How To Make Gravy

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.

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 Comrade PhysioProf
    November 15, 2009

    Dude, that is a perfectly good recipe for basic gravy, but you left out the temperature for cooking the roux, which is very important. It should be a medium low heat, so that the butter/flour mixture is just barely bubbling.

    Also, the stuff about adding salt at the last minute or even at the table is a cockamamie old wives’ tale. There is no reason not to salt the gravy while it is cooking; the taste of the salt does not “disappear” in the food. Of course, you want to salt the food to the light end of the range, so that those who prefer more salt can add some at the table, but those who don’t aren’t SOL.

  2. #2 khan
    November 15, 2009

    Add a half teaspoon of sherry to make it a perfect gravy.

  3. #3 Colin
    November 15, 2009

    Essentially how my mother taught me.

    The trick to not having lumps is the slow addition of stock to the roux: too fast and you get lumps.

  4. #4 Benjamin Geiger
    November 15, 2009

    I have to second CPP’s comment about salt. There are quite a few foods that must be cooked with salt (rice and pasta come to mind); if you leave out the salt while cooking, you could add a shakerful to it on the table and it’ll still taste bland.

    And when it comes to making roux, I recommend everyone watch the Good Eats episode on gumbo. It’s called “Bowl o’ Bayou” and he spends much of the episode going over the fundamentals of roux.

  5. #5 Mary
    November 15, 2009

    I loved this. Not only is this a good instructional guide for making the best gravy, it’s funny as hell. :-)

  6. #6 Rosie Redfield
    November 15, 2009

    Another way that works just as well:

    Take the roux off the heat when it’s brown enough. Dump in most or all of your cold (or room temp, or warm) liquid. Stir so no roux is stuck on the bottom of the pan – floating lumps of roux are normal because the fat has been solidified by the cold liquid. Put the pan back on the heat and keep stirring. As the liquid warms up the fat will remelt and the lumps of roux will disperse. Don’t use really high heat, because you want the mixture to spend a minute or two at a temperature warm enough to melt the fat and disperse the roux but not so hot as to cook the flour. Keep stirring until it boils and gets thick. If it’s too thick add more liquid.

  7. #7 Sandi Hj
    November 15, 2009

    One other little trick — if you put a small (1-2 lb.) piece of beef chuck and a similar piece of pork, both preferably with a bone, in with the turkey as it roasts, you get two benefits. First the drippings are the MOST delicious very rich addition to your gravy, and second, you have roast beef and roast pork leftovers for the weekend, to give you some variety from the turkey.

  8. #8 chezjake
    November 15, 2009

    We’ll have to disagree on this one, Greg. I’ve been making really good gravy (beef, pork, chicken, lamb, turkey) for years, and I’ve never once used a pre-made roux or any butter. I just use the natural drippings in the pan, stirring in the flour with a flat whisk slowly over medium-low heat and cooking it for a few minutes before stirring in an appropriate stock.

    I do agree about adding more pepper.

  9. #9 Anon
    November 15, 2009

    Why would I want lump-free gravy?

    also:

  10. #10 Greg Laden
    November 15, 2009

    Great additions and comments. A few corrections: Good idea about medium to low heat, but don’t be afraid to experiment at the higher end of the heat range. I’m sticking to my guns about the “wive’s tale” (which I take as a misogynist comment BTW) regarding salt, but I may be wrong. It is certainly not wrong generally … it probably depends on the food. Perhaps you have some evidence, CPP, but try to use less sexist langauge, please.

    colin: properly made roux mostly obviates the rate at which you mix in the liquid. It is easier to have the roux hot and add the liqin in slowly, but you actually have a lot of leeway.

    Cheezecake: Yes, it is quite possible to use your method and it works for some people who do it just right. The roux method works virtually all the time. The pan method does not, and can fail in a number of ways, and it is the very reason that so many people this Thanksgiving will have substandard gravy … it won’t be done right and it will come out watery or lumpy or greasy.

    Keep the suggestions coming!

  11. #11 Stephanie Z
    November 15, 2009

    I read this and wondered what I’d been missing out on by not adding herbs/spices to the gravy. Then I realized that by virtue of our stuffing seasoning under the skin of the turkey, all our pan drippings come pre-seasoned.

