*Note: Use care when handling nettles. Their little stingers are not terribly dangerous, but they can cause a great deal of discomfort. I like to wear rubber gloves or use tongs to handle them...
Brillat-Savarin famously said that gravy is the dividing line between fasting and feasting. Preach!
As a Southerner, I can attest that a truer thing has never been said. I can also attest to the fact that gravy does not mandate spending more of your precious paycheck on groceries. Hence red eye gravy. Country ham drippings plus stale coffee. Voilà! Flavor.
And milk gravy. Pan drippings, flour, milk, maybe salt and pepper. Gravy not only means feasting. It means that you can feast on a seriously tight budget.
For this extra special Thanksgiving gravy, you might have to shell out a little more cash, but the flavor of this gravy is unparalleled, and hey, it's Thanksgiving after all.
The beauty of this particular gravy is its ability to take plain ol' grocery store button mushrooms (nope, not creminis, not shiitakes, not oysters--unless you really want to go crazy) and turn them into pure, unadulterated umami to pour over your (hopefully) delicious and moist yet (let's face it) plain turkey.
A Thanksgiving Turkey—no matter how well-seasoned or moist—will always be judged alongside the gravy that adorns it. Let’s face facts: modern, farm-raised turkey, especially when roasted whole, runs the risk of being bland. Many will spend a tidy sum for “free-range” birds (noticeably better), or better yet, Heritage breeds, which have flavorful, darker meat. For most of the country, however, Heritage turkeys must be scoured for online, are prohibitively expensive, hard to reserve far enough ahead of time, and shipped from long distances…
All of this puts the onus on the Thanksgiving Birdmaster to conjure flavor from elsewhere. Our answer: make part of the gravy ahead of time by whipping up a large batch of finely chopped onions and mushrooms that have been lightly sautéed in butter and fortified with reduced white wine. Do I have your attention yet?
Called duxelles, this mixture has many applications. As an additive to pan-sauce gravy, it imparts rich, meaty flavors and a wonderful texture to whatever you normally whip up. As a base for gravy, it frees you from having to cook turkey the same old way: fry or smoke the bird to your heart’s content knowing you have gravy already simmering away. Or, if turkey isn’t your thing, substitute a neutral oil for the butter and simmer adding only vegetable stock for a vegetarian or vegan-friendly gravy that doesn’t skimp on flavor.
Chop very fine or pulse in a food processor until they resemble oatmeal:
1 1⁄2 pounds mushrooms
Squeeze about ½ cup of the mushrooms at a time in a thin cotton towel, wringing them very hard to extract their juices. It is important to squeeze moisture out of the chopped mushrooms, or they will not brown properly. The mushrooms will be in a solid lump if you have squeezed hard enough.
Heat in a large skillet over medium heat until the foam subsides:
4 tablespoons butter
Increase the heat to medium-high and add, cooking briefly until softened:
(3 tablespoons minced garlic)
1 1/2 cups finely chopped onion
Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring often, until they have begun to brown and there is very little liquid left, 5 to 6 minutes. Stir in:
1 cup dry white wine
Cook until completely evaporated. If making ahead of time, let cool and refrigerate in a covered container for up to 10 days or freeze for up to 3 months.
For using as a base for gravy, transfer the mixture to a saucepan and combine over medium heat with:
2 cups poultry or vegetable stock, preferably homemade
For even meatier flavor (calling all Vegetarians), try adding:
(2 tablespoons dried mushrooms, such as Porcinis or Shiitakes, finely ground)
Bring to a lively simmer, adding more stock as needed for as long as you are in the kitchen, or at least 1 hour. If using pan juices, add them after pouring off the rendered turkey fat and deglazing the roasting pan with more white wine. Season with:
Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper, to taste
2 to 3 tablespoons fresh Thyme or Parsley, minced
Take the saucepan off the heat and let sit for at least ten minutes before serving.