For me, Thanksgiving is a very traditional meal, and at the heart of it will always be turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and gravy. This is my holy quaternity (yes, I had to look that up to see what four items would constitute).
Ideally, I like to make my gravy base well ahead of time (especially if I’m roasting a turkey for a photo shoot). That way, all I have to do is add the drippings once the turkey comes out of the oven. In fact, some years I make it up to a month in advance and then just freeze it. Make sure to pull it out of the freezer a few days before Thanksgiving so it can defrost in the freezer, then just pop it into a saucepan, reheat and whisk it a few times to smooth out the consistency. It is just one less thing to do on the Big Day.
At the very least, though, get your turkey stock simmering in the morning and let it slowly cook throughout Thanksgiving Day. Making homemade turkey stock isn’t imperative but it does really make a difference in the outcome. In a pinch, use a good quality low-sodium chicken stock (you’ll find the best versions in the freezer section). Once your stock is ready, prepare the gravy base (making sure to underseason it), then just before serving add the drippings from your turkey. Make sure to add a little at a time if you have wet-brined or dry-brined your turkey, as they can be very salty. Always season the gravy at the end.
Recipe: Classic Turkey Gravy
Makes about 1 quart gravy
- Reserved neck and backbone from spatchcocked turkey, or 2 lbs chicken wings
- 1 large or 2 medium carrots, roughly chopped
- 1/2 yellow and/or red onion, roughly chopped
- 2 stalks celery
- 1 /3 cup unsalted butter (or turkey fat if you have any)
- 1 small or 1/2 large yellow onion, finely diced
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- About 3 cups turkey stock or low-sodium chicken broth
- Reserved turkey drippings (optional)
- To make the turkey stock, in a large saucepan, add the turkey pieces, carrots, onion, celery, and enough water to cover the ingredients by about 1 inch. Partially cover and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 3 hours. Strain through a sieve into a bowl, and let cool to room temperature. If making in advance, transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 3 days. For longer storage, transfer to an airtight container and freeze for up to 3 months.
- To make the gravy, in a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the onion and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until nicely browned, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add the flour and cook, stirring, until the flour starts to brown, about 4 minutes (turn down the heat if it starts to brown too quickly).
- Switch to a whisk, and slowly add the stock while whisking continuously. Add more or less stock to get to the consistency you like (depending on whether you like a thicker or thinner gravy). Bring to a boil, reduce the heat slightly, and let simmer for a few minutes to thicken slightly. (At this stage, if your turkey is still roasting, set aside and cover to keep warm. If you are making it in advance, let cool completely, then transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 3 days; warm gently in a saucepan before proceeding. Or, you can freeze for up to 1 month. Defrost in the refrigerator, then warm gently on the stovetop before serving.)
- Add the turkey drippings, if using, and stir to combine. Taste and season with salt if needed, plus pepper. Pour into a gravy jug and serve right away.