Tuesday, November 29, 2011

It's All Gravy

There is nothing I've feared more about making Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner than the gravy. Even though there's less of it than almost anything else you prepare, people love their gravy. And some people pour it over half their meal, which means that if you don't do it well, you could potentially be ruining half of someone's Holiday dinner. Humor me for a moment while I tell you about the first two Thanksgiving meals I made...

Thanksgiving #1
Age: 17
Location: Provo, Utah

I had flown out from Massachusetts where I was attending boarding school to spend the holiday with my sister who was then a Sophomore in college. Neither of us had much experience cooking at that point, and I'm sorry to say, it showed. Poor Annie didn't think it through, for example, when she decided to seal the top crust of her apple pie around the lip of the pan itself instead of to the bottom crust, which meant that when it came time to serve it, our friends had to break the crust off to get a piece. I was entirely unfamiliar with what gravy was comprised of. I had a recipe, but I thought I must have been reading it incorrectly because who would want to pour turkey drippings on their potatoes? No, no. That can't be right, I thought. So I poured out almost all of the fat and drippings down the drain, and for some inconceivable reason, I kept adding flour. Train wreck. It turned out thick, lumpy, and mysteriously... green. I'm sure you'll be shocked when I tell you nobody attempted eating it.

Thanksgiving #2
Location: Bethesda, MD

I decided to host Thanksgiving for a group of about 14 friends who opted not to go home that year. You'll be happy to know that it wasn't a repeat of Provo. Each holiday we had a wonderful time, but the food was an improvement the second time around. But I think my brain must have done one of those post-traumatic-stress-block-out-memories maneuvers, because it was T minus 20 minutes and I realized I'd forgotten entirely to plan the gravy and still had no idea what I was doing. Thank goodness my very talented friend, Johnathan, stepped in and made one very tasty, impromptu gravy.

This year I was not going to be defeated by my past. I'd done my research, and I knew what to do. I bought a fat separator like this one and consulted Ina. After tasting her "Homemade Gravy," I don't know that I'll ever make another kind; it was so delicious and easy. I opted not to make it with the cognac or brandy but kept everything else. In the hopes that this will be of use to you for Christmas or any other special cold-weather meal, here's her recipe below and the video above for you to reference.
Homemade Gravy by Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa
Total Time: 30 min
Yield: 3 cups

1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onion (2 onions)
1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Defatted turkey drippings plus chicken stock to make 2 cups, heated
1 tablespoon Cognac or brandy
1 tablespoon white wine, optional
1 tablespoon heavy cream, optional

In a large (10 to 12-inch) saute pan, cook the butter and onions over medium-low heat for 12 to 15 minutes, until the onions are lightly browned. Don't rush this step; it makes all the difference when the onions are well-cooked.
Sprinkle the flour into the pan, whisk in, then add the salt and pepper. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the hot chicken stock mixture and Cognac, and cook uncovered for 4 to 5 minutes until thickened. Add the wine and cream, if desired. Season, to taste, and serve.

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