If your Thanksgiving bird turns out to be a real turkey — so overcooked and dry that even the dark meat isn’t juicy, there’ll be plenty of other treats on the holiday table to mitigate the disaster. But the one thing that can coax the worst turkey in the world back to life is a great gravy. Ladle a spoonful of golden, flavorful sauce over the meat, let it seep into the flesh, and suddenly you and the bird both look brilliant.
There’s nothing to it, if you know the technique known as deglazing.
Here’s how it works: When the bird is ready, transfer it to a warm platter and cover it loosely with foil (it should sit in a warm place for 30 minutes anyway, so you have plenty of time). Set the roasting pan on the stovetop, directly over two burners turned to medium heat. Pour in some water (add some chicken stock, or turkey stock, if you have it) stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan to dislodge the crusty, caramelized bits. Once they’ve all been taken up by the liquid (this is the deglazing part), pour it all into a saucepan, discarding any pieces of root vegetable you may have used to flavor the meat, and bring it to a boil. Add some red or white wine, or sherry, port, or vermouth, and let the mixture simmer gently while you skim the fat that rises to the surface.
To thicken this elixir, use cornstarch, potato starch, or arrowroot, or a quick-mixing flour (like Wondra). Take a couple tablespoons of the starch, stir it into a little cold water, and stir that water into the liquid. As it comes to a boil, it will thicken. Make the gravy as thick or thin as you like. You don’t want a paste, just something more substantial than pan juices. Now taste it. If you think it needs more flavor, it may just need salt. Or add another splash of wine (whatever you’re drinking at the moment) and let it simmer a few more minutes to evaporate the alcohol.
About that overcooked bird: Don’t attempt to roast something as big as a turkey without an instant-read thermometer. They’re usually sold right at the meat counter. Pop-up thermometers that come with the bird (they’re implanted in the breast) usually do their popping-up when the meat is already overdone. You want to see 165 degrees on your thermometer in three places (one of them should be deep in the thigh). While the turkey rests, the temperature will rise at least 5 degrees.
If the turkey seems to be getting too brown in the oven, tent it loosely with foil. Imagine that if the skin is turning very dark, the flesh under it is also cooking too fast, so get that blanket on it to protect it. You won’t make the skin soggy if a little air can get into the tent.
Once the bird is resting and the gravy is finished, you’re done with the two big pieces of the menu, and you can begin to relax. And honestly, if everything overcooks, or isn’t done in time, or isn’t what you imagined, it’ll make a great story later. A family tale for another year.