I love gravy. What’s not to like? Gooey, fatty flavor added to something wonderful like mashed potatoes or roast chicken, yes please. Gravy is just a type of sauce and at its heart, it’s very basic, so let’s walk through how to make foolproof gravy.
Make a roux
This is flour that is cooked with fat to make a thickening base. Pan drippings aka the fat that melted off the poultry, is a classic fat used at Thanksgiving, but you can always use butter. Olive or avocado oil can be used for a vegan gravy. Add the flour to the fat and whisk until it bubbles. It’s ready when it smells like popcorn, about two minutes if you’re making a small amount and up to five minutes for a larger batch.
Use the Right Ratio
Use 1 tablespoon fat + 1 tablespoon flour for each 1 cup stock or broth.
Traditionally, chicken or turkey stock, also known as bone broth. Vegetable broth can be used for a vegetarian or vegan gravy. Slowly pour in the turkey stock, whisking constantly. Increase the heat and cook until roux does its magic and the gravy thickens.
Salt is key to good gravy. Don’t be shy. For herbed gravy, chop some up and add it. Want mushrooms? Ditto. A nice trick is to add some chopped up porcini to give gravy a kiss of umami. A tablespoon of miso can add a complex note to gravy, as well. For giblet gravy, add in the chopped, cooked giblets. For a creamy gravy, add 1 tablespoon cream per cup liquid.
Let’s Talk Stock
Stock is made using roasted bones, such as the carcass of a turkey or chicken. See my lengthy discourse on stock here. This is the conundrum with Thanksgiving, though. You don’t get the carcass for stock until after dinner. Yes, there’s the neck from the giblet bag, but it’s not really enough bone-wise for a pot of stock. Here are some options:
- Use liquid from turkey pan. This is the classic “grandmother” way of making gravy. You’ll need to remove the turkey and any vegetables used for cooking and pour off the cooking liquid and fat. Then, using a flat edge spatula, add boiling water to the still-hot pan and then scrape all the browned bits from the bottom. The darker the spots, the stronger the flavor. This should yield a couple cups of flavored water, and that’s what stock is, after all. If you have a fat separator cup, take some of the cooled cooking liquid and pour it in with the scraped bits water.
Your bird may not yield enough liquid for the amount of gravy you want to make, you may not want to avoid the whole hot pan thing. And, honestly, there’s a lot of stress making gravy at the last-minute under the watchful eye of others. Personally, I prefer to make gravy before Thanksgiving. This is where stock comes in.
- Make turkey stock with turkey pieces. I believe this yields the best result. Roast six wings and some vegetables and then let simmer as a stock. They’re cheap and tend to be available a couple weeks before Thanksgiving. I tend to spatchcock or butterfly my bird the night before, so I’ll get the wings and add the backbone in with the vegetables and make the stock and the gravy the night before and let the turkey rest overnight in the fridge.
- Make chicken stock ahead of time. You could roast a chicken or buy a roast chicken before Thanksgiving and use that carcass to make stock for the big dinner.
- Buy premade stock. My favorite is Pacific Brands and is readily available in most supermarkets. But, don’t use it straight from the box. Kitchen Counter tip: Follow Julia Child’s tip to pour it into a pot, then add some slices of onion, carrots, celery, a bay leaf and some peppercorn. Use about a half-cup vegetables to every quart of stock. Doing this on Thanksgiving and have a turkey neck? Throw it in. Let it simmer for an hour or so. This will truly perk up the flavor.
- Use bouillon. No one will tell you to pack your knives and go home if use stock made from bouillon. My go to is Orrington Broth Base or Better Than Bouillion. A combination of both bouillon and perked up store-bought stock and homemade stock is totally OK, and frankly, a trick often used by professional chefs. When it comes to learning how to make foolproof gravy, I highly recommend keeping some bouillon as a backup or a flavor enhancer. If you prefer cubes, I like the Maggi brand. Kitchen Counter tip: If doing this the night before or on the day, add the water left over from making mashed potatoes to the bouillon. It adds thickness and mouthfeel to the finished product. If desired, you can add in some aromatics, any poultry trimmings to your crafted bouillon stock and let it simmer, as above, for extra flavor.
