Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Gravy, Stock, and a Science Lesson

So, now that I've covered the turkey and the stuffing, it's time to get into the gravy. My husband says his family is more of a cranberry sauce family, but my family is all about gravy! Gravy can be messy to make, and it has to be done on the stove top after the turkey comes out of the oven, so I decided to make mine in advance. I made it on Sunday and pulled it out of the freezer this morning to thaw for tomorrow. Here's the approximate recipe. Again, like with stuffing you don't need to be too precise.

Turkey Gravy

Pan drippings from a turkey cooked on the bottom of the pan (not on a rack)
flour--about 3 tablespoons
chicken or turkey stock--about 2 cups
water--about a cup or so
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
skin from the turkey you just cooked
herbs and bacon from under the skin of the turkey you just cooked

Start by putting the roasting pan containing the drippings on the stove over low heat. Skim off some of the fat so you have maybe 3 tablespoons left (no need to be precise). Add flour a tablespoon at a time as if you were making a roux (which is what you're doing, only with turkey fat instead of butter). Stir the turkey fat, browned bits from the bottom of the an, and flour together until smooth. Turn the heat to medium and add the chicken stock. Stir until smooth and there are no lumps of flour/roux. Add some water to thin it out a little. Add some skin from the turkey for more flavor (remember the turkey skin was covered with bacon grease and salt and pepper). Scrape the herbs and diced bacon off of the turkey and add that too. Simmer until very fragrant and of a good gravy consistency. If it gets too thick, add some water. Strain the gravy through a sieve into a container or gravy boat. Enjoy!!!

Gravy is one of the major reasons people gain an average of 7 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Years!!!

After I made the gravy on Sunday, D and I sat down to a great lunch of turkey, corn muffin stuffin', gravy, and cranberry sauce. He came in from raking the leaves and was really happy to have a hot home cooked meal--a great pre-cursor to Thanksgiving dinner!

Oh, but I wasn't done yet. After making the turkey breast, stuffing, and gravy, there was still more to do! I had a beautiful turkey carcass just screaming to be made into stock. In my opinion, the slow cooker was invented for making stock! I picked all of the bits of meat off of the turkey and put them into a bowl in the fridge for later. Then, I broke the carcass apart and loaded the whole thing into the slow cooker along with a very coarsely chopped onion, about 1/2 a heart of celery (including leaves), the 10 or so baby carrots I had in the fridge, 2 cloves of garlic I peeled but didn't use for the turkey, and enough water to cover the whole thing. Then I set the slow cooker on low for the next 12 hours (and had it automatically switch to "keep warm" at 4am until 8 when I got up). Then, in the morning, I strained it all into a tupperware container. When I strain it, I like to pull out the veggies first and use the back of a spoon to smush them through the sieve. Then I pour the rest of the liquid through and strain out all of the bones.

Today I'm working from home, so for lunch I pulled out the turkey stock and leftover turkey bits for some soup. I used a spoon to remove the layer of fat from the top of the broth. Then I spooned the broth into a bowl. Well, more accurately I spooned the "turkey jell-o" into my bowl. I know that gelatin comes from animal bones and so this wasn't that surprising, but it was funny to see.

Turkey "Jell-o" with turkey on top (after I microwaved it, it turned into delicious trukey soup!)

Since I'm home, I just pulled out one of my favorite books about cooking "On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen" by Harold McGee to find out more about the gelatinization process. Here's what he says:

"Collagen is the major structural component of the simplest of many-celled animals, the sponges, and accounts for some 30% of the protein in the human body. It is found in the skin and tendons as well as in between muscle cells and muscles, and it is a large part of the matrix in young bones that is later filled with hard minerals. The name comes from the Greek for "glue producing," referring to the fact that when it is heated in water, insoluble collagen is transformed into gelatin, a soluble, gummy solution that can be used for glue as well as a thickener for soups and desserts."

Pretty cool stuff. If you don't have this book and you like to cook (or like science and eating), I highly recommend buying it or getting it out of the local library. It was recommended to me by Rich Herzfeld of Chef's Table in Westport, CT. I took my very first "real" cooking class from him and learned a tremendous amount (including adding brown sugar to food that is too spicy, making large amounts of roux and freezing it in small portions, and wilting cabbage leaves by sticking them in the freezer).

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