Thanksgiving Triage

Got a problem that needs fixing? Here you will find some quick fixes, patches and helps to pull your dinner back from disaster. Gravy too thin? Got lumpy gravy? Turkey taking too long to cook? Stuffing too dry? Cranberries too runny? I have some quick rescues and resuscitations right here.

Dry Stuffing? Melt some butter and add half again as much chicken broth, heat together, and toss in the stuffing. Fluff stuffing with a fork and serve.

Thin gravy? You need to thicken it up with a little more flour. I always use a jar and a lid to minimize the lump factor. Add one tablespoon of flour to 3 tablespoons COLD water, put the lid on, and shake violently until you feel your teeth knocking around in your head. You don’t have to shake that hard; I’m trying to make a point. Add the flour and water mixture to the pan of boiling gravy and whisk away as you add it. The gravy will thicken in a matter of moments, just keep whisking!

Lumpy gravy? You violated the first rule of gravy making: make SURE your roux (pronounced ROO, that is the thickening agent) is smooth and lump-less. Gravy-making tips are included in Gravy 101 (below), but suppose you didn’t read it and now you have this lumpy mess? Get out the blender and blend the daylights out of this stuff, a BATCH at a time! Only fill the blender half full or you will end up with a turkey gravy ceiling (you don’t want to know how I know this). Return the gravy back to the pan for a quick reheating and voila! Lump-less gravy!

Runny Cranberries? Strain some of the juice and call it a day. You could go to all the trouble of trying to thicken them by cooking them some more. (they thicken naturally because of the pectin in the cranberries and the pectin is released as the cranberries cook). So the reason your cranberries are runny is you didn’t cook them long enough. I say pull out the strainer, drain some of the juice off and slap them into a serving dish. Don’t you have enough going on without having to redo the cranberries?

Turkey taking forever to cook? You’re probably opening the oven too much basting it. I did this one year and we ate at about 7 PM (planning on eating at 4:00!). Every time you open the oven, you lose about 25 degrees, so shut the oven, raise the temperature about 25 degrees more for the next hour (don’t baste!) and you should be back on track.

Gravy 101

Okay, the turkey has been removed from the pan and is resting comfortably. Skim the big greasy globs of fat from the roasting pan and place them in a medium-sized saucepan (there should be about three tablespoons or so of fat, depending on the size of your bird). Next, take an equal amount of Wondra flour and add to that turkey grease (I know this sounds yucky, but you have to trust me). The heat should be about medium-high and you need to whisk away to your heart’s content until the roux (pronounced ROO) is golden and thick, and naturally lump-less. This roux procedure will take you all of five minutes—very easy, you can’t mess this up. Set your beauteous roux aside.

Now back to the roasting pan. Add a cup of your reserved turkey neck stock (made by boiling the neck with onion, celery, and carrot, covered in water – or use chicken broth) to the roasting pan and turn up the heat (you will probably need two burners for the job) and bring it to a boil. Using your wire whisk, scrape up all the browned bits off the bottom of the pan. Those browned bits contain concentrated turkey flavor that will make your turkey gravy absolutely to die for. Don’t skip this step. Now add all the golden roux in the saucepan you just made, into your roaster and whisk like your life depends on it. In just moments, a beautiful, velvety bronzed gravy should be emerging and filling you with the joy of accomplishment. Salt and pepper to taste, and add a pinch of white pepper.

I am an admitted snob when it comes to gravy making, but even cookbook authors have their limitations when it comes to making enough turkey gravy. Truth be told, a turkey doesn’t make as much gravy as necessary for the gravy hounds undoubtedly sitting at your holiday table. You know the types—they use three ladles of gravy on their potatoes alone before even tackling the turkey on their plates. It is because of them that I came up with this trick. Actually, I take that back. My sister did this and I was shocked at how good it was. I didn’t know she had done this at the time or I probably would have thrown myself prostrate on the stove begging her not to ruin the gravy. Here’s what she did: she added a package of dry turkey gravy mix (and the accompanying water) to her already made gravy. No one was the wiser—including me! I was amazed at how much gravy she had and too, was thrilled that I (an admitted gravy snob, plus a hound myself) was able to amply ladle gravy without being scolded about “saving some for the next guy”. She told me about the sneaky gravy extension trick after I had polished off Round One of The Meal and noticed there was still gravy left. I nearly needed smelling salts when she told me what she had done. I tried this trick at home and it is simply fabulous. This kind of mix stuff I will do on special occasions, but I will never admit to it, so don’t tell a soul you heard this from me.

Happy Thanksgiving!


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