One of the things that inspired me to start my sunday dinners is the ritual of making Christmas dinner. So many people I talk to during the holidays dread having to be in charge of Christmas dinner. I adore it. Mostly because I like to cook but also because I have some control issues, no doubt. I've made Christmas dinner for a crowd a few times now and while I do tend to try new dishes every year (much to the annoyance of the traditionalists in the crowd - you know who you are) I have stumbled upon a few keeper recipes that are now a must for us at the holidays. One of these is a gravy recipe from Cook's Illustrated.
For the uninitiated, Cook's Illustrated takes a pretty serious approach to food. The magazine and cookbooks produced by CI contain recipes, obviously, but each one provides context for the ingredients chosen and methods used to produce the final product. When they make gravy, (or fudge, or chili, or whatever) they make dozens of batches to figure out how to produce the best [whatever] possible.
I first made the gravy (at our house we call it the gravy, for we know of which gravy I speak when I say 'I'm making the gravy') December 24th 2005. The date is pretty much seared into my brain because I remember my husband being a bit incredulous when I announced I was going to make gravy at 10 p.m. Christmas Eve. Actually he thought I was nuts. I was leafing through a Cook's Illustrated I had received for my birthday a couple of weeks earlier and the idea of gravy - really, really good gravy, appealled to me. But good gravy, it turns out, is not for wimps. Good gravy takes two days to prepare. And a willingness to be intimately acquainted with poultry in a way I had never been before. So there I was, December 24th, hacking up onions and trying to identify the internal organs of my turkey for fear of accidentally using the liver, which to my untrained eye looked a lot like a gizzard, in my gravy. (The liver, it turns out, can impart a strong flavour to the gravy considered undesirable by most gravy aficionados.)
Regardless, on December 25th when I finally finished the gravy I swear I could hear the sweet sound of angels remarking on my accomplishment. The gravy looked like gravy should look - an intense, deep caramel colour. The gravy smelled like gravy should smell. But that I had the words to describe it. But most of all, the gravy tasted like gravy should taste. Which is to say folks around the table were licking their plates. Or they wanted to. I know I did. And I might just have done so when I was back in the kitchen taking care of the dishes. (Just my plate - I'm not quite that desperate. Besides - there was leftovers).
But here's the thing about the gravy recipe. It's on the Cook's Illustrated website but you can't access CI recipes online without a subscription. I could be a hero and type it out here, but by trade I'm a librarian and bound to uphold copyright. I mean, it's not like we take an oath or anything, but I'm conflicted. While I think it through, consider getting your hands on Cook's Illustrated, Number 71, November/December 2004. And admire my Christmas table, circa 2008: