Okay, I’m going to tell you how to make the real stuff: turkey gravy the way my great-grandmother used to make it. It was brown, it was intoxicating, and it was delicious.
Back in the Cretaceous, we didn’t worry about things like fat. Calories were known but not a focus of obsession. As a consequence, food tasted pretty darned good. Gravy, in particular, was very good, indeed. Here’s the trick…or rather, the series of tricks:
Reserve the turkey neck and giblets. At the time you’re preparing the turkey for roasting, put the neck and innards in a small pan with a coarsely cut up onion—no need to peel the onion. Just hack it apart and toss it in there. Add water to cover these ingredients. Pour in a little white wine or sherry, if you have some around. Bring just to a boil and then turn to a low simmer.
While the turkey’s cooking, let the turkey parts and onion simmer slowly. Add a little water or wine if the liquid reduces by as much as half. If it seems to be wanting to reduce too much, turn off the heat after two or three hours.
About the time the turkey is ready to come out of the oven, pour the broth through a strainer into a bowl to strain out the turkey meat, bones, and used-up onion. Set aside.
Lift the turkey out of the roasting pan and set it on a carving platter to rest. While someone else is fiddling with the other fixings, inspect the pan drippings. One of these two possibilities will present itself:
1. The drippings may consist mostly of fat; or
2. The drippings may contain a lot of liquid.
If the drippings are mostly liquids, take a big cooking spoon or the baster and skim off a fair amount of the fat floating on the top. Discard this fat (not down the drain in the kitchen sink!). Pour about a half-cup of white wine, sherry, or cool water in a mug or measuring cup and add one or two tablespoons of flour. Beat this up nicely with a fork to get rid of any lumps.
Place the roasting pan over one or two burners on the stove and turn up the heat. Remember to use a hot pad when handling this pan, since it will already be hot as a bygod and you’re about to make it even hotter. Bring the drippings to a fast boil. Add the floured liquid and mix briskly with the fork or a wire whip. The liquid should start to thicken shortly. Add the strained turkey broth as the liquid is thickening. Continue to cook at a fast clip, reducing the liquid substantially—the idea is to concentrate the liquid and all the flavors you’re mixing together. If you can reduce it by about half without leaving too little gravy to go around, do that.
If, on the other hand, the drippings are mostly fat, you’re in luck. This makes a far more delicious and richer brown gravy, IMHO. With your spoon or baster, skim off all but about two tablespoons of the fat. Don’t waste any delicious other liquids in the bottom of the pan. Place the pan over one or two stove burners and turn to medium high. Sprinkle one or two tablespoons of flour over the drippings and stir briskly with a wire whip or wooden spatula. As the flour starts to brown, carefully add the turkey broth. Stir smartly to combine all ingredients, scrape up all the drippings, and avoid lumping. Allow the gravy to reduce a bit—at the very least, it should simmer along for five or ten minutes to mellow the raw flavor of the flour.
Personally, I’m fond of adding a dollop of red wine to this second type of gravy. Be sure the gravy is deep brown, though…otherwise, you can end up with purple gravy. If you have any doubts, use white wine or sherry instead. Or nothing: it’s not really necessary.
To give either of these gravies a little extra polish, add some chopped parsley just before serving.
If you have brined the turkey…don’t even think of trying either of these recipes. Brined turkey exudes salty pan drippings. Way salty. If brining is your preferred approach to making flavorless mass-produced turkeys taste like something, use canned gravy instead; add a little wine to zing it up.
And if your opinion of commercially raised turkey is the same as mine, you’ll be pleased to know that this recipe works just fine with any other holiday roast: a nice standing rib roast, for example, or a leg of lamb. Substitute a combination of wine and canned beef bouillon, beef broth, or chicken broth for the turkey broth.