01 December 2013

A Tale of Two Turkey's, and some Gravy

Five years ago I was living in Edinburgh, Scotland. As I write this sentence it seems a shock that so much time has passed as I remember the 18-months I spent living there as fairly vivid and in some ways the time since my return to New York has been a bit of a blur. Time speeds up as you go along they say. The only thing I can guess is that it is the newness of an experience that makes every part of it quite alive and starkly memorable.

Back in November 2008 I was living with Maija, my Finnish roommate who had a taste for all things New York -- from fashion and hip hop to street slang and grafitti artists. One day as the fall season was turning the Edinburgh skies a bit more gray, the conversation turned to the "American Thanksgiving holiday". We determined to host our very own Friendsgiving/Thanksgiving Potluck dinner for 30 or so expat American's and friends from around the world taking part in the great feast of gratitude. 

The event has since become a tradition, and so this past Sunday as a warm-up for the actual holiday, I found myself up at 7 a.m. preparing to roast two birds for the gathering later that afternoon. I was aided significantly by my friend and recent culinary school grad Cheryl, who made efficient use of our tiny kitchen and two counter-tops in preparing seven, (7!) different sides and two desserts. 

For the turkey's themselves, after considering such options as Tandoori Turkey, Miso Turkey, and Plum-Honey brined Turkey, eventually I went the traditionalist route choosing Tom Colicchio's Herb Butter Turkey and Martha's Maple Turkey. There were slight variations. Typically I "wet brine" my birds the night before, but given I had the task of cooking two of them, I "dry brined" the Martha bird and tested out the Trader Joe's pre-brined Turkey for the Tom bird. While both of them turned out well, I would for future Thanksgivings not recommend the pre-brined Trader Joe version. Even when cooked perfectly, basting regularly, stuffed and drenched with copious amounts of butter, Tom was slightly dry. Thankfully no one seemed to notice due to the amazing gravy that was served up alongside both. Gravy has always been my Thanksgiving achilles heel. I realized for the first time this year this was due to the fact that I never bothered much with preparing it. I suffered from the misconception that gravy was made soley with pan drippings, stock, and a bit of a thickening agent, all prepared post-Turkey. This year, I followed Tom's instructions and prepared my "gravy base" ahead of time, adding a bit of Riesling wine according to Martha's suggestion, resulting in the crowning glory of this years Friendsgiving.  

Turkey Gravy

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound turkey wings/necks
1 1/2 cups diced onions
1/2 cup diced peeled carrots
3/4 cup diced celery
4 cups (or more) low-salt chicken broth
1/2 cup Riesling or other dry white wine
2 tablespoons flour
salt and pepper to taste

In heavy, large deep skillet melt the butter over high heat. Add turkey necks and/or wings and sauté until deep brown, about 15 minutes. Add onions, carrots, and celery and sauté until vegetables are also deep brown in color, about 15 minutes. Add chicken broth and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Pour gravy base through strainer set over 4-cup measuring cup, pressing on solids to extract liquid. This part of the "gravy base" can be prepared up to 2 days ahead. Cool slightly. Refrigerate uncovered until cold, then cover and keep chilled. Rewarm before moving on to the next step. 

After cooking your turkey, place the roasting pan onto the stove top over medium heat. Once the drippings from the pan begin to boil slightly, add Riesling or other white wine to the pan and whisk to combine, boiling for another minute or so. Pour drippings and wine into a measuring glass and add approximately 1 cup to the Gravy Base.

Melt reserved 2 tablespoons herb butter in heavy large saucepan over medium heat; add flour and whisk constantly until roux is golden brown, about 6 minutes. Gradually add pan juice-gravy base mixture; increase heat and whisk constantly until gravy thickens, boils, and is smooth. Reduce heat to medium; boil gently until gravy is reduced to 4 1/2 cups, whisking often, about 10 minutes. Season gravy with salt and pepper.

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