This classic turkey gravy can be made ahead and frozen up to 3 months before you plan to serve it, meaning no frantically whisking turkey drippings when what you really want to do is sit down and eat.
About This Recipe
This is a recipe for a thick, glossy, classic golden brown poultry gravy. It's so good with slices of turkey and pretzel stuffing, mixed into leftover thanksgiving pierogi, and of course, poured over heaping scoops of creamy mashed potatoes.
You don't need any drippings from a whole roast turkey to make this gravy, but we are going to borrow some drippings from whole roasted turkey wings.
Technically you could skip this step and still have the gravy work, but the turkey wings add a lot of flavor and the collagen from the bones helps thicken the base. The extra step is worth it.
Like my small batch turkey and stuffing, this make-ahead turkey gravy is another Thanksgiving shortcut I got from my mother-in-law. You're basically going to make a reinforced stock using roasted turkey wings in chicken broth, then thicken it with flour and butter.
Unlike my small batch turkey and stuffing recipe, which serves 2-4 people, this gravy recipe makes enough gravy for a Thanksgiving dinner where all the extended relatives are invited and show up with uninvited plus-ones.
That doesn't mean you can't use it for a smaller Thanksgiving dinner — just divide it up and freeze whatever you don't need for later.
Why Make Gravy Ahead of Time
When you make gravy from your turkey drippings after the bird has come out of the oven, it's almost time to eat. You're tired. You've been cooking for a while and you're probably ready for a break. People are getting hungry.
The last thing you want to be doing is trying to make a roux and whisk it into hot turkey drippings.
Besides, what happens if you didn't get as many drippings as you wanted? Or if you're having a smaller Thanksgiving and you aren't making a whole turkey? How are you supposed to make gravy then?
This make ahead turkey gravy doesn't need a whole turkey or a whole turkey's worth of drippings. Just some roasted turkey wings, which are much easier to find at the store year-round.
With make ahead turkey gravy, you don't need to do anything at mealtime to have gravy on the table except heat it up and whisk it well. It's the perfect gift you can give your future self during the hectic holiday cooking season.
Making this turkey gravy is super easy! Here's what you'll need:
- Turkey wings - Finding turkey wings outside of November can be tricky, but I've had a lot of luck at my local Wegmans. They usually have a few cuts of turkey available all year round.
- Onions - Yellow onions work best. Peel and quarter them and remove the hairy stem end.
- Water - You'll use this to deglaze the roasting pan. The water absorbs all that great roasted turkey and onion flavor and gets added to the gravy.
- Chicken stock - Look for salt-free chicken stock so you can adjust the amount of salt at the end. If you start with a salted stock you'll end up with a VERY salty gravy because of how much it reduces.
- Carrots - Baby carrots work best, but you can use two or three full size carrots (peeled) instead.
- Fresh thyme - Whole sprigs, no need to remove the leaves.
- All-purpose flour - This thickens the gravy.
- Butter - This makes the gravy super creamy and shiny.
- Salt and pepper - To taste!
Since you'll be making this turkey gravy no drippings from a whole roasted turkey, you'll start by roasting turkey wings in a large, high-sided roasting pan with two medium onions.
Then transfer the roasted turkey wings and onions to a stock pot along with some carrots, celery, and fresh thyme.
To make sure you don't lose any of the glorious flavor from the fond (the brown bits left in the pan) on the bottom of the roasting pan, pour 1 cup of water into the pan and scrape up as much as you can. Then add liquid to the pot with the wings.
Submerge the turkey wings in about 6 cups of chicken stock. Add water only if needed to get the turkey wings mostly submerged.
Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer for one and a half hours, uncovered. Some of the stock will boil away as it reduces and absorbs all the turkey and roasted veggie flavor.
Remove the turkey wings to a tray, letting as much liquid as possible drip off them first. Then strain the stock through a colander into a large bowl.
Press as much liquid as you can through the colander or strainer, then discard the veggie scraps.
Transfer the strained broth back to the pot. Use a spoon or skimmer to remove any scum or fat floating on top of the broth, then place the pot back on the stove over medium high heat.
Meanwhile, in a liquid measuring cup, whisk the remaining 2 cups of chicken stock together with the flour until no lumps remain.
Whisk this mixture into the pot of broth, bring it to a vigorous boil, and continue whisking for 3-4 minutes as it thickens.
Why does gravy need to boil? When flour starches reach 140F, they will begin to swell as they absorb water. But when you bring them to a boil (212F) and hold them there for several minutes, the starch granules burst and thicken the gravy, a process called gelatinization.
Finish by stirring in the butter and adjusting salt and pepper to taste. The butter adds glossiness and shine while the salt and pepper enhance the flavor.
