On gravy and The Italians (plus a gravy recipe)

Have you ever been to an Italian family’s kitchen on a holiday? If you haven’t, you are likely to take in one of two scenes:

  1. Women, wearing tacky smock aprons and far too much hairspray (Breck in my family) toiling over pots of steaming water and sauce, and an overloaded oven, with a definitive stop sign for any man or child to enter longer than it takes to fill a glass with soda (or anisette), lest they be struck with a wooden spoon.
  2. Every person in the family scattered around the table, on counters or sitting on the floor, while the men drink their weight in anisette or sambuca, and older cousins attempt to intoxicate their younger counterparts. The women, having not finished the prep of that year’s holiday feast, have their notepads out of their respective pockabooks (no one had purses, they had pockabooks) to document what was going to be consumed and plan the next year’s holiday.

Number two usually came first and slowly faded into option one once the men and children were tossed from the confines of the kitchen. The 80-year-old grandmother and great aunt with the arthritic hands had no business lifting the 20-quart pot of water and pasta to drain it in the first place. Put a seven-year-old within a six-foot radius and their hair would catch on fire that someone would get burned. This is one of the things Italians do well: deflect on to the children. Italian adults don’t have problems; they have children that always get in the way.

While my culinary training was done mainly by watching from afar, I never picked up on how to make gravy. This…this was the missing piece of my arsenal. Those kitchen restrictions only lift when you start hosting the holidays, usually against someone’s will. I was in college yet still too likely to burn myself on a pot of hot water. Once  the relatives started dying and moving, those holiday gatherings with my family became holiday gatherings with The Wife’s family, another asylum with rules about when you can be in the kitchen, who can be in the kitchen and why you can be in the kitchen.

It was not until I hosted my own Thanksgiving a few years ago that I was confronted by my lack of gravy knowledge. After making the big deal about hosting the holiday and wanting to cook the dinner, I still had to call my mother-in-law in for the gravy. It was when I finally got my first look at how this came together and started a project for me to work on. My mother-in-law’s beef gravy could be served as a meal. I’ve actually scooped bowlfuls of it to mop with slices of Italian bread. The turkey gravy that she and The Wife’s aunt use is usually concocted from chicken stock. While perfectly fine, I want the schmaltz. I want that fat and drippings from the pan so that everything has an even flavor. So, after watching her approach, I began to work on my own. And, I think I finally have it. Just remember the simple ratio of 1:1:1…one tbsp. of flour to one tbsp. of butter to 1 cup of pan liquid.

Basic Turkey Gravy
By Jared Paventi

  • 4 tbsp. all-purpose white flour
  • 4 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 4 cups turkey pan liquid (we’ll get into this below)
  • salt and pepper

Pan liquid

Transfer the cooked turkey to a cookie sheet or platter, tent with foil, and let it sit for 30 to 60 minutes. Add the giblets, neck and any other assorted turkey parts to the pan along with enough water to come up one-half to three-quarters of an inch from the bottom. Set the pan on the stovetop so it will heat as evenly as possible (this may require the use of two burners) and turn the heat to high.

 

Bring it to a boil, scraping the turkey bits stuck to the pan with a wooden spoon. Cook for five to seven minutes. Strain the pan liquid through a fine mesh strainer into a mixing bowl. Set aside.

 

Gravy

Make a roux. In a large saucepan or Dutch oven over high heat, melt the butter and mix in the flour with a wooden spoon. Stir constantly until the flour and butter are combined and the paste takes on a golden brown color. Reduce the heat to medium. Slowly pour in the pan liquid one cup at a time. Combine with a wooden spoon or a flat whisk to prevent lumps. When all of the liquid is in, lower the heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered until the gravy begins to bubble. Serve immediately, or reduce the heat to the lowest setting until you are ready to eat.

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