Monday, October 13, 2008

Gravy - The Nectar of The Gods

I was not always the culinary crab you now read before you. Like most male cooks, I first chose to master the techniques of immolating animal flesh over open flame. From the grill I moved onto mastering chili. There, I took to incinerating taste buds by following the time honored tradition of substituting heat for flavor, (to this day, I detest most spicy foods, not for their heat, but because too often excessive heat betrays a complete lack of cooking skill).

The time had come to seek out professional help. I started taking cooking classes. Fish classes, grilling classes, Italian classes, Chinese classes, all with mixed results. It wasn't until I took a 5 session class called "How to Boil Water", that light finally started to dawn on Marblehead. Week 1 - Vegetables, Week 2 - Stocks & Soup, Week 3 - Fish, Week 4 - Meat & Poultry, Week 5 - Put It All Together.

It was in this class that I finally learned the basics of that most mysterious of dishes - gravy. As far as I'm concerned, Thanksgiving is entirely about gravy. The turkey, mashed potatoes and stuffing are merely conduits for transporting gravy to your stomach. A pox on your house if you put sausage or, God save me, oysters in your stuffing. If it can't absorb gravy, it better not be in the stuffing.

Gravy is about melding roasted flavors into a savory sauce that enhances and amplifies everything it touches (including fingers). Gravy can be touchy, but once you begin to master it, a whole new world of taste possibilities opens up. But this will require practice, which is why I'm giving you this recipe now so that you can try it a few times before Thanksgiving. Gravy is not a precise recipe, it's more of a technique that you will get better at the more you try it, so here goes...

Gravy 101
from "How to Boil Water" @ Cooks of Crocus Hill

This recipe is for basic Turkey Gravy.

1 15 lb. Turkey
2/3 cup onion roughly chopped
1/3 cup carrots, roughly chopped
1/3 cup celery, roughly chopped
32 ounces, no-salt/low salt chicken or turkey stock/broth
1 14 1/2 oz can of chicken stock (on standby, for thinning purposes)
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
Salt & Pepper

Scatter the onion, celery and carrots in the bottom of a roasting pan, (a good old fashioned, heavy-bottomed roasting pan, gravy is much more difficult to accomplish if you're using a disposable roasting pan). Place a roasting rack inside the pan atop the vegetables. Put the cleaned, towel dried turkey on top of the rack. Drizzle 2 TBSP melted butter over the Turkey. Roast until done; I use Alton Brown's approach.

While the turkey is roasting, pour 32 ounces of chicken/turkey stock into a saucepan and warm over low heat.


NOTE 2: If you don't have 32 ounces of homemade stock (a post for another day), then, by far my favorite box stock is Kitchen Basics Unsalted Chicken Cooking Stock. If you can't find that, then go for Swanson's Low-Sodium Chicken Broth. The key is to go for the lowest sodium broth/stock you can find.

When the bird is done, remove from the oven and transfer to a cutting board and lightly cover with aluminum foil. SAVE THE PAN DRIPPINGS!.

NOTE 3: The vegetables will most likely looked burned black and swimming in turkey fat and juices. GOOD!!!

Pour the vegetables, fat and juices into a large measuring cup or fat separator and return the roasting pan to the stove top. Spoon back into the pan as many of the vegetables as you can get. Allow the fat to rise to the top (approximately 2 minutes) of the measuring cup or separator. Slowly pour the collected juices into the saucepan containing the warm broth, stopping before any fat enters the stock. Save this fat!

Turn heat to medium-high under the roasting pan and sprinkle 1/3 cup of flour over the vegetables. Add 1/8 cup of fat to the mixture and start whisking the ingredients together. If there is excess fat still in the roasting pan then add another 1/8 of a cup of flour and mix to absorb. You want the vegetables and flour to congeal into small blobs without any extra fat floating around.
(NOTE 4: This is the most difficult part of the process and the one that requires the most judgement and practice.)

Conversely, you don't want the roux to be too dry with unabsorbed flour flying around, if that happens then add a small amount of fat (if you don't have enough turkey fat, substitute some butter). Cook the roux for 3 minutes, if you don't cook the roux long enough your gravy will have a starchy taste and will get lumpy.

Now, with whisk in hand, quickly add the hot chicken stock, and whisk constantly. Keep whisking until the clumps of roux have all dissolved. Boil gravy for 1 minute, as the gravy boils it will begin to thicken.

NOTE 5: REMEMBER: THE GRAVY WILL THICKEN AS IT COOLS!. So if the gravy is too thick, add some additional chicken stock (from that 14 oz. can in the ingredient list - I know it's cold, but at this stage texture and consistency is the main concern) to thin it out.

Pour the gravy through a strainer into a large saucepan and keep warm over low heat until ready to serve.

I know, a lot of notes along the way. But I didn't promise you easy I promised you magnificent. Gravy takes practice, it just seems to border on black magic. This approach works with any roasting beast: Beef, Chicken, Pork, etc. I didn't get into augmenting your gravy, but, as you can see from the photos, I add sauteed mushrooms. Another good addition would be some finely diced shallots or onion.

Remember: Beast, Roast Mirepoix, Roux, Hot Broth & Whisk.

You can do it crablings, you can make gravy, now go forth and practice before Thanksgiving.


Anonymous said...

Okay, while I do like sausage in my stuffing, I'm with you on the oysters. And there are plenty of other things to absorb what gravy the sausage does not: potatoes (mashed works best), bread, turkey... I've never had any left on my plate.


Jeannebean said...

The GRAVY!! Yes - there's going to be a major run on turkey & chicken stock. Savannah is cheering & Weezie pressured. Let's see how it all turns out.
Thanks, Crabby.