungreased skillet over a medium low heat until it is golden.

Cornstarch substitute:

If you avoid flour, cornstarch thickens gravy, too. About a tablespoon of cornstarch will thicken one and a half to two cups of liquid. Dissolve the cornstarch in a couple tablespoons of cold water or stock.

Stock substitute:

Boxed chicken broth works, as does bouillon or bouillon paste. Remember that these add salt so be sure to taste before using additional salt.

Drippings:

If you end up with too little fat, add butter.

Quantities:

1/4 cup fat from the pan drippings

1/4 cup flour

2 cups stock

Drain all the drippings from the roasting pan and reserve.

Deglaze the pan by adding stock and stirring and scraping up all the brown bits. Reserve the stock to mix with any other stock from cooking the giblets and gravy. Allow the fat to separate.

Pour a quarter of a cup of fat into the roasting pan or a medium saucepan. Heat the fat.

Add the flour and cook it with the fat until it bubbles and thickens slightly.

Add the stock and cook over a low simmer for 15 minutes, stirring often, until it thickens.

Add more stock if you wish a thinner gravy.

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Sandy Oliver, Taste Buds

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working...