    Throwing a cup or so of white wine in the drip pan ahead of time isn’t a bad idea either. Brings out all the alcohol-soluble flavors.

  12. #12 Katherine
    November 15, 2009

    Re: salt. Chips are much better if you salt them before cooking (oven chips not deep-fried chips). I am not fancy enough to make proper gravy so I’m not sure why I am even here…

  13. #13 henry harpending
    November 16, 2009

    My kid’s third grade teacher explained to the class that there was no point in adding salt early in cooking because it simply evaporates. Here you do not explicitly make that point so I have to ask your position on this important issue………

    Henry

  14. #14 Joel
    November 16, 2009

    My kid’s third grade teacher explained to the class that there was no point in adding salt early in cooking because it simply evaporates.

    Ah, no. Salt does not evaporate, it remains in whatever liquid it is added to.

    The reason for waiting until the end to add salt to gravy, or any other liquid that you would reduce is that the salt will be in greater concentration once the liquid is reduced.

    This is also why when you are making stock, you should add very little salt, if at all. I don’t add any.

  15. #15 Equisetum
    November 16, 2009

    “My kid’s third grade teacher explained to the class that there was no point in adding salt early in cooking because it simply evaporates.”

    Tell your kid to ask their teacher to explain how they get salt from seawater, and why that works.

    (I know: because water evaporates faster than salt)

  16. #16 Soren
    November 16, 2009

    My mom uses red current jel to sweeten gravy made from duck or meatloaf(packed in bacon), duck and pork, especially smoked pork such as bacon i helped with a little sweetness. I often just use a little cane sugar, and that works as well.

    Something sour also helps. Remember to get a well rounded taste all your tastebuds need something to work with.

    For an ox roast I like to use a little vinegar. If the stock is made with red wine, use a little red wine vinegar. If not use a little balsamic vinegar, it is not as harsh. When using vinegar, always use less, and let it boil away for at least 5 minutes, to avoid nasty taste accidents.

    For chicken, you can use a little lemon or lime in stead. For duck balsamic vinegar will do the trick.

  17. #17 Matt Penfold
    November 16, 2009

    That is not really gravy.

    To make gravy you pour most of the fat out of the pan you used to roast a joint, then add plain flour and stir over hear until your form a roux. You then slowly add stock, and maybe some wine, brandy or some other alcohol suitable for the meat. Keep mixing until you get the consistency you want.

  18. #18 Peter Mc
    November 16, 2009

    17. Yup. Don’t dick around with a flour and butter roux. Pour off fat, add flour, cook, add a glass of wine, reduce, add meat juice, adjust seasoning. Oh an make sure you scrape any of the caught, caramelized bits from the roasting tin and mash those in.

    Don’t be afraid to ask the butcher for some extra fat if your meat is too lean to produce a decent whack of juice. And if you can, buy your meat from a butcher, not a supermarket.

  19. #19 Greg Laden
    November 16, 2009

    Just a quick note: Henry Harpending the famous scientist knows that the salt does not evaporate!

  20. #20 Alcari
    November 16, 2009

    Of course salt evaporates. I don’t know about you, but I prepare all my food at around 1686 K.

    Also: you can freeze gravy if you have any left over (you probably will), just be sure to label whatever you made gravy from.

    Also2: If you’re really lazy, you can buy gravy in both bottles and powdered. Beware that the two compare like fresh milk and powdered milk, in that the colour and consistency are a match, but that’s about it.

  21. #21 Joel
    November 16, 2009

    Dear Ms.

    Salt does indeed dissolve in water, but there is a maximum concentration that the salt can have. When the salt concentration reaches its maximum value, the salty water is said to be “saturated.”

    If you take salty water and heat it enough to evaporate all of the water, the salt will be left behind, it’s true. But this doesn’t have anything to do with whether the salt is dissolved or not. The reason this happens is that salt particles are very strongly attracted to one another, but water molecules are less strongly attracted to one another. So when you heat the salty water, you break the attractions between water molecules but not the attractions between salt particles, and the water molecules fly away (evaporate) leaving the salt particles behind. If you were to use a blowtorch, you could continue to heat the salt particles to very high temperatures and make the salt melt, and eventually it would evaporate too.

