Good Gravy: The Finishing Touch

Wednesday, November 21, 2012
After the Thanksgiving turkey came out of the oven, my grandfather set the roasting pan, full of pan juices, on the stove top and got to work. Making the gravy was his domain.

To his credit, he made it look easy, so easy that in those first years after he died, I took over making the gravy without a second thought.

For reasons I don’t really understand, making gravy is viewed as a turkey day tribulation. It isn’t. What’s more, it’s the capstone of the T-day meal, the last thing you do before sitting down to eat.

My grandfather, a taciturn tool-and-die shop foreman in Worcester, Mass., turned whipping up the gravy into a bit of wordless theater. He gathered his materials and got working without comment or fanfare. He had me help once or twice, and I follow his plan, for the most part.

When I can, I try to make the gravy right in the pan. A flat-bottomed pan with a removable rack works best. If I don’t have one, I use a saucepan.

First, I withdraw the pan juices to a separator to skim off most of the fat. A lot of gravy recipes will tell you to start with four cups of stock, then reduce it. But in the course of basting the turkey there’s usually plenty of liquid in the roasting pan. This saves time, as I can just reheat it on the stove without worrying about reducing it too much. Anyway, how much gravy do you need?

While the pan juices heat up, on medium high, I mix some flour and water in a tumbler or a measuring cup. I’m not too picky about how it looks, but I want to have a cup or two of the flour and water mixture. Grandpa whisked it together with a fork into a smooth white gruel.

I also get together some seasonings: Sage, of course, thyme, a little rosemary. I think grandpa used something like Bell’s Poultry Seasoning. I will sometimes add a small dollop of Marmite or Vegemite to darken the gravy and add some salt and savoriness. And if I’m feeling ambitious, I’ll saute the gizzard and heart and mince them up to make giblet gravy.

Once the pan juices are bubbling, I turn down the heat and start adding the flour and water mixture a few tablespoons at a time, stirring vigorously with my fork. I scrape some of the browned bits off the bottom of the pan and stir them in. My forearm gets sore. I think about my grandfather and of Thanksgivings past. I might revel, even exult, a bit, albeit inwardly. I’m making gravy!

Fancy recipes tell you to do this the other way around, to make a roux, then add the warm stock or pan juices. Follow a recipe if you like, but it isn’t worth it. I keep slowly adding the flour and water, and before long the liquid in the pan thickens and takes on a golden sheen. When it clings to a spoon to my satisfaction, it’s ready. Toward the end I add the herbs and correct the seasoning.

When I dish it up and take it to the table, I know, just like my grandfather did, that Thanksgiving dinner is complete and we’re ready for grace and gratitude.

Alex Hanson can be reached at or 603-727-3219.

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