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How to make Reduced-Fat Turkey Gravy
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Written by Paul D. Race for FamilyChristmasOnline.com

How to Make Reduced-Fat Turkey Gravy - from Family Christmas OnlineTM

Most folks assume that gravy is full of fat - in fact, most store-bought and restaurant gravies are. But gravy doesn't have to have any fat in it to taste good. So why do companies and restaurants make fatty gravy? Because it's fast, and once the gravy has thickened, you can't tell how much fat has been cooked into it. That said, with a little bit of extra effort, you can make a gravy that has very little fat but still has just as much flavor.

I had been making turkey gravy this way for years - it just made sense to separate the fat out of the broth before I made gravy. Then I heard Richard Simmons explain this on a television program exactly the same way. Okay, then. The only problem with this method is that for the best, lowest-fat results, you need time to chill the broth before you start the gravy. That means that if you don't get your broth before the turkey is officially done, you'll have to make compromises. But it will still be healthier than gravy that uses pan drippings or store-bought "stock" in cans.

For this recipe you'll need:

    1-2 cups of turkey broth (see below)
    An equal amount of low-fat milk (you can use 3% but 1% will taste just as good)
    Flour or cornstarch. (One expert says to use 2 Tablespoons of flour, or 1 Tablespoon of cornstarch, per cup of liquid.)
    Salt and pepper (pepper is optional, salt is not, really)
    If you want to have chicken bouillon on hand in case of emergency, that's fine, too.

You should also have:

  • A "saucepan" to combine your ingredients and heat the gravy. If you are going to be using 2 cups of fluid total, a one-quart pan will do. Otherwise, a 2-quart pan is a better choice.
  • A small bowl to mix your flour and milk mixture
  • A container to hold the broth while it cools (don't use thin plastic for this)
  • A gravy ladle, a mixing spoon with a fairly long handle, and a fork or whisk

Getting All the Right Broth

You will need a cup or two (preferably 2) of turkey broth to make the best gravy. In the best case, you are able to retrieve the broth by 40 minutes before the turkey is done, but that's not always possible.

I try to get access to the turkey broth about 30 minutes before the turkey is supposed to be done. (the timing depends in part on the kind of cooking vessel you use. See our article on How to Roast a Turkey for more information about that.) I ladle or pour broth into a clear Pyrex 2-cup measuring cup. I like this because you can see when the broth has settled and/or gelled. But if you don't have a see-through container, that's okay, too.

If I have time, I put the broth into the freezer. What happens next depends on how much time I have.

  • If I have time to let the broth "set up" (usually 40 minutes or so), the broth separates into three distinct layers.
    • The fat rises to the top, then turns white and solid. So it can easily be scraped off into the trash.
    • The middle layer "gels" like Jell-O(r) on overdrive. It should be translucent with a golden-brown color. That's the stuff you want.
    • The bottom 1/4"-1/2" includes tiny bits of meat, marrow, and other tissue that have settled out. Be sure to leave that in your container when you scoop out the good stuff.
  • If I don't have time to let the broth completely set up, I still take time to let the fat rise to the top.
    • Once it has, I use a gravy ladle to "skim" the fat off the top.
    • Then when I do get around to transferring the gravy to the saucepan for cooking, I make certain to pour gently and leave the last 1/3" inch or so (the part with the tissue bits) in the bottom.

Mixing it Up

Now, getting the gravy to thicken is as much about chemistry as anything else. You will use the ingredients, cooked until boiling to create something that's not exactly solid and not exactly liquid. (Your high school chemistry teacher would use terms like "reversible colloid.") If the broth has had a chance to gel, the job is easier, but that's not mandatory.

Please read the following directions through carefully before you start, so you have a good idea of what to do next before you are trying to do two things at once.

  1. Put your flour or cornstarch into a small bowl and whisk cold milk into it. Stir it with a fork or whisk until you have worked it into a thin, smooth paste with no lumps.
  2. Pour the rest of your milk into the saucepan and put it on to the stove cold, with the burner off.
  3. Turn the burner on and stir the flour paste into the saucepan, continuing to whisk it to keep lumps from forming.
  4. Gently pour the broth into the saucepan, being careful not to dump in the weird stuff in the bottom. Keep stirring.
  5. Milk has a fairly low burning point, so you will want to keep scraping the bottom of the pan with either your serving spoon our your whisk to keep the milk from burning and to keep lumps from forming.
  6. When your mixture begins to boil, adjust the heat so you have a steady, but not, violent boil.
  7. When the gravy thickens, take it off the burner, and keep stirring until it cools enough to remove any threat of burning on the bottom of the pan. If, after ten minutes, it shows no sign of thickening, you may have to "call it." Chances are it will thicken as it cools. And even if it doesn't it will still taste great. Some folks have been known to add more flour-or-cornstarch-and-cold-liquid mixture to boiling pan of gravy that wouldn't thicken, but you need four hands for this, and you need to do it gradually while whisking the whole mess. For me, the risk of burning myself or creating a lumpy mess outweighs the risk of runny, but tasty gravy. Also, don't bother adding flour or cornstarch directly to the boiling gravy, unless you want lots of lumps the size and approximate texture of tapioca.
  8. When the gravy as cooled enough to taste, salt it. If you like pepper in your gravy, add that, too.

Gravy for Tomorrow

Here's an interesting after-note: nearly any gravy you make this way and refrigerate after the meal will set up once it chills, even if it didn't thicken when it was hot - so it it will be fine tomorrow. Also, after dinner, you should try to rescue and chill any more broth. You should be able to add up to 50% as much "new" broth as you have yesterday's gravy, without having to make your gravy over again. You will want to heat it to boiling again, though. When you re-heat the gravy, add the chilled broth right into the mix (it will look like you're tossing in light-brown chunks of Jell-O, but they'll soon melt). This will "stretch" your gravy and improve the flavor. It will usually thicken properly, too, unless you are adding too much new broth. You will need to add salt, too.

If you wind up with too much gravy and no potatoes for the next day, consider making a turkey casserole. Spread a thin layer of gravy on the bottom of a rectangular glass pan, add a layer of dressing, then a layer of turkey cut into bite-sized pieces. Spoon the gravy over the top, covering at least the turkey, if not the dressing.

Hope this gives you some ideas and helps your holiday gathering to be the best ever.

Please let us know if you have any feedback suggestions, additions, or corrections.

Happy Holidays,

Paul Race


Hotlines and Other Resources for Turkey Coooking

Thanks to the North Carolina Department of Health, who compiled most of this list.

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