Itís so unfair: 364 days out of the year weíre told, donít make gravy.
Itís bad for you. Bad! Bad! Bad!

Do not tempt family and friends by making even just a teensy bit to go with that perfectly roasted chicken. Pretend those marvelously toasted and caramelized pan drippings donít even exist. No gravy. Not even now and then. Avoid it. Eschew it. DONíT MAKE GRAVY!

And then on that one, single day, Thanksgiving Day ó with 10 billion people milling about looking over your shoulder and a 25-pound roast turkey turning to ice on the counter ó the command comes: OK, NOW you make gravy.

And it canít just be good gravy. Nope. Itís gotta be GREAT gravy. No lumps, no slicks of oil. With plenty of flavor and rich, dark color. Well, jeez. Thanks so much for demanding an immaculate concoction. Perfection without practice. Good luck.

For those frustrated souls facing yet another showdown in the kitchen this week, read on. Gravy-making does not have to be a daunting experience. Remember, youíre the adult. And youíre being thwarted by what? A pot of organic goop? No way.

TIPS FOR GREAT GRAVY:

Start with great stock. Rich and flavorful stock is made before the turkey is even through roasting. To create one, place most of those foreign-looking turkey parts that come stuck inside the raw bird (theyíre the heart, liver and gizzard, and theyíre called the giblets) in a large pot, along with the neck (which you got from the same place you found the giblets) and about six or eight cups of water. Please note, most people leave the liver out because it can be very strong-tasting.

Now coarsely chop an onion, three or four stalks of celery (with the fluffy leaves) and a carrot; add to the pot. Also add a handful of coarsely chopped parsley and about a dozen whole peppercorns. Bring this to a boil, then reduce the temperature and simmer slowly for about two hours. Remove from the heat and, if the turkey is still more than 45 minutes to an hour from being done, refrigerate the stock.

When ready to proceed, strain the stock into a pan. You should have about four cups of great stock.

Next come the meat drippings. When you lift the cooked bird from the roasting pan, drain it thoroughly by holding it over the pan for a moment. If your bird is unstuffed, then tilt the bird so the meat juices lurking inside its cavity will drain out.

For great meat drippings, your goal is to remove almost all of the fat. But you do want to leave about six tablespoons or so. More than that and youíll have an oil-slick on your not-so-great gravy. Once the roasting pan has cooled enough to be handled comfortably, tilt it so all of the juices and fat collect in a corner. Using a large, wide spoon, skim off the clear fat floating above all those terrific juices.

Remember, leave about six tablespoons of the fat in with the juices.
Now youíve got a pan full of great meat drippings, which means youíre getting close to great gravy.

Add that great stock to the meat drippings. With the meat drippings still in the pan, along with all of the cooked-on bits of turkey and perhaps even some dark-brown chunks of stuffing clinging to the bottom and sides, add the stock and, using a very wide spoon or spatula, vigorously stir and scrape the bottom and sides of the roasting pan to release all of those flavorful, cooked-on particles of food.

Pour this mixture back into the pot you made the stock in (or if itís too big, a 1 1/2-quart to 2-quart pot). Place this pot on the stove over medium-high heat. Bring the mixture to a boil and simmer for about five minutes to develop the flavor. Taste this mixture, adding a bit of salt and pepper, if desired.

Now for the scary part. Thereís no turning back now. Youíve almost got great gravy. This is the part all of our mothers and grandmothers can do blindfolded without measuring devices: adding the thickener.

For every four cups of liquid in your pan, combine six tablespoons of flour with five to six tablespoons of cold water. I learned from my mother to do this step in a jar. So after combining the flour and water, screw the lid back into place and shake the jar vigorously until the flour is thoroughly combined with the water. But itís important to check, so take a fork or one of those tiny, little egg-beater whisks and poke around in the bottom corners to make sure no dry flour or lumps exist.

When the pan of stock and drippings has come to a boil, slowly whisk in the flour/water mixture with a regular-sized wire whisk. Itís important to use a whisk or at least a gravy-stirrer, so you can keep lumps from forming. Once the flour is mixed in, continue whisking over medium heat until the sauce thickens.

Turn down the heat and continue cooking another minute or two to give the flour a chance to lose its raw flavor. Adjust seasonings, adding salt and pepper, if necessary. Pour the gravy into a snazzy gravy boat and serve with massive pride. You made great gravy.

ALTERNATIVES:

You say you want giblet gravy? No problem. After straining the giblets (please note, most people do not use the liver because it is too strong in flavor) and neck bone from the stock, let them cool, then finely mince the giblets and meat that youíve removed from the neck bone and add all of it to the gravy once it has been thickened.

Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, cookbook author and artist. Readers can contact her by e-mail at janrd@proaxis.com.