Get on the Gravy Train...An Ode to Thanksgiving's Liquid Gold

(We asked some of our City of Ate contributors to write paeans to their favorite Thanksgiving dishes. Jesse Hughey kicked us off with a...well, let's call it a "poem" honoring green bean casserole. Today, Andrew Marton writes about good gravy. Tomorrow? More CofA poetry. You've been warned.)

Among the many "once-a-year" foods featured in a Thanksgiving feast -- you know, that Flinstonean turkey drum stick, trembling cranberry mold, or even slab of pumpkin pie -- I would like to add the sinfully rich Thanksgiving gravy.

Also of equal rarity is its natural habitat: The gravy "boat."

I don't know about you, but my quotidian meals rarely come doused in anything resembling that café-au-lait colored liquid -- the product of a heavily whisked, heavenly reduction of turkey pan drippings, earthy giblets, an herbaceous scattering of oregano, thyme, or rosemary, a touch of thickening flour, along with some healthy glugs of rich red wine.

Throughout my year, it's "yes" to sauces, "sure" to an essence or two, and "OK" to that gossamer foam. But, I almost never encounter gravy, which clearly reveals that I'm not a Texan who -- stereotype alert -- can't go a week without slathering its white version over something chicken fried.

But when it comes to Thanksgiving, nothing quite stands up to the deep flavors of a pan gravy. A sauce is too thin. An essence is too ethereal. And a foam is just too prissy, playing annoying footsy with our taste buds.

None of them have that gravy gravitas. None of them can boast its satiny surface, its buttery unctuousness and its brazen taste of the very fowl that is Thanksgiving's diva on a plate.

Moreover, none of them can be the multi-tasker gravy is on a Thanksgiving platter piled high with delights and potential disasters. Properly made, a gravy can sit like a lake in the crater of a sweet potato mash, enlivening the taste of that often bland starch. A gravy can wash over the plate like some healing tide, reviving a shank of desert-dry bird or administering culinary CPR to Grandma's woefully underseasoned sausage-and-sage stuffing.

In fact, it's a dirty little secret of the Thanksgiving table: It is that little eddy of gravy that, by lapping up against some ill-conceived, yet perennial favorite side-dish (i.e. that wan green bean casserole) will rescue it from an early encounter with the garbage disposal.

Lest you continue to be skeptical of a gravy's under-sung worth, consider that it may be the only part of the Thanksgiving meal that travels in its own eponymous vehicle. No mundane "pot," "pan" or "dish" for this saucy sider. Instead, it floats to table in its own boat.

And to continue the maritime metaphor: It's no small wonder that many a Thanksgiving meal ultimately either sinks or swims based on the quality of its liquid gold.

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Andrew Marton

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