My family’s holiday turkey or roast isn’t complete without gravy. In fact, one of the Offspring has declared it her favourite part of the meal and once drank a glass of it on a dare. It’s life on the wild side around here, people. So, I’m going to give you the benefit of my extensive gravy-making experience by sharing A Gravy Primer with you.
Eight More Years & Counting of Gravy Making
I first wrote this post in 2013 and now, eight years down the road and with even more gravy making experience, I stand by everything I said here. And most of all, if you find the prospect of making gravy daunting, I encourage you to follow my methods — which are pretty relaxed; in fact, I don’t have an actual recipe — and give it a try. I think you’ll be glad you did.
My Gravy Story
Over the years I’ve developed a fairly fail-proof method for making smooth, flavourful gravy. (Did I really just say “fail-proof”? I’m going to stick with that confident attitude.) By the way, sometimes I call gravy “sauce,” usually when there’s more wine in it or I’m feeling chic (but hopefully not chichi).
In the last couple of weeks I’ve made both turkey gravy at Thanksgiving and then beef gravy at my daughter’s birthday dinner. Now, a dish of gravy is not the most exciting thing to photograph, but I did my best. It would have been nice to showcase the gravies in action, so to speak, but when I have guests they come before the blog. So, no photos of gravy cascading over a mound of steaming mashed potatoes and adorning slices of turkey or beef, but I think you still get a sense of how rich and smooth both gravies were. You’ll have to trust me when I say they were full of flavour too.
You made gravy to go with that, right?
This is a how-to on gravy making as opposed to a recipe, because there’s such a degree of “it all depends.” It depends on how big your turkey or roast is and how much drippings are in the pan, as well as the number of servings you need. Do you like your gravy thin or thick? Your taste is an important factor too. Do you like a lot of salt or pepper or perhaps dried herbs? Do you like to put a splash of wine in it or not? (I’m firmly in the wine splashing camp.) If you like a more predominant wine flavour, use more as I did in my Prime Rib and Sauce with Red Wine.
A Gravy Primer: Flavouring those Drippings!
The first step to a good gravy is getting as much flavour as possible into the drippings. So throw any or all of some carrots, onions, celery, garlic cloves and perhaps also fresh herbs into the pan when you’re getting ready to roast that bird or hunk of beef or pork. Really, just go with whatever’s on hand and complements the flavour of the meat. This is a good way to use up some veggies that are hanging around looking a little sad. During the roasting process, make sure there’s some liquid or fat on the bottom of the pan to prevent burning. A bit of water will do the trick.
When your turkey or roast is done, remove it from the pan and set it aside, covered with foil to rest. Spoon the fat out of the pan and pick out anything that’s actually burned, but don’t scrape any bits of caramelized goodness off the bottom. If you’re a word geek like me you’ll want to know that those bits are called the fond (with a French pronunciation). Fond is the gravy maker’s friend because it’s full of flavour. Also, leave all those chunks of vegetables and roasted herbs in the pan, so you can extract every bit of tastiness from them.
A Gravy Primer: Deglazing the Pan and Getting Saucy
Set the pan over one or two burners on the stove, depending on its size, and turn the heat to medium. For turkey and pork, put a nice splash of white wine into the pan, and use red wine for beef. If I don’t have any odds and ends of wine about, I use a glug or two from whatever bottle we’ll be drinking at dinner. Stir and scrape with a spatula while the wine does its job of deglazing all the lovely dark bits that have adhered to the pan. (By the way, if you don’t want to use wine, you can deglaze the pan with a bit of red or white wine vinegar, various fruit juices, or stock. Experiment and you’ll develop confidence about building flavour with these options. See this article by The Kitchn for more information.)
Once everything’s loose and saucy, it’s time to add more liquid. When I roast a turkey I always use the neck and the contents of that little bag of mysterious parts, otherwise known as giblets, to make a stock, along with some onion, garlic, carrot, celery and maybe some herbs. If you’ve boiled potatoes, save some of the liquid for this purpose. Don’t, I repeat don’t, use cooking liquid from brassica vegetables like Brussels sprouts, unless you like sprout-flavoured gravy. You can also use pre-made stock. The key is to add flavour and goodness with each ingredient, so I don’t advise using water.
A Gravy Primer: Thickening and Seasoning
The magic thickener for my gravies is corn starch. How much you use — yes, you got it — depends on how much gravy you’re making. I never measure. I just put two or three forkfuls into a glass, add cold water, then stir vigourously until I have a slurry (isn’t that a fun word?). Pour this into the pan and bring the liquid to a boil, stirring so the mixture is free of lumps. If the gravy doesn’t thicken to your liking, add some more cornstarch slurry. Remember, it’s easy to add more, but you can’t take it away if you’ve over-thickened your gravy.
This puts me in mind of a story I heard about a turkey gravy that was so thick a spoon could stand upright in it. I guess whoever made it didn’t realize they could have added some more stock to thin that gravy down.
Since I season turkeys and meats before I roast them, I generally don’t need to add salt to my gravies, although sometimes I do add pepper. Make sure you taste it once it’s thickened and adjust the seasoning as required. Turn the heat down and keep the gravy warm until you’re ready to serve it. Put a strainer over a wide-mouth measuring cup and carefully pour the gravy, along with any vegetables and herbs into it. Press gently on the vegetables to get as much of the gravy as possible.
Decant the smooth, flavour-intense gravy into a boat or other serving vessel and dazzle your family and guests with your gravy-making prowess. Next mealtime you’ll hear the words I always do: “You made gravy to go with that, right?”
Looking for More Sauces?
Did you know you can thicken bone broth and use it as a sauce? Here’s a how-to with photos on making a rich beef stock from prime rib bones (waste not!); you could use that stock in gravy or soup. And if you’d like to serve a sauce that’s totally different from the traditional gravies, how about this piquant parsley sauce that’s a riff on chimichurri?
First Published 2013 10 26
Republished 2017 10 15
Republished 2021 10 08