Monday, November 21, 2016

Three Kings. No, no. Gravies. Three Gravies. (Including a killer vegetarian one.)

This is still the recipe I use, that my mom dictated to me over the phone in 1993, when we were living in California.
So, yes, I make three kinds of gravy every year. That’s because 1) Gravy. 2) Having enough gravy. And 3) Gravy-making-wise, three different opportunities present themselves: the (ew) neck and giblets that come with (i.e. inside) the bird (ew); the scrumptious pan drippings left after the birdy is cooked; the fact that there are vegetarian mashed-potato eaters at our holiday table.

Birdy at the non-gravy-themed protest wall of the Union Square subway station. I love New York. I really do. 
Also, you probably know this story already, but one year we ran out of gravy. Yes, it turned out that Michael’s brother Keith had simply hidden the gravy mid-meal so there would be plenty for leftovers the next day, but still—it scarred me, the running out.

One photo for 3 gravies, and it's not even a good photo. I assure you: they all look more or less like this. 
 Have a wonderful Thanksgiving. I am so grateful for your presence, your beauty, your company.

Good Vegetarian Gravy
Let’s do vegetarian first, so the vegetarians can stop reading before anyone is sticking anyone’s hand inside anything dead, shall we? This gravy is all about salt and what I think of as the flavor brown. Nutritional yeast, miso, and soy sauce are my vegetarian umami trifecta, but if you were to use, say, only two out of three, I’m sure the gravy would still be plenty umami and good. Also, a spoonful of almond butter stirred in adds a certain richness, but it’s optional; sometimes it feels like one thing too much. (Also, I am returning to add: if Birdy didn't hate them, I would use mushrooms as the base of this gravy like a normal person.)

3 tablespoons butter (you can use Earth Balance)
1 shallot, minced
3 tablespoons flour (you can use gluten-free flour)
3-4 cups low-salt vegetarian broth or stock (or, what I use, which is 1 vegetarian bouillon cube dissolved in 3 cups water)
¼ cup each mild white miso, nutritional yeast, and un-oaky red wine (or apple cider)
1 tablespoon each soy sauce and maple syrup
1 tablespoon almond butter (optional)
1 tablespoon tomato paste (optional)
A shake of garlic powder
A small sprig of fresh thyme or a pinch of dried

In a medium-sized pot, melt the butter and sauté the shallot over medium-low heat until it is translucent and on the verge of browning. Whisk in the flour, and cook as long as you can stand to—from a minute to ten minutes, depending on how committed you are to giving the flour a little color and flavor. (I am usually in a rush, and cook it for just a minute.)

Whisk in 3 cups of the broth or stock or bouillon, and cook over low medium-heat, whisking, until the gravy is lump-free(ish). If it gets crazily thick right away, then add that extra cup of broth or stock or water.

Whisk in all the other ingredients and cook the gravy, whisking somewhere between frequently and constantly until the gravy is thick and the harshness of the wine flavor has mellowed. If at any point it gets too thick, thin it a little with stock or water. Taste it and decide if it needs anything else. You could add more salty something, need be, but more likely is that it might need a tiny bit of something acidic. A splash more of wine or apple cider, say, or a thimble-full of balsamic vinegar. Be very judicious—it may be perfect already!

Serve right away or chill and reheat at a later time.

Neck Gravy
Okay, this is more traditionally called giblet gravy, but for me and my dad, it’s all about that neck, and sharing the neck for our Thanksgiving-day lunch. I usually make this gravy the night before, when I am unwrapping the bird anyway to brine it. It is one less thing to do on the day of. (Get as much laughter as you can out of the Mr. Bean up-to-your-elbow-in-the-bird’s-bum moment.) It’s wine-ier and herbier than the classic pan-drippings gravy, and is some people’s favorite and other people’s second favorite.

The neck and giblet packet from your turkey
1 tablespoon each butter and vegetable oil
4 more tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
½ cup each diced onions, carrots, and celery (I probably use a little more than this: 1 large carrot, 2 celery sticks, 1 small onion)
6 cups chicken stock or broth
1 cup red or white wine (something dry and not oaky)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3 parsley sprigs; 1 bay leaf; a sprig of fresh thyme or a pinch of dried

Evaluate what you’ve got from inside the inside-the-bird “packet”: ideally, a neck (feel around for this—it won’t be in that weird paper bag), and some assorted organs. You want the smallish thumb-shaped heart and the globular kidneys, but don’t use the larger thing, which is the liver, because it makes the gravy taste livery. (I cook it and feed a little bit to the cat.) Dry everything off with paper towels, and make a big fuss about how completely gross it is, so that everyone feels sorry for you.

Heat the 1 tablespoon each butter and oil over medium heat in the pot you have that will be least inclined to allow the gravy to stick and burn. Sauté the neck and giblets, turning frequently until they are deeply browned. Remove them to a plate as they’re done; the neck will take the longest. (If anything has burned, stop at this point and scrub out the pot; otherwise, proceed as below.)

