For me, the most essential element to a fabulous Thanksgiving is the gravy. It helps to have mashed potatoes, stuffing and turkey to put it on, but it isn't necessary... a spoon and bowl are all that I need. Come to think of it, sitting by the fire sipping from a warm mug of gravy sounds perfect!
So what goes into a good gravy? Like a lot of fabulous foods, you need to build flavors through a few simple steps. You have to start with a tasty base, add in the delicious drippings from the roast turkey, and season it just so. Another key to good gravy is the quantity... there MUST be a massive amount!! Whoever came up with the idea that a scant 1/4 cup is a serving of gravy must have had a mother who was a horrible cook!
How you thicken the gravy will also contribute to your gravy experience. My mother always used cornstarch to thicken her gravy because she was afraid of having lumps from the flour. I now have to use cornstarch because of my body's severe rebellion to wheat and gluten. So my recipe that follows uses cornstarch, but feel free to adapt it to flour if that is what you are used to.
A big part of the Thanksgiving experience is having the flavors that you grew up with. I believe that is why Thanksgiving is such a comforting holiday, it is filled with the familiar and familial. If you have ever experienced a turkey-day away from your family and with food that didn't taste like your Mom's, you understand the importance of tradition; It comforts and soothes the soul. The smells reconnect you to all the years past where you enjoyed good food and the blessings of having a family. It makes you feel safe because it is something you know from it's repetitive nature. It nourishes your soul because it connects you to the roots of your family, knowing that generations upon generations of your family have gathered annually to eat the same meal you are eating today. But I digress...
Mama 'bare's gravy recipe:
Turkey neck (find it inside the turkey's cavity, or under the tail, when you clean the turkey before roasting)
1/2 medium onion, cut into large chunks
1 medium carrot, cut into large chunks
2 stalks celery, cut into large chunks
Poultry seasoning or sage & thyme to taste
Chicken Broth and/or water
Salt and pepper to taste
As you wash and prep your bird for roasting, pull out the neck and gizzards and what-nots from inside the bird's cavities. Set the neck to the side for your gravy... what you do with the rest is up to you, growing up we cooked the organs for the kitties so they could have a treat. Once you get the bird in the oven to roast, it is time to make your gravy base. I always pour a can of chicken broth in the bottom of my turkey roasting pan... not to keep things moist, but to assure that I have great dripping to add to the gravy base later.
Over medium high heat, brown the turkey neck and veggies in a 2 quart sauce pan. Just use a dry pan, no oil or butter. This takes about 3-4 minutes per side and adds some depth to the gravy flavor. Don't worry if bits stick to the bottom, this is a good thing because those brown bits add deliciousness!!!
Once your neck is browned, quickly pour in 1/2 can of chicken broth and scrape up anything that stuck to the bottom during the browning. Pour in the remaining broth and fill the rest of the pan with water, to within 2-3 inches of the top. Sprinkle lightly with poultry seasoning or sage & thyme (1/2 tsp each). I don't like my gravy to be heavily seasoned since I tend to heavily season my stuffing and that perfumes the rest of the meal, but seasoning is a matter of taste and yours may be different from mine. Wait until the end to adjust seasonings, though.
Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for a few hours while your turkey cooks. When you are ready to make the gravy, remove the neck and veggies from the pan. Toss the veggies to the doggies or the compost pile. I let the neck cool a bit and pull off the meat, which I add back into the broth.
When the turkey is done, pour all the drippings from the roasting pan into your gravy base. It's at this point that you want to do your fat skimming. Either use a spoon to carefully remove the fat layer on the top of your gravy base or use a fat separator or throw in a handful of ice cubes which congeal the fat and quickly scoop out the ice cubes and fat or however else your mother taught you or leave all the fat in. It is up to you, but do remember that you need a small amount of fat in your gravy base in order for your thickeners to work and fat has a lot of flavor. Personally I use a spoon because I am A. cheap, and B. concerned that I will loose gravy to the few drippings that will stick to the inside of the fat separator, possibly decreasing the amount of gravy available to drown my plate in. (I do set aside a small amount of this gravy base and dripping mixture to drizzle over my extra pan of stuffing, it helps to boost its flavor like it was roast in the bird.)
To thicken the gravy, bring the gravy base to a boil. Mix together a couple of heaping spoonfuls of cornstarch, about 3 TBSP, and mix with a small amount of water, until thin enough to pour. Drizzle cornstarch slurry into boiling gravy base while stirring. Let the cornstarch work it's magic for about a minute. If it isn't thick enough, add a little more cornstarch and water until you get it how you like it, if it is too thick, stir in some water until you get it how you like it. If you prefer a gravy thickened with flour, you are going to have to call your Mom and ask her how she does it, or hope that one of the wise people who leave comments leaves some tips on flour based gravy :)
It will thicken a bit as it cools, so make it a wee bit thinner than you would like. Turn the heat off and season to taste with salt and pepper. Remember you can always add, but you can't take away. And if you are going to error in your seasoning, always better to under season since people can add salt and pepper at the table.
Pour into a mug..... er, gravy boat, and enjoy!
So not everyone wants to go to the effort of gravy from scratch and that is completely fine! You have to stick with your comfort level and taste, you need to do what makes you happy. If your Mom always made gravy from a package and that is where you feel safe & cozy, then make it from the package!!!
Hybrid gravy is somewhere between gravy from scratch and instant gravy. Boil the turkey neck in water for a few hours and replace the water in the instant gravy with your turkey broth and/or skim the fat off the drippings from the roasting pan and add some dripping to your instant gravy. Viola, hybrid gravy!
Regardless of the gravy recipe you follow, the one ingredient never listed is your love. While you are stirring and waiting for the glorious gravy to thicken, take some time to project the love you have in your heart into your gravy. Imagine your gravy covering them with love, imagine swimming in it, feeling the warmth and... oh wait, that's my secret fantasy!
Gobble Gobble, wobble wobble!!!