Monday, November 21, 2011

How to make Perfect "Make Ahead Turkey Gravy"

Here I am. T-minus 3 days until the family comes over for dinner. All three of them.  Sometimes I wish an Italian family would invite me over for dinner.  I'd happily bring a side dish and dessert.  I'd love the noise and to experience having 20 plus people for a holiday dinner.  So, where was I? As for me, I only need five place settings.  Of course, that means lots of leftovers. That equates to no cooking for me, for a day...or two.   For years, as soon as the turkey came out of the oven, I'd jump into making the gravy. It's a crazy time to do this, because all the other dishes are coming out of the oven, from the stove, and my guests are hungry.  Finally, I read an article in a magazine about Make Ahead Gravy.  Brilliant! I've been doing this for four years, and it's such a blessing. Trust me.

One of my dear coworkers lamented that she can't make gravy to save her life.  I wonder why? Gravy is one of the easiest things to make.  You just have to follow a few basic rules.  For one, it's that "brown stuff" that sticks to the bottom of the roasting pan that has gives gravy such great flavor. In culinary terms, it's called fond.  To me, it's gold.  Next, you want a rich and flavorful stock, and fond is what makes it happen. Water doesn't cut it.  Last, but just as important, you need to know how to thicken the gravy.  This is where the lumpy gravy fear factor comes in.   Oh, I've made plenty of lumpy gravy over the thirty plus Thanksgiving Dinner's I've made.   'Nuff said.   Let's make turkey gravy:

First, we're going to make the turkey stock.  I bought six turkey wings for less than $8.00.  Place them in a roasting pan (or a Dutch Oven).  Add a couple of onions, cut into chunks, four cloves of smashed garlic and a few sticks of celery.  (You don't have to bother peeling the onions or garlic. ) 

Roast the turkey wings in a 375F oven for about 2 hours. 

It smells like Thanksgiving, already.

Add about 8 cups of water.
...add a couple of Bay Leaves.

I like adding peppercorns to my stock.

I love this mesh tea ball.  Cheese cloth works fine.  It just makes removing the peppercorns easier.

Bring to a boil...

...then simmer for at least an hour.

 Remove the turkey wings and chunks of vegetables.  My husband saves the turkey meat for our kitty. Isn't he sweet?

Strain the turkey stock, and refrigerate overnight (or at least for several hours.)  If you really think about it, I just taught you how to make your own chicken or turkey stock.  Rather than adding raw chicken, I always roast my meat first.  I think it gives the stock a richer color and deeper flavor.  So, it's time to make gravy!

TRUE STORY:  Four Thanksgivings ago, I strained my turkey stock right into the sink.  I shrieked, the moment I dumped it in.  I was thinking "pasta".  I wanted to cry.  Lesson learned: always have that pot ready underneath the strainer. 

There wasn't a lot of fat, which was a nice surprise. I used a large spoon to skim off the thin layer of fat.

This is the secret to silky and lump-free gravy, folks.  First, have your tools ready. You need a whisk. Don't have one? Buy one!  We're going to make a "roux", which is equal parts butter and equal parts milk.  I use whole milk.  Non-fat and low-fat is a no-no.  I mean, really? It's gravy, people.  It's a holiday, so enjoy and work out later.  Yes, there's cognac in this shot.  I wanted to make a batch of gravy with cognac in it, and another batch with a splash of apple cider vinegar.   Measure out the flour and milk (6 Tablespoons flour, 6 Tablespoons unsalted butter) and 1/2 cup whole milk.  Have the stock nearby, and start melting the butter.  Get your whisk ready.  Thank you to my husband, who took these "action" photos so I could make this gravy with both of my hands.

