Why gravy deserves a year to matureOct 31, 2023 11:21AM ● By Sharon Love Cook
Congratulations to those who are planning to cook Thanksgiving dinner. You’re brave to tackle this particular feast—it’s a tough one!
It’s no longer enough to produce a golden-brown bird worthy of a Norman Rockwell painting. Today you need at least a half-dozen “sides.” Moreover, it’s considered a sin today to open a can. For contemporary chefs, it’s all about fresh-sourced. (Hint: It has nothing to do with cans.)
As someone who has cooked decades of holiday dinners, I have some helpful advice. Consider it my gift to you.
The secret of a successful holiday feast lies in doing everything in advance.
I boil and mash the potatoes three days before the holiday. The day before that, I make a fruit mold, and later, the old standby pigs-in-blankets.
The next day, I stuff the (cooled) cornmeal stuffing into my fridge. Ditto the peas. As for the gravy—the pièce de resistance—it is made the year before.
Yes, you read that right. The tall plastic container sitting in my freezer is labeled “turkey gravy 2022.”
I’ve learned the hard way. For years I was up to my elbows in turkey necks and giblets, struggling to make gravy on Thanksgiving Day.
If it’s done right, it’s not easy. For one thing, you can’t begin until the turkey is cooked. Then you locate the designated turkey mover to transfer the big bird to a platter. In my house, this person always grabs the holiday potholders to grip the dripping bird. With the turkey held high, they cross the kitchen to the platter sitting next to the sink. Why they don’t simply move the platter to the stove is an issue that’s loudly debated every year.
Next, I’ll wipe up the trail of grease before the dog gets it and drain off the fat. The pan’s remaining crusty brown bits are what gives gravy its flavor. If you don’t care about that, open a can and be done with it. For those traditionalists, stir in a little flour to create what’s called a roux (not that anyone asks).
Next, pour in the turkey stock (which I make days before), using the neck and assorted organs found in a frozen bag inside the bird. Whisk until the mixture thickens. Remember, you’re doing this in a big roasting pan on top of the stove. It will be messy, but that’s the least of your problems.
It’s usually at this crucial point—stirring the gravy to thicken—that a late guest will arrive full of cheer. This is not a good scenario for those with ADD, as they’re already nearing the meltdown stage.
Nonetheless, if you find yourself dealing with lumpy gravy, there’s not much you can do outside of tossing your apron and abandoning the kitchen. Making last-minute gravy is a test of anyone’s sanity. Before I wised up and embraced the year-old frozen-gravy, I dealt with that nightmare: lumps that wouldn’t go away. In the midst of it all, hungry guests appeared in the kitchen, asking, “Is there anything I can do?” which really means, “For God’s sake! When are we gonna eat?”
One Thanksgiving I was desperately squeezing lumpy gravy through a strainer. The end result was a thick, grayish-brown sludge—albeit with smaller lumps.
Basically, gravy at Thanksgiving is like cake at a wedding: people expect it. You might say gravy is the reason for the season. And unless you have a kitchen staff like TV chef Rachael Ray, it’s impossible to produce good gravy in real time. It certainly was for me until I discovered the joy of making gravy after everyone is gone.
There you are: the sink full of dishes, the dog eating leftovers, the house blessedly quiet. There’s no rush; you’ve got all night to make that gravy. Then, put it away for a year and forget about it.