- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 16, 2004

My mother made the best turkey gravy I have ever eaten. Her secret was in the dressing.

When she put her dressing into the pan to bake, she saved out a full cup. She would then add this to the turkey gravy as part of the thickening. The dressing would totally disintegrate, and you would never guess it was in there, but the gravy would have a wonderful consistency and fabulous flavor.

She cooked the turkey neck and gizzard (never the liver) in chicken stock. She pulled most of the meat from the neck and added it to the dressing. She added the stock plus the finely chopped gizzard to the turkey drippings, from which she had skimmed the fat.

She thickened these drippings and stock with a flour slurry (flour stirred into cold water) to the consistency of gravy. Then, with the gravy on very low heat, she stirred in the cup of dressing, which contained well-cooked onions, celery and good sage flavoring. In just a few seconds of stirring, the chicken-stock-soaked bread vanished. She finished the gravy by adding a chopped hard-cooked egg.

She combined two classic methods of sauce making. First, she created a starch-thickened (starch-bound) sauce with the starch in the flour. Then she finished it off with a puree.

There are three methods for making a starch-bound sauce:

• A slurry (a starch stirred into cold liquid, then added slowly with constant stirring over low heat to the liquid to be thickened)

• A roux (made by cooking flour stirred into a fat, then stirring in the liquid)

• A beurre manie, or kneaded butter (equal portions of butter and flour kneaded together, which is then stirred into the simmering liquid)

These methods distribute the starch grain by grain so that there will not be any lumps. If you dump a tablespoon of flour into hot stock, the starch on the outside of every lump swells instantly, creating a waterproof coating. This keeps the flour in a sealed lump for you to bite into.

Thickening with a slurry: The secret for making a good starch-bound sauce with a slurry is to wait until the sauce comes to a gentle boil before deciding whether you need more thickening.

As a sauce heats, the starch granules swell and swell. They may contain many times their weight in liquid. Then, they pop and the starch rushes out into the sauce. This is when your sauce or gravy thickens.

Unfortunately, sometimes you can stir and stir but nothing seems to be happening. You can’t see the little granules swelling, so you think that the sauce is not thick enough and you stir in more starch slurry. Then, when the sauce comes to that magic temperature where the granules pop, you end up with a goopy paste instead of sauce. But if you allow a sauce to come to a gentle boil, all the starch granules will have popped and you will know how thick your sauce is. You can then decide if you need more starch.

Thickening with a roux: Sauces or gravies that are thickened with a roux are normally made with pan drippings or oil. You stir flour into the fat in a heavy skillet and cook over low to medium heat until the roux reaches the desired darkness.

A light roux thickens well because most of the starch granules are available to swell, pop and thicken. In a darker roux, the higher heat has damaged many of the granules, so they are no longer able to swell and pop. A dark roux has more flavor but less thickening ability. A cook can use both: a dark roux to flavor and a light roux to thicken, in the same dish, if desired.

A simple gravy is a good way to begin working with a roux. To make milk gravy with fried chicken or country fried steak, pour or spoon off most of the fat in the pan where the meat was fried. I usually leave about three tablespoons.

Stir in spices or herbs. I use black pepper and salt. Turn the heat down to low; scrape the pan well to loosen any browned, stuck particles; and then stir in some flour. (For about 2 cups of liquid, I use 1/4 cup flour.) Cook the flour over very low heat with constant stirring and scraping for several minutes, until the flour is just beginning to color.

Remove the pan from the heat. Adding something to hot fat can be dangerous because the fat can splatter. I like to work with a flat whisk so I can scrape the bottom of the pan well. Have about 1½ cups cold milk in a measuring cup with a spout you can pour from easily. With one hand, quickly pour in ½ cup of the cold milk all at once, while stirring with the other hand. If you pour a tiny amount of liquid into the hot fat, it will spatter. You need to add enough cold liquid fast enough that everything cools quickly.

Stir in this cold milk well and continue adding milk with constant stirring until you have half the milk in the skillet. Place the skillet back on low heat and cook, steadily scraping the bottom, until the gravy thickens. Continue adding all the milk a little at a time. The mixture may be thin, but it will thicken as the gravy gets hotter.

At any time, if it starts to get away from you (too thick on the bottom and lumpy), remove the pan from the heat and stir until the gravy is smooth again. Then you can return it to the heat and, with constant slow stirring, allow it to thicken as needed.

