Janine Gilbertson's Granite Kitchen: A good gravy puts Thanksgiving over the top

By JANINE GILBERTSON November 24. 2015 7:42PM
Cooks can give thanks that a lump-free, delicious gravy doesn't have to be complicated. (JANINE GILBERTSON)

I remember it well. My mother and I were in different states and different time zones, so I no longer had her cooking skills to rely on. The time had finally come when I had to start making Thanksgiving dinner on my own for friends and family.

I had it mostly figured out, except for one detail: the gravy.

Had I been paying more attention over the years, I would’ve realized there is more to making gravy than tossing a handful of flour into the roasting pan and hoping for the best.

It doesn’t work that way. Not at all. After a few failed attempts at making my own homemade, lump-free gravy, I did a little research and found a few reliable methods.

There are all kinds of products that can help you accomplish the task of making a table-worthy gravy. Sure, you could grab a couple of packets of instant gravy mix off the store shelf and follow the instructions. That would be one way to handle the situation. However, packages limit your ability to season the gravy to your liking, and the package you grab is most likely going to be loaded with lots of sodium and added ingredients (read chemicals) that you don’t need.

When making gravy by thickening the juices from a roasted turkey or chicken, I tend to rely on corn starch. Corn starch is ground from corn kernel, and unlike flour, it contains no gluten. It also has twice the thickening power of flour and doesn’t lump the way flour does. You simply dissolve a few tablespoons of corn starch in water, then add the mixture to the poultry juices and season to taste.

You can also use a roux to thicken juices into a gravy. To make a roux, you use equal parts flour and fat, such as butter or pan drippings, and add stock and seasonings.

A reduction sauce is another alternative. You make a reduction sauce by boiling or cooking down a liquid until it reduces to the consistency of a sauce. The liquid can be just about anything, however it’s usually a wine or a stock that’s been used to deglaze a pan where a meat, poultry or fish was just cooked.

Reduction sauces are typically rich and intensely flavored. It might take a little more time and effort to create a reduction sauce, but the results are worth it. They’re also a great gravy alternative to anyone following a gluten-free diet because they don’t use flour (or anything else) as a thickening agent.

Whatever method you use, you can tweak the recipe to your own taste. Adding classic poultry seasonings such as sage and thyme enhance the flavor of turkey gravy and give it more flavor.

Also, using a better quality turkey or chicken stock will give a better result, so homemade is usually the way to go.

If you feel that your gravy making skills are subpar, you can always make the gravy the day before you roast your turkey, which will give you time to experiment with different seasonings.

When the turkey comes out of the oven, take some of the juices from the pan and add them to the gravy while you reheat it before serving.

When I finally had the chance to have my mother over to enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner that I cooked on my own, gravy and all, I felt a definite sense of satisfaction.

The best part was knowing that I was able to express my gratitude to her for all those years that she cooked Thanksgiving dinner for me.

Today’s basic turkey gravy recipe uses corn starch rather than flour as the thickening agent. It won’t produce lumps, and it’s gluten-free. (JANINE GILBERTSON)

Make-Ahead Turkey Gravy

1 stick of butter

2/3 cup chopped onion

1/2 cup flour

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

4 cups of chicken or turkey stock

In a medium saucepan, add stick of butter and melt over medium-high heat. Add onions and saute until soft and translucent, about 4 or 5 minutes. Sprinkle the flour over the onions, stirring constantly. Cook until the flour is slightly golden brown, about 2 or 3 minutes. Gradually whisk in 4 cups stock until mixture thickens and is smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Cool, cover and chill.

When ready to serve, reheat mixture over low heat, stirring occasionally. If serving with turkey, scrape the bottom of the turkey pan and add 3 or 4 tablespoons of drippings to gravy while it’s heating up. Add more turkey pan drippings, salt and pepper to adjust taste and thickness of gravy.

Turkey Gravy Reduction

3 tblsp of juices and scrapings from a turkey pan

1 tblsp minced shallot (or onion)

1/2 cup white wine

1/2 cup turkey stock, warmed

2 tablespoons softened butter (optional)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 tsp minced fresh parsley for garnish (optional)

After removing a turkey from its roasting pan, pour off about three quarters of the juices and fat, leaving the rest and any scrapings and browned bits in the bottom of the pan. Set the roasting pan over medium-high heat. Add the shallot and wine. Using a whisk, stir while cooking, until the shallot is softened, any browned bits have loosened from the bottom of the pan, and most of the wine has evaporated. Add the stock and repeat. When the liquid has reduced by about half, turn off the heat. Add the butter a little at a time and stir constantly after each addition to incorporate the butter. Season with salt, pepper and parsley, if desired.

Classic Turkey Gravy

2 to 3 cups of juices and drippings from a turkey pan

1/4 cup water

3 tblsp cornstarch

1/4 tsp poultry seasoning (such as Bell’s)

salt and pepper to taste

Add juices and drippings from a roast turkey in a saucepan over medium-high heat. In a small bowl, add the cornstarch and water. Using a fork, stir the cornstarch and water until the cornstarch has dissolved. Add the cornstarch and water mixture to the turkey juices, stirring constantly, until the juices have thickened. Add poultry seasoning, salt and pepper to taste.

Remove from heat and serve.


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