    I hope this helps.

    Best regards,
    Prof. Topper
    Dept of Chemistry
    The Cooper Union
    New York, NY

    http://www.newton.dep.anl.gov/askasci/chem99/chem99604.htm

  22. #22 Jason
    November 16, 2009

    I’m with the ‘why make a roux with butter when you have perfectly good and more flavorful fat from the meat you just cooked’ crowd.

    I also note that if you followed Greg’s (well, Julia’s) turkey recipe, you can boil the carcass (and you favorite other stock ingredients) while the turkey is roasting to make a wonderful stock instead of using that tasteless, salty canned stuff.

  23. #23 Greg Laden
    November 16, 2009

    Jason, don’t join the dark side. Perhaps you don’t realize that you are not throwing out the fat in the fat and stuff from the turkey pan if you PUT IT IN THE DAMN GRAVY!!!!11!!

    This is the problem with talking theory rather than nuts and bolts. OF COURSE you are going to use the turkey carcass for the stock. OF COURSE you are going to use pan drippings in the gravy. If, that is, you cook a turkey, etc. The recipe above is totally adaptable to those considerations.

    Jeesh.

    I’d like to make yet another suggestion: If you have a lot of people coming over, get two turkeys, and cook one ahead of time and use that carcass in your stock. This allows you to get two smaller turkeys.

  24. #24 Jason
    November 16, 2009

    Ok, mea culpa, I guess those points should simply have been a given, but it never ceases to amaze me when they pull out the cans and boxes of ‘stock’ on cooking shows these days.

  25. #25 Greg Laden
    November 16, 2009

    The canned and boxed stocks have improved over the old reconstituted bullion saline solution. But it is a little like using a pre-made salad from a bag for a nice dinner.

    (If you do it, make sure you discard the wrappings carefully.)

  26. #26 Joel
    November 16, 2009

    In order to keep from having to use commercial stock, keeping stock in the freezer is a good idea. Bones can be frozen also and made into stock once you have enough. Vegatable stock is also a tastey alternative to chicken/turkey/beef and takes less time to make.

    Homemade stock makes a huge difference.

  27. #27 Davidp
    November 17, 2009

    If you’re roasting beef or lamb, sprinkle some flour into the pan before adding the meat, before roasting. Then it’s cooked, nicely flavored and makes a delicious dark gravy – just add stock, heat and stir.
    For roast beef, roast half a tomato in the pan and stir it into the gravy for an even nicer gravy.

  28. #28 Doug Alder
    November 19, 2009

    Greg – you need to deglaze the pan you roasted the meat in, not just pour what’s liquid into the stock. I know you know this but you didn’t mention it. Alcohol works well for that – wine, sherry, brandy etc – depends on the meat. Also use some stock for this. Heat well and long stirring with a whisk to get all the caramelized goodness from the bottom of the pan. If there is a lot of fat then use a fat separator to get rid of most of it – save some to add to the flavor profile.

    Gravies made with a butter roux and the deglazed drippings are far superior to ones made just with the fat from the bird etc, particularly when the bird you are roasting is not a wild one (commercial turkeys are crap – try for “free range” and organic if possible – the fat will be much more interesting). Just ask any french trained saucier – it’s how I was trained in the trade

    Regarding salt – when doing birds I hope you brine them first. This will give you a much juicier bird. However, it is imperative if you go this route that you then use a stock that has no salt in it because I can guarantee you that you will have plenty of salt in in the juices and what you deglaze.

  29. #29 Chris Rhetts
    December 7, 2009

    Greg,

    I discovered a wonderful, nearly fool-proof method for insuring that your recipe ALWAYS works, even when someone as ham handed as I am trying to follow it. Here’s how:

    Sometime between step (2), where you are supposed to be stirring the “roux”, and step (3), where the roux turns into something exactly the opposite of what you were shooting for, sneak out, run down to Kroger and buy a package of powdered gravy mix for around 79 cents. Then sneak back in and hide the pan of roux under the sink. Then, while no one is looking, get out an identical pan, add water to the Kroger gravy and heat it up.

    I know, Kroger gravy tastes like mung. But at least it will REMIND your guests of a gravy like substance; which for a doofus like me is actually a victory of sorts.

    -Chris