So look. The things people express the most fear and bewilderment about, when it comes to big roasted dinners, is the bird and the gravy. It doesn’t really even matter very much if your turkey is a little dry, if you make gravy that’s a religious experience. And you can DO that.
This is dead easy, folks. Stop thinking about it as some sort of dark culinary magic, and just think about that roasting that turkey like you were a baking really big chicken.
Let go of the brining, basting, smoking, deep-frying fads, and just drop your oven rack to the bottom shelf. Preheat to 500 degrees, Fahrenheit.
If your bird is still frozen solid, send someone out for a few bottles of holiday cheer, and stick it in a bathtub full of hot water. I can’t help you until it's thawed enough to pull the giblets bag out of the cavity.
Assuming it’s actually NOT still frozen, prep your bird by massaging butter and the herbs of your choice all over it, on top of the skin and beneath it, and stuff the cavity loosely with quartered apples, oranges, onions, sage, and rosemary. Use real butter. It tastes better. And it’s French. It’s fashionable to be French, again. Pop the bird into that 500 degree oven. Wait a half hour. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees, and relax.
Speaking of the Europeans, have a little Irish Whiskey in your morning coffee, with a splat of whipped cream. I'm a big fan of Jameson's Black Barrel. But hey, use the tipple of your choice. A dollop of rum or Bailey's Irish Cream isn't bad, either. Don’t drizzle creme de menthe on top, though, because that's just nasty.
Now that the bird is in the oven, dump a quart or two of low-sodium chicken or turkey broth into a two-or-three quart saucepan, and toss in the giblets from that little paper bag that was inside the bird, too. What? You didn’t find a little paper bag inside your bird? QUICK! Pull that bird back out of the oven and check the big flap of skin over the neck area. It’s there, somewhere. It’s gotten weirdly fashionable for producers to hide the giblets, in recent years. Consider it a challenge.
Toss the giblets — all of ’em — into the pan of stock, put it to simmer on medium-low, and forget about it for a while. You're using low-sodium because you're going to let it simmer until it's about half or even less of its original volume. This concentrates the flavors. If you’re bored, rough-chop a stalk or three of celery and an onion, and throw those into the pan, too.
Have a little more coffee. Add another splash of whiskey. You deserve it. Everyone else is watching the Macy’s Day parade on TV, and making churlish noises about breakfast. Let 'em wait. You're Cooking the Turkey. Work it for a little extra mileage, whenever you can. Your turkey is going to need approximately 20 minutes per pound, at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Don’t screw around with the oven, that just dries things out and makes the whole process take longer.
Your stock and chopped veg and giblets are all reduced down to half or less of their original volume? Terrific! When you remove the bird from the oven to let it rest for 20 minutes (tented with heavy-duty foil, so it doesn't get cold) while you frantically get everything else ready to serve, strain that delicious reduced stock then pour it into the turkey pan over medium heat, and stir -- this is to deglaze all the delicious bird drippings and preserve their yummy essence in your gravy.
Pour the whole mess back into a pan you can deal with, and bring it to just under a boil. Have a glass of wine. You've earned it.
This is the point where a lot of people will tell you to make a slurry out of flour and water.
Don’t do that.
Use three or four tablespoons of corn starch, instead of flour, in that slurry. It's not nearly as prone to lumping, and doesn't have that weird raw-flour taste, if you mess up. Call a dependable kid who is old enough to have health insurance into the kitchen to help. Have the kid use a wire whisk to keep the reduced stock and drippings moving constantly, while you add the corn-starch slurry a bit at a time, waiting to see how it thickens, until your gravy is the desired consistency.
Presto. Terrific bird, amazing gravy. That’s what counts the most — no one ever raves about the sweet potatoes or the green beans, right?
Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. May it be a day of festivity, brightness, and laughter.