- Making vegetarian or vegan gravy? We get it, you’ve got a guest who won’t eat the turkey but still wants gravy. You can make vegetarian or vegan stock by making a vegetable broth and adding in a bit of mushroom base or a “no chicken” or “no beef” base. I like the ones made by Edward & Sons. When making vegan gravies and sauces, Maggi’s porcini bouillon lends a pack of flavorful umami that’s hard to beat.
- Lumpy gravy. This can happen when you don’t whisk enough when incorporating the broth. Just put it into a blender and blend it for at 20 to 40 seconds.
- Gravy is too salty: Add a teaspoon or two of brown sugar.
- Gravy is too thick. Add some warm liquid, whisk or blend.
- Gravy is too thin. Don’t add flour directly to the gravy; this will cause lumps. Blend equal amounts of softened butter and flour together in a cup. Add some of the gravy and stir well, then pour it back into the gravy pan and whisk over medium high heat. Repeat if needed.
- Gravy looks grey. This is an odd one, but it happens if you use a pan with aluminum or an unusual coating. Add in some chicken bouillon.
- Gravy is bland. Add salt. That’s almost always the reason. If that doesn’t do it, add in some bouillon and minced herbs.
- Gravy is oily or fatty. This can happen if you don’t degrease your stock. Bring the gravy to a boil and spoon off any “oil slicks” on top. Blending helps, too.
How to Make Foolproof Gravy
For the stock
- 2 Chicken Wings chopped in two pieces
- 1 lb. turkey necks backbone or other trimmings (optional)
- 1 onion chopped
- 2 carrots chopped
- 2 ribs celery chopped
- Few springs thyme
- 1 tablespoon avocado oil
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 bay leaf
- Few peppercorns
For the gravy – per cup
- 1 tablespoons turkey fat or butter
- 1 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 cup stock or broth
- 1/8 teaspoon salt, or more if needed
- Few cranks black pepper
- 1 teaspoon chopped herbs (optional)
To Make the Stock
- Preheat an oven to 400F. Chop the wings into pieces, dab with paper towel to remove moisture. Put the onion, carrots, celery and thyme into a roasting pan. Drizzle with oil and toss to coat. Place the wings and any other turkey parts on top of the vegetables. Put the pan into the hot oven and roast until the wings turn brown and the vegetables soften and caramelize, about 45 minutes.
- Carefully move or pour the vegetables and turkey into a large 6 quart or larger stockpot.
- If there’s any pools of fat in the pan, scoop them up into a small cup and setaside in the fridge. Add one cup boiling water to the roasting pan and using a flat spatula, working up any browned bits stuck to the bottom.
- Add the liquid to the pot, then add an eight cups cold water, Add the garlic, bay leaf and peppercorns. Bring the stock just to the boil and then turn heat to low. Adjust as needed to maintain a gentle bubbling simmer for 2 ½ to 3 hours, until the bones have given their all. Add additional water if needed to keep the bones covered by at least one inch of water.
- As the stock simmers, use a spoon to remove any grease that collects on the top. Reserve 2 tablespoons of this fat.
- Strain the stock into a large bowl, discarding all the bones and vegetables. Let cool to just above room temperature and then cover and store in the fridge until needed. If moving directly to gravy, clean the pot and wipe it dry with a towel and use it for the gravy.
To Make the Gravy
- Put a large pot over over medium-low heat. Add any reserved turkey fat or butter to the pot and let it melt. Add the flour and then whisk together until it smells like popcorn, about 2 to 5 minutes depending on how much you're making.
- Then add the turkey stock, about 1 cup at a time. Whisk continually as you add the stock. Increase the heat to just lower than high heat continuing to whisk until thickened. Taste and add salt, pepper, herbs, cream or additional bouillon as needed.
- To store until needed, cool it by taking it off the heat and whisking a couple of ice cubes into it briskly for a few minutes. Then cover and stow into the fridge.
- To reheat, simply add it to a pan and stir. It will last for about three days in the fridge. It can be frozen for up to three months in an airtight container.