My sister, niece, and paternal cousins have been reminiscing about the Italian-American food traditions of our childhood, and especially holiday traditions. We all recall that my father made the best turkey gravy ever–none of that pale yellow sauce. He created a rich, deep brown, full-flavored, savory, silky smooth gravy every time! He made his base stock from scratch. My dad was a very hard-working man with professional responsibilities, and he and mom were raising five children. But, this did not prevent him from taking over the kitchen frequently and cooking fantastic meals from scratch. I think that it was his real passion. He came from a family and a cultural tradition of creating handmade food from fresh, seasonal ingredients. and he believed in “the right” techniques. So, I come by my food philosophy honestly, learning by osmosis from my dad and then from other experiences.
The day prior to Thanksgiving, dad would brown turkey parts in his largest stock pot–remember those Silver Seal Dutch ovens that every family of the 1950s bought from door-to-door salesman?
Dad used the largest oval Dutch oven to brown the turkey parts, add vegetables, aromatics and water, and then simmered it for hours. The aroma would waft through the entire house, and dad would eventually chop up any gibbets and meat finely to add to his stuffing and the gravy. If we were lucky he’d smile and offer us a nibble. He always had plenty of stock to make gravy, to baste the turkey, and to flavor and moisten the stuffing before he tucked it into the turkey. He was a master at making roux, which accounted for his silky smooth gravy. So, I learned some important basics from dad.
One of the tricks that I learned somewhere along the way in my culinary adventures, is to brown the turkey parts, carrots and onions in the oven at a high temperature, which provides caramelization and brown fond on the bottom of the baking tray. When that tray is deglazed with white wine, it provides the basis for rich stock color and flavor. Here is my basic Homemade Turkey Stock recipe.
Homemade Turkey Stock
Makes approximately 4 cups of stock
Preheat the oven to 475 degrees F
Olive oil to coat the turkey pieces and vegetable chunks
Several pounds of fresh turkey parts–backs, necks, wings (in my case, parts were scarce, and I settled for 3 pounds of legs)
1/2 pound turkey giblets (hearts, gizzards, livers)
1 pound of carrots, scrubbed and cut into large chunks
2 large sweet onions, scrubbed, quartered
3 ribs celery with leaves, cut into large chunks
1 and 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 Tablespoons peppercorns (I used the blend of green, black and pink)
2 large bay leaves
a few sprigs each of fresh parsley, rosemary, sage, and thyme if you have it.
1 cup white wine
5 cups cartooned turkey stock.
You will need a large rimmed baking tray and a 5 quart stock pot good for slow cook method.
Coat the turkey parts and carrots and onions with olive oil and place on the baking tray.
Roast for 30 minutes at 475, until you see lots of browning action and brown fond on the bottom of the tray.
While the turkey parts are browning, place the cut up celery, giblets, herbs and seasonings into the stockpot.
Add the turkey parts and vegetables to the stockpot.
Place the baking tray over tow burners on medium-high heat and add a slosh of brandy and then 1/2 cup dry white wine to deglaze the pan. Scrap up the brown fond carefully with a wooden spoon, bubbling it over the heat for just 2-3 minutes.
Carefully, pour the liquid into the stockpot.
Add the cartooned turkey stock or water and stir.
Bring the pot to just a boil and lower to simmer.
Simmer for abut 1 and 1/2- 2 hours.
Cool, ad then skim any excess fat off.
Remove the turkey parts and the vegetable chunks to a large bowl.
Strain the stock into a large container with a lid that seals. Refrigerate.
Strip and chop finely the turkey meat and the giblets, if you like them, and save in a sealable storage bag to add to your gravy or stuffing/dressing, if you like.
This method produces a very concentrated, rich-in-turkey flavor, so when you reheat it on Thanksgiving Day to baste and to moisten and flavor your dressing, you can add some additional cartooned stock if you need to do so to have the amount that you need. Just choose the best quality stock that you an source.
On Thanksgiving Day, when I roast the turkey, I always add a mound of chunks of carrot and onions beneath the turkey, as well as some wine, which then creates some additional stock as the turkey roasts. Some liquid in the roasting pan aids in keeping the turkey moist, as well. While my turkey rests, I will make a nice brown roux with butter and flour in order to thicken my gravy to the desired consistency. But, you will have to wait until the evening of Thanksgiving Day for my post about the Roast Turkey with Sage, and all of the trimmings! My husband is currently snacking on the carrots and celery that were strained out of the stock!
Readers, please share your favorite tips for roasting succulent turkey, for creating a great gravy or memorable side dishes! You can use the Comments box below!