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TURKEY GRAVY

The most important step in gravy making is the preparation of the roux. Roux is the French word for "red" and at some point in the came to mean a flour that had been cooked long enough to change color. François Pierre de la Varenne, a court chef during the French King Louis XIV's reign, is credited with introducing it in his 1651 cookbook, Le Cuisinier Français.

Roughly equal volumes of fat (often butter) and flour are gently heated in a pan and stirred until the flour no longer has that characteristic "cereal" odor and the desired color has been attained. In the case of brown sauces and gravy, the flour is made to contribute to the color and flavor by being browned as the meat and vegetables have been. The more the flour is browned, however, the less power it has to thicken, for the same reason that caramelized sugar is less sweet than plain sugar.

In each case, the carbohydrates are broken down and transformed in the browning reaction, so that there is a net loss of the original material and its particular properties. You will need more of a dark brown roux to thicken a given amount of liquid, then, than you will of a pale roux. In addition to improving the flavor and sometimes the color of sauces, the practice of precooking the flour improves the dispersion of both starch and fat together when added to a watery stock, and if the butter were dropped in as a lump, it would take a great deal more stirring than a roux does to be evenly dispersed. Finally, precooking inactivates the starch-digesting enzymes present in the flour that might otherwise break down some amylose molecules when liquid is added, and thus thin the sauce.

Once the roux has been added to the stock, the mixture is allowed to simmer for quite a while. During this time, the flavor is concentrated as water evaporates, and the starch granules dissolve and disperse among the gelatin molecules, with a very smooth texture the result.

Another advantage of (de)boning the turkey is that all ingredients are available well before the turkey has finished its cooking, allowing ample time to make a perfect gravy.

The ingredients:

  • 4 cups of hot homemade turkey stock and/or juices that have accumulated from cooking the turkey.
  • 1 cup of turkey fat from the surface of the stock (or fat plus butter, or butter only)
  • 1 cup of flour
  • salt, to taste
  • white ground pepper, to taste
  • mushrooms, fresh or dried and rehydrated (optional)
  • a few sprigs of fresh rosemary and/or sage, chopped very fine or ground in a spice mill (optional)

Preparation:

Make a roux by heating the reserved turkey fat and enough butter to make 1 cup in a sauté pan. When the fat is hot, add flour and whisk to combine. Continuously stir over low to moderate heat until it becomes a brownish carmel color with a slightly nutty aroma. This will take about 30 minutes or so.

Remove from heat and remove about half of the roux from the pan to a bowl or container. (Any leftover roux can be kept refrigerated and used for making sauces and additional gravy to go with the leftovers).

Whisk in the hot turkey stock in small portions to the roux remaining in the pan. Continue whisking until all the stock is added an it is very smooth. Once the turkey has finished its cooking, accumulated juices from the pan can be added as well.

Correct seasonings, add optional ingredients, and continue to cook slowly with occasional stirring.

Add a little more stock if too thick; add a spoonful of reserved roux if the gravy is too thin.

Reference:
McGee H. On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen (1984) p 344-5 (Roux and starch-thickened sauces)
Starch in Food. Chapter 7 in Food Carbohydrate Chemistry by Ronald E. Wrolstad (2012) Wiley-Blackwell

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