Now, the best part! Taste testing! Shred a bit of meat off the turkey wings and dip it in the gravy. This will help you adjust the seasoning — adding more salt and pepper — or adjusting the thickness of the gravy as needed.
TIP: If you need to thicken the gravy even more, remove a portion of the gravy to a bowl (about 1 cup), and whisk 1-2 tablespoons of flour into that until no lumps remain. Then you can stir it into the gravy. That way you don't end up with lumpy gravy!
Practical notes and tips
- It helps to use two medium-large (6-8 qt) pots for this recipe. If one of your pots has a steamer basket insert, use that pot as the second pot. The first pot you'll use to make the reinforced stock. Then you can use the steamer basket or a colander in the second pot as a strainer to pour the broth into second pot, which you'll use to reduce and thicken the gravy, removing all the herbs and veggies quickly and easily.
- If you only have one pot, strain the reinforced stock into a bowl, wipe out the pot, and pour the broth back into the same pot.
- You may need slightly more or slightly less than 6 cups of chicken stock when you first submerge the roasted turkey wings. It's okay if some of the wing tips are sticking out of the water, you just want to get them mostly submerged.
- Save the turkey meat from the wings for taste testing. Turkey wings are big and sturdy enough that boiling them for an hour and a half results in perfectly cooked, tender turkey meat that still has plenty of flavor. Shred the turkey meat and dip in the gravy to adjust for seasoning in the final step. Anything that's left, well, I'd say "that's just gravy" but it's not — it's turkey. And it's very good in a sandwich.
- Liquid expands when it freezes, so make sure you leave about half an inch of room between the gravy and the lid so it doesn't pop off in the freezer.
Stick it in the fridge a few days before you plan to serve it. If you're in a rush, you can defrost it in the microwave in 60-90 second bursts, stirring in between.
I'm sure you can but I would look for a chicken wing specific gravy recipe just to make sure you get the roasting times, temperatures, and ratios correct!
I haven't tested it! But you should be able to use a 1-for-1 gluten free flour blend in place of all purpose flour. If you do test it, let me know how it goes!
Actually, yes. Your gravy won't be as thick or flavorful, but if you start the recipe at step 4 and add two tablespoons of low-sodium chicken Better Than Bouillon, it will still work! You'll also probably need to add more flour to reach the thickness you're looking for. The turkey wings don't just add flavor — they also add collagen to the broth which helps it thicken, but you can still make this work without them.
Make Ahead Turkey Gravy (No Drippings!)
- Large pot
- Wire mesh strainer, colander, or steaming basket that fits in your large pot
- 3 lbs turkey wings (bone-in, skin on)
- 2 medium onions (peeled and quartered)
- 1 cup water
- 8 cups chicken stock (divided — save 2 cups for the end of the recipe!)
- 1 cup whole baby carrots
- 10 sprigs fresh thyme (or 2 teaspoon dried thyme)
- ¾ cup all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoon butter
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- 1 teaspoon salt (+more to taste)
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- Pat dry turkey wings and arrange in roasting dish with onion segments. Roast for about an hour or until well browned (you may need an additional 15-20 minutes).
- Transfer wings and onion quarters to a large pot. Use 1 cup water in the bottom of the roasting pan to help scrape up any brown bits and add them to the pot as well.
- Add carrots and thyme to the pot with the turkey wings and fill with 6 cups of the chicken stock. Use additional water if needed to ensure the turkey wings are mostly submerged (it's okay if a few tips are sticking out above the water).
- Bring to a vigorous boil, then reduce to a simmer. Let simmer, uncovered, for 1½ hours.
- Remove the wings and set aside — once they're cool enough to handle, shred the meat off to eat.
- Strain the liquid into a smaller pot to remove the carrots and herbs, squeezing as much liquid out of them as possible. Those can be discarded. Return the pot of broth to the stove, skim any fat off the top, and bring back to a boil.
- In a separate bowl or large measuring cup combine the remaining 2 cups chicken broth with the ¾ cups all purpose flour. Whisk well to combine and break up any lumps (you can sift the flour first to be really sure you won't get lumps, but you don't have to).
- Whisk in the chicken broth and flour mixture into the turkey stock. Use a small wire strainer/skimmer/spider or spoon to remove any lumps of flour that float to the top. Bring to a boil and keep whisking for 3-4 minutes until quite thick.
- Stir in butter, pepper, and salt. Dip shredded turkey meat into the gravy to taste and adjust salt and pepper as needed.
- Make ahead turkey gravy will stay good in the fridge for 1 week, or in the freezer up to 3 months. When reheating from fridge or freezer make sure to whisk well before serving.
This post was originally published on 11/9/2020.