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How to Make Turkey Gravy Without Pan Drippings

Lifehacker logo Lifehacker 11/13/2018 Claire Lower
a plate of food with a fork © Photo: Claire Lower

There is a certain (I think) overly romantic expectation that a good turkey gravy must be made from pan drippings, and whisked together just moments before the Big Meal is put on the table. To this I say, “No thank you,” particularly when a very good gravy can be made hours, days, or even weeks ahead of time.

I can only speak for myself, but once the turkey is out of the oven, my brain and body partially shut down, and I am loathe to cook another thing, particularly something like gravy, which requires an amount of babying I am no longer equipped to provide. Plus, pan drippings are kind of unpredictable. Depending on your brining situation, you could end up with a whole bunch of juicy, fatty pan goodness, or—if you dry brine your turkey—you could end up with very little. Besides, you don’t even need them—all you need is a flavorful stock, flour, and butter.

Yet another case for spatchcocking

I know I’ve beaten you over the head with my preference for a spatchcocked turkey, but this is yet another case where it really helps you out. Removing the backbone means you can use it (along with the neck and giblets) to make a deeply flavored stock, which you can then use to make the deeply flavored gravy.

You can also wing it

If you don’t wish to remove the big bird’s spinal column, that’s okay. You still have the neck, and you can supplement with a few big turkey wings, which are cheap and contain lots of rich collagen, which will make your stock—and thus your gravy—super silky.

You have time to tweak

I love not being rushed, particularly when I’m making something as important as the gravy. Making it well ahead of time means I can taste and tweak as I (calmly) make the gravy, instead of frantically whisking while everyone hungrily mills around the kitchen, waiting for the turkey to finish its post-oven respite. 

But first, make stock

If you can stir, you can make good gravy, but before we get to that, you have to make the stock. Exactly what you put in your stock is up to you, but err on the side of “is this too much stuff?” If you have no idea what to add, you can use this as a template:

  • A big stock pot or tabletop pressure cooker, such as the Instant Pot
  • The neck, giblets, and backbone from your turkey (or, a couple of wings if you wish to keep your turkey intact
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil (plus more if needed)
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 2 celery ribs, roughly chopped
  • 2 carrots, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup of red wine
  • The contents of your freezer scrap bag
  • 1 Parmesan rind
  • 2 sprigs each of thyme, rosemary, and marjoram, plus 2 sage leaves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon peppercorns
  • Salt

Heat your oil over medium-high heat in your stock pot or the insert of your pressure cooker. Salt your turkey parts, then sear them until they are a deep golden brown on all sides (the giblets will brown more quickly than the neck, back bone, or wings, so keep an eye on them). Remove the turkey parts and set them aside, and add more oil to the pot if it looks dry. Add the onion, carrots, and celery and cook until everyone is a nice golden brown. Add the wine, then scrape up any stuck browned bits with a wooden spoon. 

Return the turkey parts to the pot, along with everything else, season with at least a couple of teaspoons of salt, and add enough water to cover the contents of your stock pot or pressure cooker insert. If you are using a pressure cooker, close it up and cook under high pressure for an hour. If you are cooking your stock on the stove, bring everything to a boil, then reduce and let it simmer for at least four hours, skimming off any unappetizing looking scum as needed. Once it’s done cooking, strain it through a fine mesh sieve (or a colander lined with cheese cloth). You are now ready to turn your stock into gravy.

Now make gravy

First, you will need to make a roux, which is just fancy French for “flour cooked in an equal amount of butter.” I like to use at least one tablespoon of butter and one tablespoon of flour for every cup of stock, with maybe an extra tablespoon of each for good measure. (So, if you want to make gravy from a quart of stock, use a little over a quarter cup of each.)

Melt your butter in a medium sauce pan over medium heat until it’s fully melted, then sprinkle in the flour, stirring to make sure there are no lumps. Cook the roux, stirring pretty much continuously, until it is a dark tan color and smells nice and toasty. Slowly pour in your stock, half a cup at a time, whisking continuously, until you have a beautiful, luscious gravy. It’s much easier to thin out a gravy than it is to thicken it back up, so don’t pour all your liquid in at once. If, however, you do over-thin, don’t panic. You can add a beurre manie—a paste made of equal parts butter and flour—to help thicken it back up. (Also, keep in mind that the gravy will thicken as it cools.)

If you want to make things a little more exciting, you can whisk in some other flavorful friends like miso, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, or even some citrus zest or a wine reduction. You have the time, so taste, tweak, and taste again until it’s perfect.

Chill out (and reheat later)

If you made your gravy a day or two ahead of time, it can hang out in the fridge until the big day, but if it’s going to be any longer than that, you should go ahead and freeze it. To prevent it from separating too much while cooling, pour it into a shallow container, and set it in an ice bath to rapidly cool it down. Then transfer to a freezer bag and lay it down flat in the freezer until it’s solid (unless you’re just refrigerating it, in which case just pop it in the fridge in a covered container).

To reheat from freezing on the stove, pop the gravy bag in the microwave for about 10 seconds, then break the semi-frozen gravy sheet into pieces and place them in a sauce pan. Heat the gravy over medium heat, stirring frequently until it reaches a simmer. (If you refrigerated your gravy, this is all you need to do.) If you have an immersion circulator, you can simply place the whole frozen (or refrigerated) bag in a 140-degree water bath, agitating it every 10 minutes or so, and keep it in there until you’re ready to serve it.

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