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.