Saturday, November 21, 2009

It's All Gravy This Month

Thanksgiving is busy but it can also be a good time to teach someone in your family about pure foods cooking techniques.  If you are making gravy, invite your favorite young relative over to the stove and show them how to turn a roux into gravy and point out that the technique is the same when making white sauce.  Instead of turkey drippings and flour, white sauce uses butter and flour.  Instead of broth, white sauce uses warm  milk.  Adding cheese turns this into cheese sauce.  Full circle – your new sous chef will not rely on cream of mushroom soup for casseroles or processed macaroni and cheese mixes in the future.  You have given someone a very nice gift that will last a long time.

If you are uncertain of your own gravy making expertise, try a batch before the big day.  Not only will you be ready to show someone else, you will have extra gravy on hand for the day and days ahead (hello open faced-turkey sandwiches!). 

I buy turkey parts including necks, backs and wings a few days ahead. Ask at the meat counter if you don’t see these in the meat case.  Not every supermarket puts boney parts out but will package up these trimmings if you ask.  I roast them with a few broth-making vegetables while I’m making a weeknight dinner.  After dinner, I finish the gravy from the roasted meat and vegetables.  With little effort, I end up with enough additional gravy to keep any household from pulling out the powdered gravy mixes.  The gravy freezes well so I can make this ahead of time. 

Here’s how to make extra gravy, Thanksgiving Day gravy,  white sauce and a wonderful cheese sauce.   I also make a mushroom sauce for the vegetarians at our Thanksgiving table.  The day is really a vegetarian’s delight if you remember to make a few dishes without meat-based ingredients.  This “gravy” gets high marks from everyone and is a nice sauce to know next time you are serving beef.  (Cover your ears, Brooke!)

Days Ahead Extra Gravy
1-2 lbs inexpensive turkey parts- look for necks, backs, wings
2 celery stalks
2 carrots, scrubbed but unpeeled
1 medium onion, quartered
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cups water or chicken broth
1/2 cup red or white wine
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
2 tablespoon flour
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 425˚.  Rinse turkey and pat dry.  Lay turkey parts with vegetables in a large roasting pan.  Shake some salt and pepper over everything.  Pour olive oil over vegetables.  Roast for 35-45 minutes until turkey is cooked and vegetables and skin have begun to caramelize.   Occasionally baste the turkey parts with pan juices.  Lift out turkey and vegetables and place in a large pot.  Do not rinse the roasting pan. 

Add the water or chicken broth to the pot.  Add 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme.  If using water, also add 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Simmer for 1 hour to make a light broth.   When broth is ready, place roasting pan on burners (you will cover two burners) and gently heat drippings over medium-low heat.  When warm but not bubbling, stir in flour.  Now keep stirring to ensure that the flour is completely coated and beginning to brown.  If mixture appears oily, add more flour a teaspoon at a time.  Once flour has browned, turn up the heat to medium.  If using wine, add now.  Then whisk in warm broth, a cup at a time. Keep whisking until all ingredients are well mixed and gravy is beginning to thicken.  Now keep stirring until gravy reaches your desired consistency.  It will take a few minutes for the flour to fully activate and cook. Taste for salt and pepper.  Let gravy cool before refrigerating or freezing.

Thanksgiving Gravy
Not much different than extra gravy,  this is made while the turkey rests after roasting.  While it is resting, check the turkey for any accumulated juices.  They belong in the gravy and you can add them at the end as an extra flavor fillip.  Having a gravy separator is nice but if you don’t you can skim the fat off the drippings with a soup spoon. 

Gravy drippings from roasted bird.
Turkey neck, giblets
2 cups water or a 14-oz can of chicken or turkey broth
1-2 stalks celery
bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
salt and pepper
1/2 cup red or white wine

While the turkey cooks, place the neck and giblets (if using) in a small pan with celery tops, a bay leaf, dried thyme and water or broth.  Simmer the turkey parts and celery for at least an hour while the big bird cooks.  (If you forget this step, you can make gravy with canned broth and a little dried thyme.)

When the bird is out of the oven and resting, pour the drippings into a separator or soup bowl and let fat rise to the top.  Do not rinse or clean the roasting pan.  Pour or spoon out the risen fat and return it to the roasting pan. Place the pan over two burners over low heat.  Add flour to the warming fat when warm but not bubbling. You will need about the same amount of flour as fat to create the roux.   Stir to ensure that the flour is completely coated and beginning to brown.  If mixture appears oily, add more flour a teaspoon at a time.  Once flour has browned,  turn up the heat to medium and add wine if using.  Next, whisk in warm broth, a cup at a time. Keep whisking until all ingredients are well mixed and gravy is beginning to thicken. It will take a few minutes for the flour to fully activate and cook. When it has reached your desired consistency, taste for salt and pepper.

White Sauce
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup warm milk
salt and pepper

In a small, heavy-bottomed pot, melt butter over medium-low heat.  Add flour and stir to combine.  Keep stirring while flour cooks (about 2 minutes).  Next whisk in warm milk and stir vigorously until all ingredients are incorporated and sauce is smooth.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Many people use white pepper to preserve the smooth appearance but others, like me, like to see the specks of black pepper. 

Cheese Sauce
Prepare the white sauce above.  Remove from heat and stir in 1 cup of shredded cheese (cheddar, swiss, etc).   Return to low heat and stir until cheese has melted.  Use immediately over pasta, vegetables, rice and other grains.

Mushroom Sauce
1/2 cup loosely packed dried mushroom (porcini, shitake, etc)
3/4 cup hot water
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1 cup fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon flour
squeeze of lemon or a splash of a dry white wine
salt, pepper
1 –2 teaspoons soy sauce

Place dried mushrooms in a small bowl filled with the hot water.  Add dried thyme to rehydrate along with the mushrooms.  Cover bowl and let sit 15-20 minutes until water is tinted with mushroom’s color. And mushrooms are soft.  This is the broth you will use in the sauce.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat and add the fresh mushrooms.  Saut√© until mushrooms have softened and browned a bit. Add salt and pepper, lemon (or wine).  Now cover the pan and lower the heat so that juices accumulate.  Cook on very low for about 5 minutes.  Remove mushrooms and pans juices to a small bowl.  Skim soaked mushrooms from broth and combine with fresh cooked mushrooms. 

In the same skillet, melt butter over low heat.  Stir in 1 tablespoon of flour to create a roux.  Let roux cook a minute or two more then whisk in the mushroom broth and keep stirring until everything is combined and the sauce is smoothing out.  Add the dried and fresh mushrooms and let sauce cook and thicken over low heat, stirring occasionally.  The roux really needs this few minutes to activate and thicken the sauce.  Now taste for seasoning and add soy sauce 1 teaspoon at a time to add a bit of depth.  

The sauce can be made ahead and refrigerated for a day or two.  It also freezes reasonably well.  As with any frozen sauce or soup, check the seasoning after reheating.

A handful of sauces from one technique that can really take you places.