This recipe makes a rich gravy, but it does require you to plan ahead and to spend a bit of time making a deeply flavored stock. Roasting a few turkey parts for the stock also creates pan drippings, which allows you to complete the gravy well in advance of Thanksgiving. You’ll find this particularly useful if you grill or smoke your turkey or are roasting one you’ve brined. If you like more herbs, add them. If you don’t like ham or prosciutto, use a small piece of smoked turkey instead or throw a few mushrooms in when you add the vegetables to roast. If you want to pull out all the stops, add more Cognac (about ¼ cup) to the gravy when you add the wine. However you decide to make it, enjoy! P.S.: Most (about 2 hours) of the cook time noted here is hands-off, while the turkey parts roast and the stock simmers.
Thanksgiving 2020 Update:
I learned firsthand when my boys were young that consistency and predictability can make a person feel more secure. Conversely, not knowing what lies ahead (especially now) makes us feel unglued. With so much anxiety these days, turning to the familiar, especially to comfort foods from an easier past, makes everything seem a little better.
In our house, we play around a lot with our Thanksgiving menus, trying new things, though I’ll gladly make anything that’s requested. My family has asked for melissav’s stuffing so often that it’s become a must-have—as has my make-ahead gravy.
Let’s face it. Gravy’s kind of like Ohio. If you don’t win Ohio, you don’t win the election. The gravy’s got to be good. If the turkey falls a bit short, or your mashed potatoes aren’t perfect, no one really cares—so long as the gravy’s first-rate. And of course, you need great gravy to ladle, piping hot, over slices of homemade bread on Friday, to eat with a knife and fork—the ultimate Thanksgiving comfort food. (We call it “gravy bread.” I highly recommend it.)
I first started making this gravy about 20 years ago when I saw my butcher putting turkey parts out in early November. (We always hike a mountain on Thanksgiving, so I do as much advance prep as possible—you can imagine how tired a hike like that makes you, even before you start cooking your feast. You just don't want to be making gravy during that final push to get everything on the table.) When I saw those turkey parts in the butcher shop, I saw pan drippings, plenty of rich stock, and good, good gravy, all made well in advance. Gravy problem solved!
I may not know, a week before this Thanksgiving, who’ll be at my table. I do know, however, that no matter what, that gravy will be made. My ritual for making it won’t change. Whatever else happens, you’ll find me puttering (calmly) in the kitchen, a few days before Thanksgiving, roasting turkey wings. I’ll be thinking of all the happy Thanksgivings we’ve had over the years. The rhythm of the holidays will settle in, and everything will be okay. —AntoniaJames
- Cook time 2 hours 30 minutes
- Makes Makes 1 quart
- The Stock
Grapeseed or olive oil
turkey wings or 1 turkey back and neck
Black Forest Ham or 1 ounce prosciutto (substitute smoked turkey if you don’t like pork)
medium yellow onion, skin still on after chopping, or 6 whole scallions, each coarsely chopped
carrot, cut into 3 to 4 pieces
stalk celery, cut into 3 to 4 pieces
thyme, rosemary, and/or sage
dry white wine
Cognac or other brandy (optional, but recommended)
- The Gravy
unsalted butter (or use fat from the cooled stock, or vegan butter for dairy-free)
3 to 4 tablespoons
Wondra flour or cake flour
1/2 to 3/4 cups
dry white wine (or ⅓ cup Madeira)
Cognac (optional, but so, so good)
Pan drippings, reserved from the roasted parts used for the stock + (later) from your roasted turkey, if you roasted without brining (see note below)
1/4 to 1 teaspoons
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- The Stock
- Heat the oven to 425°F. Drizzle a tablespoon or so of the oil in a large roasting pan. Rub the turkey parts in the oil, then season lightly with salt. Roast for 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, cut the ham into ½-inch squares.
- After the wings have been in the oven for 10 minutes, add the ham to the pan, along with a few tablespoons of water. Tilt the pan to moisten the bottom of the pan. (Add more water if the first bit evaporates.) Continue to roast for 20 minutes.
- Add the onion, carrot, and celery. (See my note below as to why you shouldn't put everything in at the outset.) Turn over the turkey parts and stir the ham to loosen. If the pan seems dry, add a few more tablespoons of water and tilt again. Continue to roast for 20 minutes more.
