Gravy is one of the most important parts of Thanksgiving dinner. A perfectly cooked turkey cannot save a boring gravy, but a perfect gravy can save almost any overcooked turkey, dry piece of cornbread, or bland mashed potatoes. At its simplest, gravy is a sauce made from thickened pan juices and sometimes stock. Whether you’re making gravy from scratch or using premade stock, we’ve pulled together our favorite tips, techniques, and spices for making it incredibly delicious. Be sure to explore our Thanksgiving and Holiday spice collections for more flavorful inspiration.
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Cook the Flour First
The most common gravy mistakes involve flour. Never dump raw flour into a pot of warm liquid. This causes the flour to clump up, leaving you with lumpy gravy. Instead, try making a roux—a thickener made with equal parts butter and flour. Melt butter in a pan, add the flour, and whisk until combined. The flour-butter paste can then be cooked gently until it turns a light brown color. This gives the gravy a nice nutty flavor. The roux can then be added to the stock bit by bit until the desired thickness is achieved. This is safer than adding the roux to a pot before the stock and ending up with a gravy that is too thick. In most cases, the gravy should just coat the back of a spoon. Remember, gravy will thicken as it cools to a serving temperature.
Instead of a roux, you can also make a slurry by dissolving flour into cold water. When you add the slurry to the stock, make sure you simmer the gravy for a few minutes to cook the flour thoroughly. Undercooked flour gives gravy an off taste, like raw dough or cheap cereal. Whether you use a slurry or roux, make sure to whisk the gravy thoroughly to avoid any extra chance for clumping.
If you’re avoiding flour altogether, you can use other thickeners like cornstarch or arrowroot powder. Both products should tell you the proper amount to use for gravy on the container.
Make Your Own Turkey Stock
A quality turkey should come with giblets—the liver, heart, gizzard, and neck of the bird. These extra organ meats are full of flavor and make an amazing homemade stock with little effort. (You can also pick up some extra turkey wings at the store.) Cut up the individual organ meats into smaller one-inch pieces. Sear the meats in a tablespoon of oil, just enough to give them some color and roasted flavor. Add them to a pot with chopped onion, celery, carrot, fresh garlic, a few black peppercorns, and a bay leaf before covering everything with an inch of cold water. Bring this to a light simmer and let it cook gently on the back burner all day while you get everything else ready. This is something you can start on Thanksgiving morning or do the night before. When it is finished simmering, strain the stock, salt to taste, and thicken to make gravy.
Save Time and Use Stock Base
Not everyone wants to cook completely from scratch and that’s perfectly okay! That’s exactly why we offer roasted turkey stock during the holidays, and carry premium stock bases all year round. These stock bases are easier to use than the standard bouillon cube and much more flavorful. All you have to do is boil water and combine. Plus, pan juices aren’t always enough to make gravy, so it’s good to have a backup plan to ensure the gravy boat can make it around the table.
Don’t Clean Your Pan!
All of the delicious drippings and cooked on bits in the roasting pan are full of flavor. This is what is known as a “fond” in classic French cooking terms. Use broth, water, or dry white wine to deglaze and loosen the fond from the pan. Make sure to use a wooden spoon to scrape off any cooked on pieces—metal scraping on metal should be avoided. Once everything has been loosened from the pan, run it through a wire sieve and pour it into a small pot to let any fat and grease settle to the top. Separate the fat from the juices with a ladle or a basting tube. (Save for later!) Be sure to also collect any juices that may have collected from the resting turkey as well. All of these juices can be added to your gravy or turned into gravy itself with a roux. Note, the drippings will be salty if your turkey has been brined, so taste it and adjust seasoning the gravy accordingly.
Fat is Flavor
You can save the fat from the roasting pan to make the roux. Sure butter is good, but roasted turkey fat is much more flavorful. Follow the same steps for making a butter roux but substitute the turkey fat instead. You can also save this leftover fat to sauté or oven roast vegetables. Making sautéed green beans as a side? Try a little turkey fat in the pan instead of oil.
Add Plenty of Aromatics
Whether you’re making homemade stock or using a stock base, make sure you incorporate some aromatic herbs and spices. A few crushed garlic cloves, some sliced leek, or a chopped shallot adds great allium flavor. Traditional herbs to add to a turkey gravy are rosemary, thyme, bay leaves, and, of course, sage. Sharper spices like whole peppercorns, allspice berries, cloves, and even blade mace add a delicious perfume to the stock and resulting gravy. Herb blends are especially helpful for adding complex flavors. Three Spice House favorites for seasoning broths and stocks are Fines Herbes, Italian Herb Blend, and Homestyle Herbs Soup Blend. For whole spices and pieces of herbs, try using a muslin bag or cheesecloth for easy removal later.
Add Some Extra Acidity or Umami
Thanksgiving gravy often needs a little something acidic to cut through the richness and fat. White wine, cognac, dry apple cider, lemon juice, and rice vinegar are common and delicious additions to homemade turkey gravy. Aside from an acidic component, try creating some deeper umami flavors with a touch of soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, porcini mushroom powder, tomato powder, or black garlic puree.
Article by Geoff Marshall, Staff Writer