After 12 hours of brining and 5 hours of roasting, I was excited to remove the 24 lb. stuffed turkey from the oven. I expected to see a roasting pan full of juice, turkey fat and caramelized bits. But the horror! Instead the bottom of the pan looked 80% burnt and ruined! I realized the olive oil and orange juice glaze I had used on the turkey contributed to the burning on the bottom of the pan. I shrieked and said it was impossible to make gravy out of that. My smartass brother reminded me that Mom always have a backup plan for the turkey gravy. My heart sank. He was right. She always kept store-bought packets of Knorr’s turkey gravy for emergencies.
Our neighbor, an experienced home cook himself, encouraged me to try making the gravy anyway and said that the black bits could still turn into a delicious gravy. I didn’t believe him at first but what the heck, what did I have to lose. I am grateful I followed his advice. It turned out to be the best turkey gravy I ever made.
Using a flat bottom wood spoon, I started scraping the burnt mess up. I initially set the sticky, burnt stuff aside thinking I would throw it out. I was left with a thin layer of blackened fat and some burnt bits in the pan. I added a few ladles of warm turkey stock to the pan to deglaze.
Over medium heat, I kept scraping, whisking and adding more stock until a thin gravy started to form. The blackish bits seem to melt away, creating a very dark brown color. My enthusiasm was returning! I even whisked the burnt stuff I had set aside back in the pot. I added a flour slurry and seasoning, adjusting along the way and continued to whisk until a wonderful, thick, perfectly dark brown turkey gravy was magically created.
We strained the gravy in a fine-mesh cone strainer. It was a messy, two-man job to hold the cone and push the hot gravy through at the same time.
The results was the best turkey gravy I ever made. We were so anxious to start eating our Thanksgiving meal that I forgot to take pictures of the finished gravy. This picture is the last of the gravy that was leftover. Still wonderful!
While I'm sharing the messy reality behind the scenes for making a Thanksgiving turkey, I thought I'd also share my method for brining and making a wonderful turkey stock.
For the brine, I use a fully dissolved Kosher salt and sugar solution. The liquid was a combination of chicken stock, apple cider and enough water to submerse the bird. I added some large pieces of orange peel, a bay leaf and a handful of peppercorns. I highly recommend using a brine bag, a jumbo sized zip lock bag with sides that expand to accommodate a large turkey. I placed the bag in a 5-gallon Home Depot bucket, pushed the turkey into the bag (it was snug), poured the liquids and seasoning on top, and sealed the bag. I had to remove a shelf in my fridge to fit the bucket. I let it brine overnight for about 12 hours. Rinse the bird well before roasting. The result was very moist meat and I believe that brining is the key.
And finally, in order to get every bit of goodness out of one large bird, I always make a turkey stock with the carcass. After the turkey is carved, I store the carcass in the a large plastic bag in the fridge. The next day, when I have more energy, I roast the bones and an onion in a 400 degree oven for 45 minutes. Roasting the bones gives the stock an extra layer of deep flavor.
Place the roasted bones, onion, a few carrots, a handful of celery stalk tops, salt and pepper in a large stock pot. Fill with enough water to just cover the ingredients.
Bring to a boil and then simmer for 10 -12 hours. Strain out all the bones and bits. Pour the liquid through a fine mesh sieve and voila, you have a deep, rich, flavorful turkey stock. I plan to make a creamy wild rice soup with some and freeze the rest,
Getting experience in the kitchen always comes with successes and failures, and lots of dirty dishes. I love the process, problem-solving, and creativity of cooking at home. It is especially fun to do with with family and friends. I am so thankful for the encouragement of a friend to push forward and trust the magic of burnt caramelized bits, and for my brother who reminded me of Mom's wisdom of Plan B. I can't wait for Thanksgiving next year!