Make Ahead

Make-Ahead Turkey Gravy

November  4, 2010
5 Ratings
Photo by Julia Gartland. Food stylist: Anna Billingskog. Prop stylist: Amanda Widis.
Author Notes

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 1/4 cup) to the gravy when you add the wine. However you decide to make it . . . enjoy!! ;o) 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—be it from the tense political atmosphere, or the havoc and terror of the pandemic—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 1 quart
  • The Stock
  • 2 turkey wings, or one turkey back and neck
  • 2 ounces Black Forest Ham or 1 ounce prosciutto (substitute smoked turkey if you don’t like pork)
  • Grapeseed or olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 carrot, cut into three or four pieces
  • 1 medium yellow onion, skin still on after chopping, or 6 whole scallions, each coarsely chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, cut into three or four pieces
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme (approximately 1 tablespoon of leaves), or any other herbs you like. Sage + rosemary is a nice combination.
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • 1 tablespoon Cognac or other brandy (optional but recommended)
  • The Gravy (Makes 1 Quart)
  • Pan drippings, reserved from the roasted parts used for the stock + (later) from your roasted turkey, if it's convenient, and if you roasted without brining your bird (See note below.)
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter (or use fat from your cooled stock, or vegan butter, for dairy free)
  • 3 tablespoons to 4 tablespoons Wondra flour (Cake flour also works reasonably well, if you don’t have Wondra.)
  • 1 quart stock, from the recipe above, or some reasonable homemade (and NOT store-bought) alternative.
  • 1/4 teaspoon to 1 teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce, or more or less, to taste
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup dry white wine (or 1/3 cup Madeira)
  • 1 splash more Cognac (optional, but so, so good)
In This Recipe
  1. The Stock
  2. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
  3. Drizzle a tablespoon or so of oil in a roomy roasting pan. Rub the turkey parts in it and sprinkle lightly with salt.
  4. Roast for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, cut the ham or prosciutto into ½ inch squares. This is when I cut the vegetables for roasting.
  5. After the wings have been in the oven for 10 minutes, add the ham or prosciutto to the pan, along with a few tablespoons of water. Tip the pan to moisten its entire bottom of the pan. (Add more water if the first bit evaporates.) Set the timer for 20 minutes.
  6. After 20 minutes, add the vegetables. (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 bits, to loosen them from the pan, if they are stuck to it. If the pan seems dry, add a few more tablespoons of water and tilt the pan as you did before.
  7. Cook for another 20 minutes. Meanwhile, put 2 ½ quarts of cold or room temperature water in a large stockpot, and bring it to a simmer over medium heat. If you want to use an electric pressure cooker to make the stock (which I highly recommend!!) put 1 1/2 quarts of water in it now, set it to the Sauté / High function, and turn it on. Once the water comes to a simmer, turn off the burner or your Instant Pot, as applicable.
  8. When the turkey parts and vegetables have finished roasting, remove the wings from the pan with a slotted spoon and put them in the pot with the water. Remove the vegetables and set aside, or put into your electric pressure cooker, if using.
  9. Deglaze the roasting pan with the Cognac and a tablespoon or two of water, scraping hard at all of the stuck brown bits. Pour the pan drippings and whatever liquid remains into a small container. Cover and refrigerate until you make the gravy.
  10. Pour a cup or so of hot water into the pan, scrape it well one last time, and pour that liquid into the pot, along with the wine. Add the thyme branches (and/or other herbs - I usually throw in some chopped parsley stems) and another small pinch of salt.
  11. If you are using an electric pressure cooker / Instant Pot, add the roasted vegetables, set it 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.
  12. If cooking the stock on the stove, bring it just to a boil, then turn down immediately, and simmer for about an hour, or longer if you wish. Either way, 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.
  13. Strain and then return the stock to the pot. Reduce it to about one quart by boiling it hard for as long as it takes. Cool the stock 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.) Then refrigerate the stock for at least 5 or 6 hours. Overnight's even better.
  14. When the stock has cooled, scrape off any fat that's risen to the top before using the stock for your gravy. 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 or dressing before baking it.
  15. N.B. Please resist the temptation to include the vegetables with the turkey or chicken 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
  1. The Gravy (Makes 1 Quart)
  2. If you haven't done so already, remove and reserve or discard the fat from the cooled stock, and then heat the stock. (I heat it in the Mason jar used to store the stock.) Keep the stock warm and close by as you do the next step.
  3. Cook the butter or turkey fat over medium heat until the butter is melted. Sprinkle on the flour, whisking all the while. It will soon look like a somewhat thick paste.
  4. As soon as the paste is thick and golden, slowly pour in the warmed stock, no more than a cup at a time, over medium heat, whisking vigorously the whole time, and cooking for at least 30 seconds between additions of stock. It may look lumpy and thick, but don’t despair. It will smooth itself 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 you want to pull out all the stops—and cook, continuing to whisk, for about 2 minutes.
  5. 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. Then add the Worcestershire sauce, a quarter teaspoon at a time, tasting before adding more. Stir well while cooking over medium-low heat for about a minute. See note below about using the drippings from your roast turkey, which is optional.
  6. Check for salt and correct - but don't add much if you will be adding more pan drippings on Thanksgiving. Add freshly ground pepper to taste.
  7. Enjoy!! ;o)
  8. N.B. 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.
  9. 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, before serving.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Sauertea
  • Kara Weber
    Kara Weber
  • AntoniaJames
  • Cynthia Lawson Harding
    Cynthia Lawson Harding
  • Kevin Duellman
    Kevin Duellman

Recipe by: AntoniaJames

When I'm not working (negotiating transactions for internet companies), or outside enjoying the gorgeous surroundings here in Boulder County, CO, I'm likely to be cooking, shopping for food, planning my next culinary experiment, or researching, voraciously, whatever interests me. In my kitchen, no matter what I am doing -- and I actually don't mind cleaning up -- I am deeply grateful for having the means to create, share with others and eat great food. Life is very good. ;o)