How To Make Gravy

You’ve got your turkey all planned out, and you’ve got some stock. Now, it’s time to explore the true meaning of Thanksgiving. Gravy. (And maybe something to put it on.)

I will tell you how to make excellent gravy with no stress and guaranteed success. Without lumps.

I don’t do recipes. I do theory. But this theoretical approach will get you through. Its very simple.

You are going to need the following:

A stick of butter or two, and an equal volume of regular flour. You can use special cooking flour if you want, but that is not necessary.

Several cups of a liquid such as stock.

Some spices. Which spices and how much depends on the stock.

Salt (this is separate from the spices)

1) Make the Roux.
This can be done ahead of time and reheated later.
Put all of the butter and all of the flower in a pan. Start heating the mixture slowly as you use an appropriate utensil (a wooden spoon, for example) to mush up the butter with the flour. As the pan gets hotter, the butter melts more and more. Your job is to introduce the melting butter to the dry flour so that they mix together and form a paste.

When you have a paste, it will be yellow-buttery colored, melty and hot. Keep stirring it around and mixing it for a while. Now you have a deicsion to make:

Do you want lighter gravy (for chicken) or dark gravy (for beef) or in between (for turkey)?

The more you heat the roux, the more it bubbles and boils — as you keep stirring it — the darker it will get. At some point you will get scared and stop.

2) Turn the Roux into gravy.
Keep stirring the hot roux. (If you are reheating roux you made earlier, let it get nice and hot first). Dribble the liquid (the stock, etc.) into the roux. The roux will react by bubbling around and complaining, then turning into thick gravy.

Now, here’s the important part. If you add the liquid somewhat slowly but steadily, there will come a point in time when the gravy looks a little thinner than you want it to be.

STOP

(but don’t get all stressed out or anything.)

Let the gravy re-thicken until it is a little thicker than you want it to be. Then add more liquid. Then let it thicken. Then add more liquid. Each time the gravy will get less thick less quickly. Then you are done.

Along the way, you can add stuff that is not the stock. For example, you can add any of these items:

  • The drippings from the pan you cooked the turkey in.
  • A quarter cup of cream or half and half, or even milk.
  • Water.
  • Chopped up bits of cooked turkey liver
  • Chopped up bits of turkey or chicken meat

In adding these items, try to avoid adding something that is too cold from the refrigerator. If you add something cold, add it slowly.

3) Add additional spices.
How do you know if the gravy needs more spices (such as thyme, rosemary, ginger, sage, etc.?) DON”T TASTE IT! You hardly ever taste what you are cooking. Your taste buds will get mis-calibrated as soon as you taste something that is not spiced properly. If you must taste your food, be sipping a cup of coffee to reset your taste buds now and then. Better to use the aroma … smell the gravy. If you can smell the spices, you’re good.

Now, add some black pepper because you did not add enough.

Finaly, and only at the end, you can taste it and if you need to (depending on the stock) add some salt AT THE LAST MINUTE. Always add the salt last. Indeed, encourage your guests to add the salt at the dinner table. This the appropriate time and place to add the salt (the taste of the salt quickly disappears once it is in the food!)

Enjoy your gravy!

Comments

  1. #1 Rosie Redfield
    November 19, 2007

    “special cooking flour”? As opposed to flour that’s intended to be eaten raw?

    p.s. Recipes always emphasize adding the liquid gradually to the roux while it cooks. But it works just as well if you take the roux off the heat and stir in the cold or room temperature liquid before putitng it back on the heat. Provided the roux has dispersed before the mixture gets hot enough to start to thicken, there will be no lumps. (You do need to stir frequently until the mixture gets hot enough to thicken, otherwise (1) the flour/butter particles will fall to the bottom of the pot where they’ll be concentrated enough to form lumps, or (2) the liquid at the bottom of the pot will get so hot it scorches.)

  2. #2 Greg Laden
    November 19, 2007

    Rosie:

    The “cooking flour” is probably not called cooking flour. It comes in a cylindrical container and it is meant to be used for gravy.

    You are correct about the alternate ways to use Roux, but the method I’m suggesting is the stress free method. Nothing can go wrong.

    By the way, peanut butter acts pretty much like roux. But, of course, you get peanut sauce instead of gravy…

  3. #3 chezjake
    November 20, 2007

    A couple of notes to add. The darker you make the roux, the less volume of liquid it can thicken. I always supplement the flavor of the broth by letting it slowly simmer on the back of the stove while the turkey roasts, having added a whole peeled onion, a broken stalk of celery, a couple garlic cloves, a bay leaf, and a few peppercorns plus the neck of the turkey.

    Since I baste the turkey with butter, I use the pan drippings to make my roux and don’t add extra butter. Using a flat whisk (like this one: http://www.cooking.com/products/shprodde.asp?SKU=115681 ) works very well in creating a lump-free roux right in the roasting pan.

  4. #4 greg laden
    November 20, 2007

    chezjake: Brilliant, great ideas.

    You are absolutely correct about the darkened roux being less receptive to additional liquid.

    I will caution the reader, however, that the butter-flour (in equal volumes) mix method is fool proof, while using pan drippings is what sometimes gets noobies in trouble.

  5. #5 Anne Gilbert
    November 20, 2007

    I’ve actually done this. Many times. It’s quite easy. The only difference is, I’ve tasted as I’ve gone along. Makes me “flabbier”, I suppose, but the gravy does turn out to be pretty good. And I’ve always used the drippings. That’s what gives it the taste it has.
    anne G

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