NOTE/ADDENDUM: Thanksgiving 2013 - This year, I did something a little differently, and it worked out really well.  I set the roasting pan on top of the stove, and used a little white wine  (oh, say 1/4 cup-- big "splash") and some water to "deglaze" the pan (I centered it over two gas burners on high).  I scraped all those brown flavor bits.  I, then, strained this into a large pot.  From there, I whisked together milk and flour, until very smooth.  Once I began I began adding the "slurry", it began to thicken and I added my turkey stock into it.  I did not need to use butter!  TASTING NOTES: Loved the white wine addition, and I got almost 7 cups of gravy.

I used a non-stick large pot, to melt the butter on medium-high (please see above note).  While whisking, I began to add the flour-- don't dump it all at once. Just start pouring it in, while whisking.  Yes, the theme is to WHISK the whole time. Don't stop!  We're cooking that raw taste out of the flour.

Whisk, whisk, whisk... no lumps.  Now, start adding the stock it.  How much?  Go easy.  I add it one cup increments, and whisk, whisk, whisk. Keep the gravy just below boiling, and you can tell when it's thick.  Leave room for milk...

I added one Tablespoon of Cognac to the first batch. The second batch I added 2 teaspoons of Apple Cider Vinegar.  Now, add the whole milk and keep whisking. NOTE: A reader recently reminded me that adding white wine to the gravy turned out to be delicious.  That's right! I did that a few years ago, and will do that again.

TIP:  So, you realize you added too much liquid and the gravy is too thin.  Don't panic.  Just don't fall apart and add flour straight into the thin gravy, or the lumps will come.  I am speaking from experience, here. It's not pretty.  Instead, you can mix about 1 Tablespoon of corn starch and whisk a little water into it, till it's lump free.  Now, very slooooooooooowly, add the cornstarch and whisk while the gravy bubbles.  Cornstarch works very fast, so go easy.  If it's still not thick enough, then add some more.   Oh. If you have Wondra instant flour, then you can carefully add that to gravy to thicken, but whisk like crazy.   In the end, if there are still lumps, just strain the gravy through a fine mesh sieve.

You have to season the gravy.  I use only coarse salt-- never table salt.  I add salt in 1/4 teaspoon increments. Add. Taste. Add a pinch more. Taste. Are you double dipping the spoon? Tsk, tsk.  I always use a handful of spoons. See? It's safe to eat my food. (Just ask my family what kind of germophobe I am. Ha!)  Pepper is optional. I like adding it to my gravy.  Leave it out, if you don't.  So, there you have it, ladies and gentleman.  Thick gravy, no lumps.  NOTE:  I make a habit of straining my finished gravy, through a fine mesh sieve. You'd be amazed at how many lumps of flour are left behind. You will perfect gravy. Tastes good, too.  I have two quarts of gravy and almost a quart of leftover turkey stock.

VERDICT:  I asked my husband to taste each batch of gravy and choose his favorite. He liked the one with apple cider vinegar more than the one with brandy.  I have to agree.  The brandy was a good idea, but I was surprised that I liked the cider vinegar best. It's very subtle, but kicks up the flavor just a bit more.  I thank the food blog "Noble Pig" for inspiring me with this ingredient that I would never have thought of.
NOTE:  This gravy is good-- but, once you add turkey drippings to this-- wow!  I have perfected this recipe, and I usually yield 6-8 cups of gravy. That means I can freeze some for another time.

So, the day has arrived to roast the turkey.

You can either placed the chilled (or frozen and thawed) gravy into a crockpot or on the stovetop on medium-low. Simply strain the drippings...

...and whisk in the strained turkey drippings.

The gravy stays nice and hot in a crockpot. Or, simply leave it on low on the stovetop.  You will love not having to fret about making gravy, while you're scrambling to get the rest of the dinner out to your guests.

The additional turkey drippings gives an even richer color and flavor to the gravy.

Now, that's what I'm talking about!

FINAL TIPS:  Leave extra stock.  When reheating gravy, you can use it to thin out the gravy if it's turned into concrete.   You can freeze the gravy for weeks to come...or refrigerate it for a few days. UPDATE: I did notice that if you freeze the gravy, it will take on a "grainy" texture when reheated. I fixed it by making a fresh batch of gravy and blending it in. It makes for more work, but adds even more flavor and volume to the gravy.

