With thanksgiving approaching, gravy is a must. Not only do I like gravy poured over the turkey, I want it smothering the mashed potatoes and drowning my stuffing. Learning to make gravy is a great skill as you practice making a roux and creating a creamy sauce. And gravy is great for more than just Thanksgiving. Any slow cooked meat that gives off fatty juices can be complimented with a gravy, weather it be roast chicken or beef pot roast. In the winter, I also love dishes like biscuits and sausage gravy or chicken fried steak, which require a milk-based gravy. Regardless of the type of gravy, the formula is simple. Today we will breakdown the easy art of gravy making.
Gravy starts with a roux, or a mixture of fat and flour. Traditionally a roux is made of about equal parts melted butter and flour and this is the starting point for any gravy that you don’t have pan drippings for. However, when making something like turkey gravy, all the liquid that released during cooking is full of fat and flavor. So, when possible, I use this instead of butter. Same goes for chicken gravy after I’ve roasted a chicken, or the fat released from cooking sausage when making a sausage gravy. Let’s say you don’t have enough drippings to make the quantity of gravy you desire. No problem, you can always use a mixture of drippings and butter.
Once you’ve melted your butter or heated your pan drippings in a small saucepan, it is time to add flour. We are generally looking for a one-to-one ratio all-purpose flour to fat, but this is not an exact science. I rarely measure when making gravy. I slowly whisk in the flour, one tablespoon at a time, until there is enough to form a paste. You are looking for a texture that is not runny but also not terribly thick (it will thicken when it cooks). This is your roux. You want to continue cooking it, stirring constantly, until the flour smell goes away, and the warm scent of butter fills the air. Other indications that your roux is done is that it will leave a clean path when stirred. By the way, corn starch is a great gluten free substitute for flour if needed.
Now we must contend with the liquid. Whatever we choose here determines the type of gravy we will make. Any liquid will do so long as it has some fat in it. If we use something like plain water, not only will it have no flavor, but will be difficult to emulsify because fat and water are mortal enemies. For a brown gravy, I use any type of stock or broth. I try to match the meat with the broth. So, for chicken or turkey, I will use chicken broth. For beef, I will use beef broth. For vegetarians, mushroom stock is a great solution. To make a white gravy, we want to instead add milk. Looking for something in between, why not try a mix of stock and gravy. The key is to slowly add the liquid into the roux while whisking over low heat. This avoids lumps. Keep adding the liquid until the desired texture is reached. Broth will form a nice thick gravy almost immediately, but milk may need to simmer for a minute or two to thicken. Again, this is not scientific. Just add liquid until you’re happy with how it looks. If it is too thick, stir in more liquid. Too thin? Let it simmer. Lumpy? Take your handy immersion blender and smooth it out. Finally, season with salt and pepper to taste. Overall, gravy is simple, delicious, and guaranteed to impress your guests.