Now add the 4 tablespoons of  butter and the vegetables to the (dirty) pot and sauté until the onions are translucent and everything is going a nice, rich brown. Add the flour and stir, then whisk in the broth and add everything else, including the browned “meat” and bring to a boil, whisking rigorously. Or stirring with a wooden spoon, if you can’t whisk around the veggies et al.

Cook the gravy, covered, over very low heat, stirring regularly, for 2-4, until the neck is falling apart and you feel like the gravy is going to be all evaporated if you keep cooking it. (I feel like this would more sensibly done in a crockpot, but I’ve never tried.) Make sure the gravy is not secretly sticking to the bottom of the pot and burning. If you have more stock, you'll probably want to add some every now and then; as it is, this does not make a ton of gravy. After two hours, taste it. Does it need a splash of wine? A little more salt? More cooking? You want it to be really, really good-tasting.

Strain out the giblets, vegetables, and herbs and, if you like, put the veggies through a food mill back into the gravy pot—or add them back in and blend it all up with a stick blender. This will make the gravy thicker and sweeter and less refined, so you will have to guess if that’s going to be your cuppa or not. Serve right away or chill and reheat at a later time.

Eat the neck. Yummmm.

Pan-Drippings Gravy
This is more of a formula than a recipe. It is delicious. The only thing that’s a pain is the fact that you have to make it after the bird comes out of the oven, which means that you likely already have a houseful of people. No worries! I like to whisk the gravy with a glass of wine in my non-whisking hand, while various guests come and talk to me. It’s not as anti-social as you might think. Make sure you have a 1-quart box of stock handy before you start. (I use all the fat, always, to make as much gravy as I can.)

Once the bird is removed to the carving board, measure your pan drippings, ideally in the kind of measuring cup that will also separate the fat from the juice. (Or use a ladle to separate them as best as you’re able.) Put all the fat in a medium-sized pot over medium-low heat and whisk in an equal amount of flour: ¼ cup, say, for ¼ cup of fat. Whisk until the flour-fat mixture bubbles, then whisk in all of the reserved drippings plus enough purchased (or homemade) chicken or turkey stock to equal around 2 cups of liquid per every ¼ cup of fat. Cook, whisking more or less constantly, while still agreeably putting people’s side dishes into the oven to warm, until the gravy is as thick as you like. Taste the gravy for salt (its saltiness will depend on whether or not you brined your bird), and add a splash of (un-oaky) wine or apple cider if it needs oomph.

Note: if there is a lot of good stuff in the pan that doesn’t simple pour out—nice browned bits and the like—then you can deglaze the pan with a little stock, cooking it gently and loosening the browned bits, and then use this stock in the gravy. Strain it first or not, depending on whether you do or don’t want the bits. 


  1. Happy thanksgiving. May the gravy never run dry. Thank you for all your writing and recipes over the years.

  2. Yum! Have a great Thanksgiving with your sweet family!

  3. Hi Catherine, I am so glad you posted these gravy recipes! My hubby's family is not coming to visit us this year for Thanksgiving and my MIL always makes the best gravy, so I have been worried about how is MY gravy going to stand up?! LOL!I think I will be brave and try the giblet gravy, instead of just throwing away the packet. I always make your Mom's cranberry sauce too and everyone LOVES it! Thank you for keeping us well fed and happy. Happy Turkey day to you and yours<3

  4. Catherine,
    True story, I had a dream about you last night. You were hosting a writing retreat at your house and I went. First off, your place was a shack. You said it was a fixer-upper and you guys were taking your time fixing up. I tried to be charmed by the old floral wallpaper, but I could see daylight through the cracks in the walls and I was freezing to death. Also, everyone there – everyone – but me had their MFA. And it showed. Oh my Lort. I felt like I was inside an episode of Rosasharn Joad and the Smart Wellesley Girls. On the last night there was a potluck thing, but my dish got SHUNNED because I had used Kraft mayonnaise instead of the free-trade/hippy brand all you better girls used. I felt like the time in junior high when the cool girls found out my twister beads were knockoffs from TG&Y. I woke up sad.
    But thanks for the gravy recipe. My daughter went full-vegan this year and this is very helpful.
    Kim Harris

    1. I am crying laughing reading this today.

  5. Oh yeah!!! I have striven (strived?) to make the preparation for this post-election Thanksgiving as stress-free as possible, but was hung up recipe-wise on gravy (my culinary Achilles heel). And here I find that you have posted these glorious options. Since I have faithfully and successfully utilized so many of your recipes over the years, it is such an incredible relief to have found these recipes now for this seemingly insignificant yet undeniably important holiday staple. You are appreciated more than you know, I think.
    So, in other words, thank you.

  6. Alison C5:05 PM

    My son just made the vegetarian gravy. It tastes amazing!!! I knew it would. I never have a doubt that your recipes will work. You have my thanks!!!

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