I'm telling you. Gravy is easy to make.  Who needs packets? Really?  That canned stuff?  The ingredients scare me.  C'mon, you can do it!  If you do, and it works, I'd love to hear from you.

It's bedtime, folks.  I'm cooking and blogging in real time. My Make Ahead Mashed Potatoes are all set to go.  All I have left to make, tomorrow, are pie crusts and my cornbread stuffing (I baked the cornbread, from scratch, last night).  I made my cranberry-orange relish two months ago, and canned them. Wednesday, I bake my sweet potatoes for my casserole and I think Thanksgiving Day will be a lot let stressful than it's ever been.  For once, I want to be enjoying time with my family in my own living room.
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If you still can't view the recipe card, all of my recipes are stored on Key Ingredient, by clicking here.

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Chiara "Kika" Assi said...

What an awesome idea Debbie... I'm starting to cook tomorrow, so I guess I'll follow your lead and make gravy ahead!

Becki's Whole Life said...

I am heading to the store at lunch and getting me some Turkey legs and wings...hopefully they will still have some:-). I love your version/tutorial because not only does this yield enough for turkey gravy, but you have leftover stock for soup afterwards. I am going to add some vinegar. Lemon would be a nice addition, too!

raquel said...

I am excited to try this, I love reading how you do kids really love gravy and I am now not waiting for my friend to make it for me. thanks

Gloria said...

Look amazing Im hungry!:)

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

The last Thanksgiving dinner I made I did a make-ahead gravy. It really is a relief to have that done. You can always add extra turkey drippings to you gravy after the T-day turkey is done for an extra flavor shot.

Tyler Florence has done the gravy on his show with smoked turkey wings. That has always intrigued me.

Having hosted a 17-person T-day dinner twice for my partially-Italian family (100% of my parents are 50% Italian) I can say you should be careful what you wish for! It's not the cooking that gets you so much as the logistics - and the cleanup!

bellini said...

Rich, velvety and it can be made ahead, what could be better Debby except to wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving!!!!We both need to be adopted by a wonderful Italian family!

Big Dude said...

Great idea Debbie and your gravy looks perfect. Happy turkey day

Joanne said...

My UBER Italian family cordially invites you! Please come. :)

Christine said...

Debby, thank you so very much for this great recipe! Apparently I was "out of the kitchen" whenever my mom was making gravy and never learned. The fact that this is "make ahead"...totally brilliant!

Lynn said...

Hi Debbie this is my first time commenting on your blog but I've been enjoying it for awhile. This is a great idea because you are actually cooking part of the turkey so you'll have all the delicious flavor. I have never used a mix and didn't even know gravy came in a can!! I'm a 'from scratch' cook and have rarely used a mix for anything. I really enjoy your blog and even though I live alone now and don't cook like I did when my family was home, I still love food!! Thanks for the great recipes you share:-)

NikkiG61576 said...

Looks delicious - will be making gravy this weekend to use on turkey day - thanks for the idea!

Kate said...

I am giving this a try but bought turkey legs...there were no wings available.

Debby Foodiewife said...

Turkey legs will work just fine, Kate!

clotheslover said...

Hi Debbie, so i'm giving this a go! Just noticed you have peppercorns and bay leaves on the recipe twice. Am I supposed to add them the second time around at the end while the gravy is heating in the slow-cooker? Or after I have made the roux and whisked everything in? A little confused by that.

Debby Foodiewife said...

First, thank you for noticing the error in my recipe. I don't know why peppercorns and bay leave were listed twice! I have corrected that error. I wish you all the best in making this. Just add the turkey drippings back to this, on Thanksgiving Day. Happy Thanksgiving!

Joleva said...

