One of the best things about Thanksgiving dinner is the leftovers. But since I’m traveling to Texas for my feast, I sadly won’t have pounds of turkey calling on my culinary creativity the days after Thanksgiving. Enter a turkey sale at Whole Foods last weekend. There, nestled amongst the mega-birds, was one little 10-pound free-range, vegetable-fed, never-been-frozen turkey, and I impulsively decided to buy it and roast it so I’d have enough for my own leftovers in New York City. How hard could it be? While I’d only roasted a turkey once before many years ago, with questionable results no less, these days I’m now much more capable in the kitchen. Besides, I roast chickens all the time and a turkey couldn't be that different. I was clearly deluded.
After scouring my neighborhood’s cooking shops for a roasting pan, I found a decent one on sale at Macy’s that was part of the new Martha Stewart line of cookware. It wasn’t coated in any nonstick nonsense, and was sturdy and attractive to boot. I was on my way! Now I just needed a method. But instead of calling the turkey pros in my family, I opted to (foolishly) figure it out on my own.
I read about 30 recipes on the proper way to roast the bird, and that’s where I got into trouble. Applying just about every technique I could find—brining, breast-side down, breast-side up, no basting, coating the skin in a chile puree and continuous cooking at a very high temperature—I was left with an over-done bird with meat as tender as sun-baked leather. Sure, some of the meat was edible, but if you decide to leave a tiny turkey in the oven at 400 degrees for 4 hours, don’t expect it to be juicy and succulent.
But one bright spot in my ill-conceived turkey adventure was the giblets. What many consider optional offal, (I was shocked at how many recipes said in reference to these innards, "Discard") is the highlight of my dad’s Thanksgiving. For generations, he and his family have been making some of the finest tasting gravy out of these ugly bits, a concoction so savory and rich that no vehicle is even necessary—you can eat this with a spoon.
There are countless giblet gravy recipes out there, but I find that my dad’s is the best as it’s simple to make yet sophisticated in taste. He’s tweaked his mother’s recipe a bit, as Grandma is known to also always include hard-boiled eggs in hers, which can be a bit much. You don’t often see giblet gravy in the Northeast, as its provenance hails from a time when poor Southerners wanted to extract every last ounce of goodness from their birds. But if you enjoy the earthy, creamy flavors of chopped liver, paté or fois gras, you’ll also enjoy giblet gravy.
Fortunately, my giblets were spared the heated wrath of my oven. After finding them before I overcooked my bird, buried deep in the neck cavity in a plastic bag, I made a giblet stock. (First, however, I had searched just the body cavity for the giblet bag. Not finding it, I marched back to Whole Foods and complained that my bird had been packaged sans giblets. After asking if I had searched both cavities, the butcher patiently explained to me that they could be found in the neck cavity. This should have been, ahem, a sign that I was a bit out of my league in the turkey-roasting department. Turkeys have two cavities? Who knew? Please, don't judge me.) I then strained the stock, chopped the gizzard, liver, heart and neck meats, whipped up a roux, added the stock, some pan drippings, giblets and spices, and in no time I had a smooth, silky sauce that tasted like home. Giblet gravy goes great over anything—not just turkey—so I ladled a generous portion over some toast and it was a terrific treat. Matter of fact, that’s Dad’s favorite day-after-Thanksgiving breakfast and I can taste why.
So while I have much to be grateful for this year, I will be very thankful on Thanksgiving to not be on turkey duty—I’ll leave that to the experts and instead stick to what I do best—side dishes, desserts, and now, giblet gravy. Though I reckon the turkeys will go on sale again the day after Thanksgiving, and armed with what I know now, I plan on attempting to roast one again. Practice makes perfect, right?
What do you do with your giblets? Happy Thanksgiving!
Giblets (gizzard, neck, heart and liver), removed from turkey cavity and washed
1 medium yellow, onion, cut in half
1 stick of celery, cut into four pieces.
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into four pieces
4 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 bay leaf
1 stick unsalted butter
8 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons of turmeric
1 1/2 teaspoons of paprika
3 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce
1 cup turkey pan drippings
Place the giblets in a pot with the onion, celery, carrots, garlic cloves. and bay leaf, and cover with 8 cups of water. Bring to a boil, and then turn heat down to low, simmering the stock for an hour and a half, stirring occasionally.
Remove giblets and chop meat into small cubes. Remove aromatics and strain the stock (should have about 5 cups).
To make the roux, in a pot heated on medium-low, melt the butter and then slowly add the flour. Constantly stir the flour and butter for about 10 minutes, or until the mixture is golden and tan.
Add the giblet stock, chopped giblet meat and pan drippings, and then add the spices and Worcestershire sauce, turn the heat up to medium-high and bring to a boil. (Dad uses Lawry’s Seasoned Salt instead of the turmeric and paprika, and if you prefer, you can use it, too.)
When mixture boils, quickly turn heat back down to medium-low and continue stirring until thick. Adjust seasonings to taste.
Lots of people, such as my grandmother, like to add a sliced hard-boiled egg to their giblet gravy. I always found this horrifying, but many people enjoy this so feel free to add one if you like. You can make the gravy the day before using chicken stock instead of the pan drippings. It keeps in the fridge for three days and it can also be frozen.
Here are some of my other recipes perfect for Thanksgiving:
Mashed sweet potatoes with chipotles
Cranberry, orange and cilantro salsa