Being obsessive-compulsive is actually an admirable quality if you are a cook. I find that it comes in especially handy at Thanksgiving, where micro-managing the production of an enormous feast is no small feat.
In order to handle the complexity of the Thanksgiving meal preparation, I create a very comprehensive list of every task that must be accomplished and at precisely what time to perform that task. It starts at 12:35pm with the convection roasting of the turkey. Then the schedule is set to make sure that everything gets done so that we can eat precisely at 6:00pm.
But regardless of the schedule, there are three items that always need my attention at the very last, frenetic second: the carving of the turkey; the mashing of the potatoes; and the making of the gravy. I cannot do all three at once by myself.
I'm really good at quickly carving a 25-pound turkey, so I take on that duty. The potatoes need to be mashed at the last second so that they are good and warm, which is a role my son Patrick has excelled at since he was a boy. Being a big, strong defensive back on the Macalester Football team, he is now able to execute his mashing duties in mere seconds.
Which leaves us with the gravy. I'm really anal about making turkey gravy from scratch. Use butter and flour to make a roux, then add turkey drippings and turkey stock. The problem here is that the drippings come at the end....after you've removed the turkey for carving.
But alas, Mark Bittman (food writer for the New York Times) solved my problem by creating this make-ahead gravy recipe. It can be made up to five days in advance, then re-heated just in time for Thanksgiving dinner. And the gravy still gets the flavor boost from the pan drippings...you just add them in at the last second to your already "at serving temperature" gravy.
A small note here about the stock. Most grocery stores have an abundance of turkey stock on their shelves at this time of year. But if you couldn't find any or simply forgot to pick some up, chicken stock is a really good second choice.
1 stick of butter (I prefer Kerrygold)
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup flour
Salt and pepper
4 to 5 cups warm turkey stock
- Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat, then add onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle the flour on the onions, stirring constantly, and cook until flour is golden to brown. Adjust heat so mixture does not burn.
- Gradually whisk in 4 cups stock until mixture thickens and is smooth. If it is too thick, add more stock. Cool, cover and chill.
- When ready to serve, reheat mixture over low heat, stirring. Scrape bottom of turkey pan and add drippings or to gravy. Taste and adjust seasoning, then serve.
Wine pairing: A Thanksgiving meal has a broad stroke of many, big flavors. So I prefer to drink a big, fruity Merlot. One of my favorites is Columbia Crest Grand Estates. It's a 91-point wine that sells for as little as $7.47 at Total Wine.