Thickening with beurre manie: Beurre manie is a mixture of equal parts butter and flour, well-kneaded. Beurre manie can be prepared ahead and kept in the refrigerator.

When you add a lump of this floured butter to a hot stock, the butter melts, adding the flour grain by grain so no lumps form. Although this is not a well-known method, it is probably the easiest way to make a starch-bound sauce.

Bring the liquid to be thickened to a simmer, then add a tablespoon-size lump of beurre manie and stir until the sauce comes back to a simmer. Continue adding beurre manie a little at a time until the sauce is the thickness you want.

Adding beurre manie is also an excellent way to thicken a sauce that is not quite thick enough.

Thickening with purees: Purees are the oldest method of sauce making. Bread crumbs and ground dried fish were used as thickeners in ancient times.

Today, many dishes are thickened with purees. A bit of pureed beans thickens the famous Senate navy bean soup. Fruit or vegetable purees make excellent low-fat thickeners. You can make an excellent sauce by pureeing overcooked rice or even cooked cauliflower.

You can try your expertise at thickening a gravy with a slurry and a puree in Clide Ogletree’s famous turkey gravy (recipe follows), or you can simply add a cup of dressing to store-bought gravy for a great homemade taste.

Clide Ogletree’s famous turkey gravy

This is the best turkey gravy. The secret is the cup of dressing that is stirred in as part of the thickening.

2 cups total-turkey pan drippings plus scrapings

2 cups giblet stock (recipe follows)

1/4 cup flour stirred into ½ cup cold water

Cooked turkey gizzard, finely chopped (see giblet stock)

1 cup uncooked herb dressing (recipe follows)

1 large hard-cooked egg, chopped

Salt and pepper

Drain pan drippings from turkey roasting pan, and pour them into medium saucepan. Add 1 cup cold water to roasting pan; place on a burner on top of the stove; and cook, scraping to get up any stuck-on particles. Add this to pan drippings. Skim off fat.

Bring pan drippings and giblet stock to a simmer. Stir flour and cold water to mix well. Stirring stock constantly, drizzle about a fourth of the flour mixture into the simmering stock. Continue drizzling and stirring until all of the flour mixture is incorporated and gravy thickens.

Reduce heat to very low, and stir in the finely chopped gizzard, the dressing and the hard-cooked egg. Taste for seasoning. Add salt and pepper as needed. Makes about 5 cups gravy.

GIBLET STOCK:

Giblets refer to all the pieces inside the turkey: the neck, gizzard, liver and heart. I never use the liver or heart in stock or gravy. For my giblet stock, I just use the gizzard and the neck.

Turkey gizzard

Turkey neck

Celery leaves from 2 stalks

1 small onion, quartered

2 cups chicken stock

Remove any gristle from gizzard. In a medium saucepan, cook gizzard, neck, celery leaves and onion in chicken stock. Try to keep the stock just below a simmer. Cook for about 30 minutes. Strain and reserve stock, neck and gizzard. Makes about 3 cups giblet stock.

HERB DRESSING:

Nonstick cooking spray

½ pound good-quality pork sausage

1 teaspoon poultry seasoning

1 large onion, chopped (about 1½ cups)

2 cups chopped celery

Cooked turkey neck (see giblet stock)

1 16-ounce package herbed stuffing mix, about 8 cups

1/4 cup parsley, chopped

6 fresh sage leaves, chopped

1 teaspoon sugar

1 12-ounce can chicken stock, about 1½ cups

1 cup heavy or whipping cream

Salt and pepper

Spray a 9-by-13-by-2-inch casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray.

In a large skillet over medium heat, saute sausage, breaking it into small pieces. Cook until sausage is well-browned. With a slotted spoon, remove sausage to a large mixing bowl.

Turn heat down to low; add poultry seasoning, onion and celery. Cook with frequent stirring until onion and celery are very soft, about 15 minutes. Add to the sausage.

Pull meat from the cooked turkey neck (see giblet stock), and add it to mixture. Add the stuffing mix; toss well to mix. Stir in parsley and sage, and sprinkle on the sugar.

In a large measuring cup, stir together chicken stock and cream. Drizzle a little of this mixture over the crumbs and toss. Continue drizzling and tossing until all of the liquid is added. Taste for seasoning; add salt and pepper as needed. Be sure to reserve 1 to 2 cups of this mixture for the gravy. Spoon into prepared pan. Bake in preheated 350-degree oven about 20 minutes, or until just heated through. Serve immediately. Makes 8 servings.

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