Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Gravy on My Mind

I am about to give everyone who reads this the absolute, hands down best bit of advice for how to make the prep for Thanksgiving dinner easier. Much easier. Cook a turkey this week. I’m not cracked and I’m not suggesting that you serve guests old, reheated bird.

Real gravy starts with pan drippings. In the normal sequence of events, you don’t get those until the bird is done and pulled from the oven. While it’s resting, you’re not. Instead of relaxing with a glass of wine, you’re at the stove. You need at least one burner for the roasting pan (two if it’s large) and another to warm the stock. That creates a bottleneck if you’ve got other things to heat up at the last minute. Eveybody’s laughing in the living room while you’re in the kitchen whisking, stirring, and handling pot logistics.

My method offers an alternative. Make the gravy in advance and freeze it. Mine, I'm happy to announce, is already done and in the “can.” On T-Day, I’ll defrost, add freshly cooked, chopped giblets, and warm in a covered saucepan. I’ve been doing this for a decade. It started as a way to keep my brother-in-law, a man who does not believe there’s a role for him in the clean-up department, from taking on this job and trashing my kitchen in the process. “Thanks for the offer of help,” I’d say with a sweet smile, “but the gravy’s all taken care of. Why don’t you uncork more wine instead.” Now it’s a necessity. We Taxel’s deep fry and smoke our turkeys these day. (We do both because they are so good we can’t decide which we like better). The problem is neither of these techniques produces the essential pan drippings. So here, now, are my instructions for what I call Make-Ahead Gravy.

-Roast a small turkey or a bunch of turkey parts now. Use the meat for sandwiches- turkey reubens are a favorite- and the bones for stock.
If you do parts, choose a mixture of thighs with skin, legs, necks, and wings (total 4-6 pounds). If you get a whole bird, boil giblets separately, chop fine, and set aside in a small bowl.
-When done, set pan with drippings aside.
-Slice off the meat you want to eat. Put bones and remaining parts plus additional 1-2 lbs turkey thighs into a large pot. Cover with cold water, 8-10 cups. Add 2 onions peeled and quartered, 2 carrots peeled and sliced in chunks, 1 stalk celery, sliced, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, lower heat, and simmer, covered 1 hour. Skim off fat, strain, and discard meat, bones, and vegetables. The liquid is your stock.
-Using pan drippings and the turkey stock you just made to prepare gravy according to your favorite recipe. Basically you make a roux by whisking flour into hot drippings, brown a bit, slowly add stock, stirring constantly to prevent lumps. Flavor and season just as you normally would. Around here we like to toss in a healthy splash of bourbon. If you have giblets, add them.
-Cool and store in freezer.

The payback for this extra, early effort- no last-minute rush; everything arrives at the table at the same time; less kitchen mess; more fun for the cook.

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