In some families, it's the beloved finishing touch for everything from a good plate of biscuits to the Thanksgiving feast. But even if you follow a good gravy recipe faithfully, sometimes things go awry.
Most gravy problems can be fixed or avoided with a few simple tricks. Read on for a few essential tips and ingenious gravy solutions.
What is Gravy?
According to the venerable Food Lover's Companion, gravy is a sauce made from meat juices, usually with added liquid broth and thickened with flour or cornstarch. The vast majority of gravy recipes are savory, but there are sweet variations, which are often the result of a sweet meat preparation, such as when ham is cooked with brown sugar.
By definition, gravy includes meat of some kind, but there are many vegetarian "gravies" that instead use mushrooms, soy sauce, and other flavors to achieve rich tastes and textures. See how to make vegetarian gravy.
Start With Good Stock
It's critical when making gravy to use a rich and robust stock. A good butcher may have stock for sale, or you can make your own. There are various recipes, and they basically involve putting the turkey carcass in a pot, along with poultry wings, necks, or thighs. Add carrots, onions, celery, and garlic if you like; the vegetables should be washed and peeled, but it's fine to drop them into the pot whole.
Cover the mixture with enough water so the solids are submerged by at least two inches. Simmer for at least an hour, then strain the results. The stock will last for a few days in the refrigerator, or six months in the freezer.
Shortcut: You can use grocery-store broth or stock from a can or carton, but always taste it before adding it to the gravy pan. Some commercial brands are too salty, or don't have good flavor. If it passes muster, you can strengthen its meatiness by simmering it with turkey giblets for an hour. And if it doesn't taste right, use water.
Get the Right Consistency from Your Gravy
Lumpy gravy? Smooth it by straining it through a sieve, or running it through a blender or food processor.
Gravy too thick? Add more stock or broth.
Gravy too thin? Try adding dehydrated potato flakes! The flakes may soak up salt, though, so be prepared to add more salt if the gravy needs it. A more traditional approach to thickening gravy involves adding a slurry of equal parts flour and cold water. Bring the gravy to a boil; add flour mixture slowly, whisking constantly, until it reaches the desired consistency.
Gravy too salty? Add a dash of vinegar. Or try this trick: Peel and cut a large potato into 1/4" slices. Drop the slices into the gravy and boil for 15 minutes, then remove the potatoes before serving the gravy. The potatoes absorb salt as they cook.
Amp Up the Flavor
If your gravy isn't flavorful enough, try one of these ideas:
- sauté it with some mushrooms
- stir in a dash of soy or Worcestershire sauce (be careful: those flavors can quickly overwhelm)
- stir in a teaspoon of instant coffee or hot chocolate