Gravy is essential to a Thanksgiving turkey, but only if it is good gravy. And what makes gravy good is delicious drippings from a beautifully roasted bird. Many gravy methods involve making it right in the pan the turkey was cooked in, to scrape up all the bits and juices. And that’s great. But I realized some years ago that trying to do this while my family stands around the kitchen impatiently waiting for their food is impractical. So I now make a rich gravy base the day before, and stir in the lovely juices when the bird has cooked. Bacon grease, caramelized onions and a bit of bourbon add flavor to the base, but don’t worry if it seems a little bland at first. Whisking in the juices brings everything together in a gorgeous golden gravy. The onions may make your gravy look a bit lumpy, but the flavor is brilliant.
Make-Ahead Gravy for your Turkey
2 Tablespoons bacon grease or oil
2 cups finely diced onion (from about 1 ½ onions)
2 Tablespoons bourbon
2 Tablespoons butter
4 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups turkey or chicken stock
Drippings from your turkey, skimmed of fat
Salt and pepper to taste
Pick out a medium sized, heavy-bottomed sauce pan, and make a paper lid for stewing the onions by cutting out a circle from a piece of parchment or waxed paper that will fit tightly over the surface of the onions. This is called a cartouche, by the way. Melt the bacon drippings in the saucepan and add the onions before the grease gets too hot. Sauté gently over medium until the onions are soft and translucent, stirring frequently. Don’t let the onions scorch or brown. Add the bourbon and cook, stirring, until it is almost all evaporated. Turn the heat to low. Place the parchment paper circle over the top of the onion pressing directly on the surface. Cook the onions until soft and caramelized and golden brown, removing the paper once or twice and stirring, replacing the paper lid, about 20 minutes.
When the onions are lovely and golden, add the butter and stir until it is melted. Sprinkle over the flour and stir to coat the onions. Cook for about three minutes, then begin slowly whisking in the stock. Continue whisking until your gravy base is quite thick. It will thin out when you add the turkey drippings. The base may look and taste a bit bland now, but that will be fixed when we add the drippings. At this point, you can cool the gravy base, cover and refrigerate overnight.
When ready to serve, reheat the gravy over low heat, stirring to heat it through. Skim the fat from your turkey drippings, either by letting the juices settle and skimming off the fat the collects on the top, or use a nifty gravy separator if you’ve got one. Slowly whisk the drippings from your roasted turkey into the gravy base, tasting as you go, until you have a nice, rich taste. You don’t want to pour in all the juices and thin the gravy out too much. Cook the gravy, whisking constantly, to thicken it up as needed. Taste before adding any salt, as the turkey drippings may be quite salty. Add pepper to taste if you’d like.
Sara B. says
I make the gravy for my sister-in-law’s bird every year. She roasts it in the bag, which results in watery, pale drippings that need a lot of doctoring up. In the past I’ve resorted to roasting my own small bird at home just to get some decent drippings to bring on T-day. I like your idea much better. Besides, usually by the time comes to make gravy, I’m sort of drunk anyway. Runaway Spoon saves Thanksgiving!
Judy P says
What I do is buy a couple packages of turkey wings or parts ahead of time. I roast them and use the dripping to make turkey gravy at least a day or so before Thanksgiving. Then I heat it in a crock pot. There are so many of us that we eat buffet style so the gravy stays hot throughout the meal in the crockpot. May not be fancy but it works VERY well.
Also, regarding the watery juices from a turky in a bag or even in a covered roasting pan. I cook at least part of the juices down even to almost the totally browned stage and then add stock or even water back to the gravy stage. I think the drippings need to be carmelized for flavor NOT browning the flour, which is better than nothing but still is not the rich carmelized flavor of drippings.
This is brilliant! Thank you.
Dot O. says
You give an absolutely wonderful tutorial. Thanks to your recipes I’m going to knock my family’s socks off. No more pale turkey cooked in a bag in a roaster…no sir-ee…bacon Tom is coming to our dinner!
Lovely turkey. I’m going to try your recipe this year. What a great website. Thanks for generously sharing your skills!
Chritstina Voerman says
Sounds FABulous! ~Can’t wait to WOW the fam with your wonderful recipes! Many thanks!
I’ve never been much on making the gravy in the past, always let others do it. In reading this, I want to try but am lost on the cartouche thing. Can you please explain it a bit more for me.
The Runaway Spoon says
Just cut a circle from parchment or waxed paper that fits in the pan over the top of the onions to cover them completely. They will soften and brown beautifully. You can lift the paper carefully to check on the onions and stir.