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A great pan gravy is not difficult to make, but attention must be paid, and at the last minute, too. That’s why so many examples of this noble subset of the sauce realm are truly god-awful. I know this for a fact, because I feel compelled to order gravy if I see it on a restaurant menu, no matter where I am.

I suppose I get what I deserve at a second-rate roadside diner (never set off in the car without emergency rations), but even at fancy restaurants, I’ve been dismayed. Gravy doesn’t need its dignified richness cut with irony. It doesn’t need a lift from precious or trendy ingredients, either. By and large, classic embellishments—shallots, onions, garlic, herbs, mushrooms, and/or various spirits and wines—do the job without unnecessary fuss or extravagance.

As my paternal grandmother, the family’s gravy genius, would say, “It’s all very simple, once you know how.”

Gravy Rule No. 1 I know it’s a bit late to be saying this, but make your turkey stock ahead of time and you’ll be sitting in the catbird seat. If you don’t get around to it until The Morning Of, however, all is not lost. Just take care not to rush the browning of whatever turkey parts you are using. Note that the key word is brown. Not golden, not golden brown, but brown. The more completely you brown the parts, the more flavorful and deeper in color the stock, and thus the finished gravy, will be.

Gravy Rule No. 2 The right roasting pan makes deglazing—adding liquid to dissolve the browned bits glued to the bottom—a piece of cake. Use a roasting pan that’s flameproof (not Pyrex or ceramic), obviously, and stable enough to fit securely across two burners. (Large, upright riveted handles, easily grasped with oven-mitted hands, are a plus.) Given your druthers, avoid nonstick. You want the meat juices to glom on to the pan, remember? That is how they turn into caramelized bullets of flavor. Furthermore, a dark nonstick finish can be irksome; it’s hard to see what you’re doing.

Gravy Rule No. 3 Have your stock mixture good and hot before making the roux—basically, flour cooked in fat (usually reserved from the pan drippings) until it loses its rawness. Once the starch granules in the flour are well-coated, they can’t form unfortunate lumps in a sauce—unless the liquid being introduced is not hot. Making a roux is quick business. Don’t dare look away, for it only takes a few minutes …. Just long enough to say,

Happy Thanksgiving!

Turkey Pan Gravy with Madeira

Adapted from Gourmet magazine (and my grandmother, the gravy genius)

Both my grandmother and my former colleagues at Gourmet gave gravy-making the respect it deserves, and so here I stand on the shoulders of giants. Although the addition of Madeira, a fortified wine like Sherry and Port, was certainly part of the magazine’s lexicon, I quite literally cut my teeth on the stuff. Dry white wine is a different, yet equally delicious, alternative.

about 8 cups turkey stock, such as Make-Ahead Brown Turkey Stock

roasting-pan juices from a 14-pound turkey (transfer the cooked bird to a carving board to rest, leaving juices in pan)

1 cup Sercial (medium-dry) Madeira

¾ cup all-purpose flour

salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Bring the turkey stock to a gentle simmer in a medium pot. Skim the fat from the pan juices (or use a fat separator), reserving ½ cup fat.

2. Now, for the deglazing. Put the roasting pan across 2 burners, add the Madeira, and boil for 1 minute over medium-high heat, stirring and scraping up the browned bits with a wooden spoon. Add that lovely, fragrant deglazed liquid to the pot of stock and bring to a gentle simmer.

3. Once your stock mixture is ready, it’s time to make the roux. Look around for the reserved fat—it’s on the counter, somewhere—and put it in a cast-iron skillet or heavy (i.e., scorch-resistant) saucepan. Heat the fat over medium-low heat, then whisk in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until the flour begins to take on faint color and no longer tastes raw, 3 minutes. Pour the hot stock mixture into the roux, whisking constantly, and simmer, whisking until thickened nicely. This should take about 10 minutes; you’ll be able to tell it’s ready by the sound it makes.

4. Whisk in any meat juices from the bird on the carving board, and taste. Season with salt and pepper if necessary, then ladle the gravy into a heated gravy boat or bowl.

Gluten-Free Option: I learned the trick of substituting cornstarch from the food editors at Gourmet, but I’ve used arrowroot or potato starch as well. The end result loses some overall richness (it’s lower in fat), but that is offset by a clean taste and lighter body.

Combine 1 cup room-temperature stock and ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon cornstarch in a bowl. Stir until the cornstarch is dissolved. Bring the pan juices and stock to a simmer in a heavy saucepan, and add the deglazing liquid. Give the cornstarch mixture one last stir, then pour it into the stock mixture, whisking. Bring to a boil, still whisking, and add any meat juices from the carving board. Boil 1 minute, then season and serve.

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