Great Gravy Starts with Spicy Rub and Flavorful Broth

Years ago, long before I ever heard anything about spicy rubs for meat, I cooked alongside Kerine Spence, a wonderful cook from Jamaica who held sway in the kitchen of a local bed and breakfast inn. Kerine never roasted a chicken without first sprinkling an assortment of spices and herbs all over the bird and massaging them into skin. Once the chicken was all sliced up into portions, it was hard to detect the extra-flavor in the slivers of crisp skin. You’d have to snag a larger scrap of skin for that. Instead, what I noticed was that the juices in the roasting pan out of which we made gravy was so much tastier than what plain roasted chicken produced.

These days we can buy ready-made rubs for all kinds of meat, but I don’t bother when I usually have the most common spices in them in my spice rack. I merely adopted Kerine’s combination and I use it on chicken and on my Thanksgiving turkey, too. Then just to make sure that the gravy has richly flavored broth to add to the flour and turkey juices, I add some extra seasoning to the giblets bubbling away in a pan of water.

Kerine lined up her jars of allspice, nutmeg, ground celery seed, thyme, paprika, salt, and the black pepper grinder. She never measured; she sprinkled, and sprinkled all sides of the bird, gently rubbing the spices on the surface. Then she merely roasted for the necessary amount of time.

I don’t recall her stuffing chickens, but she’d stick an onion or two inside the bird. I might skip stuffing for everyday roasted chicken but never on Thanksgiving.

I no longer recall where I picked up the worthwhile idea of adding a rib of celery or the leafy tops; an onion with a clove or two stuck in it; a carrot cut up; a clove of garlic; plus a bay leaf to the water in which I boil the giblets for gravy. I’ve been doing it quite a while now and I use that broth as a starter for basting juices which collect in the roasting pan. I am a fairly relentless baster; it is how I keep the turkey moist and turn the skin a rich golden brown.

After the roasting is done, I make gravy by straining the broth into the pan juices thickened with a bit of flour. I prefer to make the gravy in the roasting pan even if I have to put it over two burners. Adding chopped giblets to gravy is a matter of family preference. You can always divide your gravy into two boats and add chopped giblets to one in case you have pro-giblet partisans in the same room with people who wouldn’t be caught dead eating turkey innards.

Roasted turkey is the greatest leftover of all time, in my opinion. Just interview your friends and many will wax poetic over the prospect of turkey sandwiches and of a once-grand roast morphing into soup. With the best of all gravies, a hot turkey sandwich for lunch on the weekend, or a turkey and gravy casserole topped with leftover mashed potatoes or stuffing, will be ever so much more of a treat.

Simple Rub for Thanksgiving Turkey or Everyday Chicken

Powdered allspice

Grated nutmeg

Ground celery seed


Thyme leaves


Freshly ground pepper

Sprinkle the spices lightly over all sides of the bird, including the legs. Flip the bird over and sprinkle the back.

Rub the spices over the surface to make sure all parts get spice on them.

Roast as usual.

Better Than Usual Gravy
  • Giblets
  • 4 cups of water
  • 1 rib of celery with leafy tops
  • 1 medium onion with a couple cloves stuck in it
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 small carrot chopped into two inch lengths
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Flour
  • Hot water
  1. When you put your turkey or chicken into the oven, put the giblets, vegetables, bay leaf, salt and pepper into a two quart sauce pan, and put over a medium heat.
  2. Bring to a simmer and maintain it.
  3. Baste the turkey with the giblet and vegetable broth after the first thirty minutes of roasting, and as needed until a good amount of pan juice accumulates in the roasting pan.
  4. Add a little more hot water to the sauce pan.
  5. When the turkey is done, remove it to a platter to rest.
  6. Whisk flour into the pan juices in the roasting pan and cook until the mixture thickens and appears frothy.
  7. Strain and add the broth to the pan, continuing to stir or whisk to loosen the stuck-on bits, and cook until it is thick.
  8. Taste and adjust seasonings and serve.


Sandy Oliver

About Sandy Oliver

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working Waterfront. Besides freelance food writing, she is a pioneering food historian beginning her work in 1971 at Mystic Seaport Museum, where she developed a fireplace cooking program in an 1830s house. After moving to Maine in 1988, Sandy wrote, Saltwater Foodways: New Englanders and Their Foods at Sea and Ashore in the 19th Century published in 1995. She is the author of The Food of Colonial and Federal America published in fall of 2005, and Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving History and Recipes from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie which she co-authored with Kathleen Curtin. She often speaks to historical organizations and food professional groups around the country, organizes historical dinners, and conducts classes and workshops in food history and in sustainable gardening and cooking. Sandy lives on Islesboro, an island in Penobscot where she gardens, preserves, cooks and teaches sustainable lifeways.