Aside from the bird itself, the number one Thanksgiving-related recipe we get requests for is gravy. You’ve all been asking for a tutorial for years, and I finally remembered to do it before the big day. Some might venture to say that the gravy is the most important thing on the table, because somehow it ends up on everything on your plate. That’s why you need it to be good. And holiday meals are definitely a time to do it the right way; homemade. As long as you understand the basic steps, you can make a killer gravy. It’s really just the combination of a few very simple ingredients, but the choices you make with those ingredients will make a difference in the finished product. Before I start with the recipe, let me show you a few things that will help ensure amazingly perfect gravy every time.
1. A fat separator. If I was Oprah-rich, I would buy one of these for each and every one of you right this second. This is one of my most favorite kitchen gadgets. They’re not very expensive, and I love Oxo’s because it’s made from sturdy plastic (as opposed to breakable glass, like some of the competitors.) This isn’t an ad, I just really recommend these. Are you wondering what exactly it’s for? When you cook meat, like a big roast, or a turkey, for example, you’re left with a pan full of delicious juices, mixed with a layer of greasy (yet delicious) fat. You need to get rid of that fat in order to get to the juices (a main ingredient in gravy). You can skim it off, but this makes it so much easier.
There’s a large hole strainer on top to strain out any big chunks. All you do is pour all of the juices and fat in there together. Just quickly empty out that pan.
Fat will naturally rise to the top as it settles. If you do this with a normal measuring glass, when you start to pour, you’re pouring the fat. Notice on the fat separator, the spout connects at the bottom, so you just pour out the flavorful juices and can easily stop when you get to the fat. I seriously use this thing all the time, and you might want to pick one up before Thanksgiving- it will come in handy!
Basic gravy starts with a roux, which is a mixture of cooked butter and flour that will naturally thicken liquid. There’s a reason we’re not just tossing cornstarch in here. A butter and flour based roux provides one of the main flavor components here. Use real butter. Not margarine, not coconut oil (seriously, people ask that), just real, creamy, glorious, butter.
You could also use turkey fat here, but I prefer the flavor of the butter. If you’re making any sort of bacon-wrapped meat, bacon grease works beautifully as a gravy starter as well. So melt 4 tablespoons butter in a sauce pan,
Stir/whisk it constantly as it bubbles. Here’s something to know about a roux, it should basically match the color of your finished product. So if you were making a white sauce, you could cook it for a couple of minutes until it looked creamy pale, like this:
1. The pan drippings from your meat (turkey, roast, chicken, etc.) That’s where that fat separator comes in handy. I always taste my pan juices before adding them to the gravy. Depending on how you cooked your meat, the drippings may be incredibly salty. If that’s the case, take note, and maybe use a higher ratio of broth. If your finished gravy is too salty, there’s some trouble shooting tips at the end of this post.
2. Broth/Stock. If you’re making poultry, use chicken stock, if you’re making beef gravy, use beef stock. There is always the homemade vs store-bought debate. Yes, homemade broth is delicious, but your gravy will still be delicious with store-bought broth. If you’d like to make your own broth, check out this tutorial. You could do that same thing, but instead of using a rotisserie chicken, roast some turkey wings with a diced carrots, onion, and celery and then use that to create a turkey broth. Honestly, I just use a good low-sodium store-bought broth and it works great.
So when your butter/flour mixture is ready, start adding your liquid and stir constantly. Start with a little, and don’t be scared when the mixture seizes. Just keep whisking until it’s totally smooth and it should come together.
Now, no one wants lumpy gravy. It shouldn’t be hard at all to whisk this smooth, but if for whatever reason, you’re having trouble here, and your gravy is full of clumps you can’t seem to get rid of- toss that stuff in the blender. Seriously. Be careful if it’s hot- and remove the stopper from the lid and cover it with a towel, but take the time to save your gravy from lumps.
Bring the gravy to a simmer and let it bubble away to thicken for about 5 minutes. This is your basic recipe. From here, you’ll need to customize it. It’s nearly impossible to follow and exact recipe for gravy because everyone’s pan drippings will taste different. So from here, definitely season with salt and pepper first. Then taste it and see what it needs. I always, always add a splash of Worcestershire sauce. I like a little bit of acidity to balance out the flavors, a splash of red or white wine vinegar also works great. If you’re serving it with smoked meat, try a splash of liquid smoke in there. You can add chopped fresh herbs, and any other seasonings you like.
Everyone seems to have a desired consistency when it comes to gravy, too. If this gravy is too thin, you can thicken it with a little cornstarch. (We don’t want to start with corn starch as our thickener, but it works great at the end to adjust). Too thick? Add more broth. Too salty (especially if you have extra salty pan drippings)? Try a squeeze of lemon juice or even a spoonful of sour cream. The sky is the limit; if you’ve got working taste buds, you can take it from here!
And possibly my favorite thing is when everything on your plate ends up covered in it. It somehow totally works.
What I did, just so I had a little extra for Thanksgiving day, is make a batch this week and pop it in the freezer. Now no one wants to roast a whole turkey for that purpose, but try taking some turkey drumbsticks, thighs, or breasts. Keep in mind you get the most juice with the dark meat of the thighs and drumsticks. Place them in a pan with 2 carrots and 3 ribs celery (both cut into about 3″ pieces) and 1-2 onions cut into wedges.
Anyway, and then season it all with salt and pepper and some fresh herbs like rosemary, thyme, and sage. Cover the pan and roast at 350 until the meat registers 165, removing the lid about halfway through. You’ll get a turkey dinner one night, and juices for a batch of gravy for the freezer!
Recipe by Our Best Bites
4 tablespoons real butter
4 tablespoons flour
3 cups liquid (use pan drippings, plus enough broth to equal 3 cups*)
salt and pepper
additional flavor agents: fresh herbs, seasonings, vinegar, Worcestershire, etc.
*Technically, with the proportions of roux here, this can thicken 4 cups of liquid. That’s a little too thin for me, and I like the flavor of the roux more concentrated, so I keep my liquid to 3 cups, but feel free to go up to 4 if you like. You can always thicken more after if necessary.
Melt butter in a medium sized sauce pan. Add flour and whisk constantly until mixture is golden caramel color and smells fragrant (3-5 minutes). Slowly whisk in liquids, while whisking, until mixture is smooth. Bring to a simmer and cook until thickened and bubbly, 5 minutes or longer.
Taste, and then season with salt and pepper to taste, and add any other flavorings like fresh herbs, or vinegar. A small splash of Worcestershire is recommended (1-2 teaspoons should do it).
Trouble Shooting:Too thin? Combine 1 tablespoon cornstarch with 1 tablespoon cold water. Mix until smooth and add to simmering gravy. Let simmer a few minutes to thicken, and repeat if necessary until desired consistency is reached.
Too thick? Add more broth.
Too salty? Try a splash of cream, lemon juice, or even sour cream. You can also make more roux, and use only broth in the second batch to dilute.