First of all THANK YOU!!! You just improved my life immensely. I am from that BIG Italian family you wish for and I have 20+ people coming for Christmas and I am always harried making gravy at the last minute.... NO MORE... I am going to buy me some turkey wings :D

Joleva said...

I Must say THANK YOU!!!! You have changed the way I will make gravy forevermore. I am from that Italian family that has 20+ people at my table and this Christmas I will no longer be harried making gravy at the last minute. I am heading out to get me some turkey wings today :D

HoppySoul said...

I know I am late to this discussion, but I'm wondering if I can freeze just the fond for several days or weeks and then bring it out to make the gravy when ready? Thoughts?

Debby Foodiewife said...

The gravy gets flavor by deglazing the fond from the pan. So, in order to remove and "save" the fond, I would think this is not a time-saver. Bottom line, just take a few extra minutes to deglaze the pan and make the gravy. In the long-run, you'll have a finished gravy that you can taste and season to your liking. Then, go ahead and freeze it. I hope this helps.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the recipe ! I just tried it and it does look lovely. I have a question: Do you cover the roasting pan when doing the turkey thighs and veggies initially ? I roasted them without the cover and found that they stuck to the bottom of the pan and the fond also becme hard and quite dark , almost burned. I could not scrape the bits from the bottom of the pan. Next time I would lower the temperature to ensure I get the lovely brown bits to incorporate into the gravy. Thanks !!

Savannagal said...

I am going to try this. I can't make gravy to save my soul. I've tried so many times, including this past Sunday. Always horrible, or close to it. I'll be doing Thanksgiving this year and I really need to figure this out. Thanks for all the pics and details. Wish me luck - I'm going to need it.

Laurie Junker said...

I made this last year and it was incredible and such a relief to be able to do the day before. I used white wine instead of apple cider vinegar and added the defatted turkey drippings when heating it up. Huge hit!

Debby Foodiewife said...

Adding white wine is a great idea. I forgot about that, as I did that with a Martha Stewart turkey & gravy recipe, years ago. Thanks for reminding me! I'll do the same, this year...and thanks for your feedback.

Anonymous said...

Hi Debbie,
This looks like a great time saver, and super delicious as well. I may have missed it, but when did you add the 1/2 C. milk? I assume it's right after the butter and flour stirring and right before the stock.

Thanks for helping us all through the holidays. Kaaren

Debby Foodiewife said...

Dear Kaaren,
I've included a printable recipe card, at the end of the post. Instructions on when to add the milk is included there. I didn't include a photo of it, because it's hard to whisk and photograph at the same time! If you have any further questions, please email me
Good luck!

Cheryl Steele said...

Making gravy for 20, husband family pours it over everything. Sister-in-law who usually makes gravy is not coming this year. Ingredient Portions please . Cheryl

Debby Foodiewife said...

Dear Cheryl:
There is a printable recipe card, at the end of the post. In BIG RED LETTERS I explain why you might not be able to view the recipe card and I provide a link, if you can't. Or you can email me at
Goodness! I wouldn't share a recipe without the directions!

Kathy said...

It's the day before Thanksgiving 2013 and I'm making the stock right now, with my roasted turkey bones!

We roasted a 19 lb bird over night @ 250° for 7 hrs in a bag. Let it cool and by 9:00 am had it completely deboned and lovely whole breast and thigh pieces to slice and arrange in TWO 13 x 9" dishes. I found meat I never knew existed. There was at least 5 cups of au jus in the bag (well, both in and out of the bag - thank goodness I used a large deep roasting pan). I ladled a good amount of juice back over each dish of sliced turkey and stored in fridge until re-heating for tomorrow's meal. The cooking method is from Christy Jordan's Southern Plate website:

Now it's 11:20 am and I'm loving that this task is complete. I'm resting my aching back in front of my computer while stock is being created on the stove. Oh! Timer - an hour is up... Wow! It really is already, in just an hour or so, delicious stock. Can't wait to make the gravy!

Thanks so much for the recipes and great instructions. ;^)