FAST-TRACK THANKSGIVING GRAVY: MAKE YOUR TURKEY STOCK NOW
Many people believe that the Thanksgiving bird is merely the means to an end: gravy. I don’t count myself among them—I enjoy the flavor of roast turkey, both white meat and dark—but there’s no arguing about the fact that you can never ever have too much rich, velvety gravy. It gives the entire meal a festive air.
That said, there is no reason to make more work for yourself on the big day. Instead, do as I do and make the stock—the underpinning of any fabulous gravy—ahead of time. It keeps in the refrigerator for a week, but I like to cross it off my list even sooner and freeze it. This genius idea is not mine, but that of my former colleague, Alexis Touchet, who was the senior food/travel editor at Gourmet. Alexis has always managed to combine unruffled calm with the razor-sharp strategic thinking of a field marshal; every single time I watched her in the kitchen, I learned something.
Premade stock comes in especially handy if you will be dealing with a frozen turkey. Who hasn’t scrabbled at a thawing bird, desperate to retrieve the packet of giblets? I’d rather head to the supermarket on my own timetable and pick up a few packages of turkey parts. The backs and drumsticks I picked up the other day were gorgeous, really meaty, and, averaging out to a dollar a pound, quite a bargain, especially when you consider that generously included with them were a few very fresh, clean-smelling bones. I only managed to score one turkey wing (63 cents), which always yields great body, but grab two if you have the chance.
Make-Ahead Brown Turkey Stock
Makes about 2½ quarts
To bring out the fresh, aromatic quality of the vegetables, I don’t roast them for a stock like this; the end result usually tastes too caramelized and sweet for me. If that roasty flavor speaks to you, though, go for it.
5 to 6 pounds fresh meaty turkey parts, such as backs, drumsticks, wings, and/or necks
1 large carrot, peeled, cut into 2-inch chunks
1 large celery stalk, leaves trimmed, cut into 2-inch chunks
1 large yellow onion, unpeeled, quartered
1 bay leaf
1. Preheat oven to 500ºF. Put the turkey parts in a flameproof roasting pan, fitting them in a single layer, and roast until deep golden brown, about 45 minutes. (Rotate the pan if necessary for even browning.) Before transferring the turkey parts to a large stockpot, cut large slits in the drumsticks to allow the flavor to more easily escape, and cut the wings in two at the joint, so they’ll stay submerged in the cooking liquid. If you included a neck in the pan, then it is perfectly okay to enjoy it now, all by yourself.
2. Place the roasting pan across 2 burners and add 2 cups water. Bring the water to a boil and use a wooden spoon to scrape up all that lovely browned goo that’s adhered to the bottom.* Add the liquid to the stockpot, along with 3½ quarts cold water, or just enough to cover the turkey parts by an inch or so; remember, you want to concentrate the flavor essence, not dilute it.
3. Bring to a brisk simmer over high heat and skim the foam. Add the vegetables, bay leaf, and salt, and return to a brisk simmer. Lower the heat so the liquid stays at a gentle simmer, and cook, partially covered, 3 hours. Don’t skim the fat on the surface; it will add flavor and body to the finished stock, and it’s easy enough to remove later, once it’s chilled and solidified.
4. In cooking school, I was taught that letting stock sit, unstrained, until it’s cool allows any off-flavors in the bones or overcooked vegetables to insinuate themselves into the liquid, so I strain the stock as soon as it’s done. Use a ladle to pour the hot stock through a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl, discarding the vegetables and bay leaf along the way. (Eating the warm meat that falls off the bones is the cook’s perogative.)
4. Let the stock cool completely, then transfer it to airtight containers and refrigerate. It will keep in the fridge 1 week; leave on the protective layer of solidified fat until you’re ready to use it. If freezing the stock, chill it first, then remove the fat before putting it in the freezer. Reheat the stock before making gravy.
* For more about this step, called deglazing, as well as a photo of my tool of choice for the task, click here.