- Meanwhile, in a large stockpot over medium heat, bring 2½ quarts of cold or room temperature water to a simmer. If you want to use an electric pressure cooker (which I highly recommend!), pour in 1½ quarts of water, set it to the Sauté/High function, and turn it on. Once the water comes to a simmer, turn off the burner or pressure cooker.
- Remove the wings with a slotted spoon and transfer to the pot with the water. Remove the vegetables and set aside, or transfer to the electric pressure cooker, if using.
- Deglaze the roasting pan with the Cognac and a tablespoon or two of water, scraping the brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Pour the pan drippings and whatever liquid remains into a small container. Cover and refrigerate until you make the gravy.
- Pour a cup of hot water into the pan, scrape well, and pour liquid into the pot with the turkey. Add the wine, thyme, and a small pinch of salt.
- If you're using an electric pressure cooker, add the roasted vegetables, set to Pressure/High for 45 minutes, lock the lid on, and start it. You can do a manual release or let it release naturally, whichever works best for you.
- If cooking the stock on the stove, bring it just to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for about 1 hour. About 45 minutes before you plan to strain the stock, add the roasted vegetables. Don't add them before that because, according to Michael Ruhlman, vegetables break down while cooking in such a way that causes them to absorb the liquid. I've never tested to confirm this, but Ruhlman seems to be a smart guy who's generally reliable when it comes to cooking technique, so I trust him on this one.
- Strain and return the stock to the pot. Bring to a boil and cook until it reduces to about 1 quart. Let cool to room temperature. (I put it in a wide mouth Mason jar, which I place in a pot of ice water, stirring the stock and refreshing the ice water periodically.) Refrigerate the stock for at least 5 hours or preferably up to overnight.
- Scrape off any fat that's risen to the top. Save the fat for another use, such as substituting it for butter to make the gravy dairy-free, or drizzling it, warmed, over the top of your Thanksgiving stuffing before baking it.
- Cooks' Note: Please resist the temptation to include the vegetables with the turkey parts when you first put the pan in the oven. If you add the vegetables at the beginning with the meat, the moisture in them creates steam and releases liquid into the pan. That steam and liquid prevent the meat from browning properly and from creating thick, flavorful pan juices and the brown bits that make gravy taste so good.
- The Gravy
- Remove and reserve or discard the fat from the cooled stock, then heat the stock. (I heat it in the Mason jar used to store the stock.) Keep the stock warm and close by.
- In a small pot over medium heat, melt the butter. While whisking, sprinkle in the flour and continue to cook until a thick paste forms.
- As soon as the paste is thick and golden, slowly pour in the warmed stock, no more than a cup at a time and whisking vigorously, and cook for at least 30 seconds in between additions. It may look lumpy and thick, but it will smooth out as you add the rest of the stock, provided that the stock is warm, you stream it in slowly, and you whisk without stopping. Add the wine and Cognac, if using, and cook, whisking, for about 2 minutes.
- Add the reserved pan drippings and whatever liquid has accumulated. You can also add some of the fat, if you like your gravy quite rich. Add the Worcestershire sauce, ¼ teaspoon at a time, tasting before adding more. Continue to cook over medium-low heat, stirring, for about 1 minute. See the note below about using the drippings from your roast turkey, which is optional. Season with salt and pepper.
- Cooks' Note: If you have brined your turkey, consider using just a few small spoonsful of drippings, adding one at a time and testing after each addition, before you add more salt. I add salt quite sparingly under these circumstances. Frankly, though, with the rich stock made from roasted wings, backs, and/or necks, the pan drippings on Turkey Day really shouldn't be necessary. (See the next note, please.) I save them to use for seasoning soups and stews I'll make with the leftover turkey and carcass following Thanksgiving.
- If, on the day you roast the turkey, you (a) have pan drippings you can use, and (b) are inclined to use them in the gravy, do the following: Pour off all of the pan drippings from your turkey into a metal bowl, scraping all of the hard bits from the pan. Put in the freezer to allow the fat to separate. Pour or scrape off as much fat as you wish and add the drippings to the gravy while heating.