How To Make Gravy

… a culinary repost.

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 fancy dancy 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. This is where your copper clad cooking pot shines, by the way, but any pan will do. 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 decision 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 it will burn and stop. If you want dark gravy, be brave and let the roux cook. Don’t worry, it won’t burn. Probably.

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 it will start 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!! STOP NOW!!! STOP STOP 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. (but dribble it in like the stock)
  • Water. (but don’t add 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 should 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 black coffee and some water 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. No matter what.

Finally, 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 Stephanie Z
    November 23, 2008

    Just for reference, the advice about not adding enough black pepper does not apply to Ben.

  2. #2 chezjake
    November 23, 2008

    Almost exactly my method, Greg. A general guideline is that chicken or turkey gravy will always come out somewhat lighter colored than your roux. I concur on the black pepper.

    I always simmer an onion, a stalk of celery, and a carrot, along with a bay leaf and a couple cloves of garlic, in my stock on the back of the stove while the turkey is roasting. This can be enhanced by also including the turkey neck and/or giblets for the long simmer. Obviously, the big solids get strained out before adding the stock to the roux.

  3. #3 Tony P
    November 23, 2008

    I have to get to the turkey before my SO who feels it’s good to grease up the turkey. No no no no no!

  4. #4 Barn Owl
    November 23, 2008

    Making a roux is a good basic skill to develop, whether you’re preparing gravy, cauliflower cheese, or gumbo.

    Dogs and cats appreciate a treat of giblet meats, and you can use the liquid in which the giblets were simmered, for your gravy.

  5. #5 Doug Alder
    November 23, 2008

    Also should mention that for a smoother gravy use a whisk not a spoon and whisk hard.

    If you are in the habit (like my SO and I) of brining your fowl before roasting it – be very careful when seasoning your gravy as the pan juices you recovered (you did pour some of that stock into your roasting pan, scraped up all the lovely bits, brought it to a boil to dissolve some of the lovely goodness, then skimmed off the fat right and strained out the bits right?) and used for the gravy will be extra salty.

    And for getting the fat separated from the goodness nothing beats a really good fat separator like this http://www.cooksplus.com/Product.aspx?cid=&pid=1047

  6. #6 Greg Laden
    November 23, 2008

    THAT is a VERY nice separator, Doug.

  7. #7 sdrDusty
    November 23, 2008

    Wonderful! just the kind of directions I need- I’ll try it.

  8. #8 peter
    November 23, 2008

    couple of things… (ignorable opinions to be sure, but they served me well over a series of years of the occasional big extended family dinners…)

    1. white pepper is a good idea for light sauces if you want to avoid the black specks of the pepper. according to the cooking school I went to for a bit, it’s generally a good idea to add to the roux prior to adding the stock. higher heat on the pepper to bring out the flavor is what i was told. (cannot back this up with chemical analysis, anyone here know? (seems to be a bit of the ‘searing’ story, which I know isn’t valid, or the “cut the end off the leg of lamb before roasting” story…))
    2. even for a large turkey, I’ve generally only needed a tablespoon or two each of the butter and flour to make enough gravy for an entire turkey, it’s amazing how much liquid that little amount of flour will bind. if you’re being perfectionist about it, after you have added all of the stock, you set the pot half on/half off the burner, and as the flour cooks down, (~15 minutes to break down the starch is a good rule of thumb for this. julia child and mcgee seem to agree on this…) you can repeatedly scrape the layer of skin off the top of the cold side until it stops forming. this will give you a very velvety gravy in the end, but usually, unless you are doing something excessively fancy, it is a waste of time.
    3. you can use the separated fat from the drippings as some of the fat to make the roux. (in lieu of some (but not all) of the butter
    4. providing you add the liquid slowly and make sure that it is completely incorporated before adding more, whether or not you use a whisk or a spoon is pretty immaterial. handily this is also the basis for ever other white sauce too. one point about the brown sauce variation you mention is that as the flour grows darker it loses its ability to bind liquids. so if you intend a much darker sauce, you will need more flour.
    5. if you’ve brined your turkey and didn’t rinse very thoroughly, the drippings are going to be very salty. I won’t ever make that mistake again…
    6. a few dried cranberries in the roasting pan with any veggies you might use to flavor the drippings add a nice note. I use a handful in the stuffing itself, which I find to be delightful…
    7. handful of sage/thyme/scallion butter rubbed on the breast meat under the skin does wonderful things…

    and yes, that IS a very nice separator…