Gravy Boot Camp – Just in Time for the Holidays
This is not technically an article about knives. We aren’t going to discuss the shun nakiri knife or the best wusthof knife or the shun classic chef knife or henckels knife set. We are going to learn how to make gravy.
Why is it so hard to make gravy?
What is the single most common mistake when it comes to making gravy?
Read and learn.
You’ve been living with store-bought gravy forever, right? Maybe you’ve even tried something that came out of a can. Maybe you went to pick up your turkey and the clerk said, “do you need gravy with that?” and you said sure. You thought at least it’s not any of that store bought stuff, right?
Gravy should be, and it is, one of the easiest things to do. So why do so many people try and make it so difficult. As usual it comes down to simple technique. There is a right way and wrong way to try and make gravy. The wrong way typically will give you something that will not be gravy. The right way is accomplished by taking the proper steps in the proper order.
Making gravy is very similar to making a roux. So let’s make some gravy
You just cooked something, let’s say it’s a turkey (the holidays are coming up, after all). It’s been in the oven for a while and as a result there are little bits of stuff on the bottom of the pan. These drippings will include little bits of skin, little bits that have fallen off the bird, and little bits of fat that dripped and accumulated in the bottom of the pan. Chefs refer to this as ‘fan’
This is the basis of your really really good gravy. The first thing you need is some fat. You take the pan out of the oven, you take the bird out of the pan and you look at what you have in the bottom of the pan. Maybe there isn’t much, but you don’t need much. You have let your bird rest a little bit so the pan is no longer hot.
Here it is:
The biggest mistake people make and why their gravy doesn’t work. They add liquid directly to the fat in the pan. Wrong!
Liquid goes in last
You need to heat up the pan. You need the fat to get hot. And now you need to add your thickening agent which in my personal opinion should be flour, plain flour. I don’t like to use corn starch because i think it leaves an after-taste, kind of chalky.
Just as with a roux, there should be approximately equal parts fat to equal parts flour. This needs to be incorporated and cooked for a short period of time. Take a tablespoon of flour and sprinkle it into your pan. Then take another tablespoon of flour and sprinkle it in your pan. Stir it in. Scrape around the bottom of the pan. It will look like everything has dried out and you’ll get scared that it’s gonna burn. Don’t worry. Reduce the heat and continue to stir. And cook for a couple of minutes.
Now you add liquid. I prefer to use chicken stock. However you can use plain water.
In your pan you have the fat that has been reheated to which you have added flour and heat for a period of time and now you add your liquid and stir. Add a little bit of liquid at a time, maybe a half cup to start. At this point you should turn the heat down so that your gravy is simmering. The liquid will thicken. The hotter your pan is, the faster it will thicken. That’s why you should turn down the heat. This will give you extra time to work the gravy to the consistency that your family prefers.
As the gravy begins to thicken, add a little more liquid. Let this thicken. You can now add some seasoning, if you like. Perhaps a little salt and pepper. Maybe a sprig of fresh thyme or sage. Maybe some chopped chilis for spice. And at the end, freshly grated nutmeg – not much, this is a very potent flavor. A little goes a long way.
Turn the heat way down, stir a bit more and then wait. As the gravy cools, it will thicken some more. You may need to add a little more liquid at this point so it doesn’t get too thick. I happen to like really thick, spicy gravy. But you may prefer your gravy to be slightly thinner.
If you started with a cup of stock, and your gravy is too thick, don’t despair. Just add water. You can’t mess it up at this point.
Heat the fat. Add the flour. Cook the flour. Add the liquid. Simmer. Stir.
Sometimes you may not have enough fat in your pan. Don’t fret, just add butter or olive oil. Just a little bit. Let it heat up then add your flour.
Usually 2 tablespoons of flour will be enough. Then somewhere between 1/2 and one cup of liquid. This should produce enough perfect gravy to serve your guests
If you follow these steps you will have perfect gravy each time and every time.
I learned this technique from my grandmother. She was an excellent cook and I recall when I was very young she actually cooked on a wood-burning stove. She made some of the best meals and it still surprises me that she could accomplish this on a wood-burning stove. One of her most surprising techniques was baking bread. It takes a long long time to learn how to regulate the heat and maintain temperature in order to bake bread on a wood-burning stove. But she did it. She did it great and she was the best teacher I had.
If you learn this technique and practice a few times, you will be able to make perfect gravy each and every time. This will make you the hero of the kitchen, yours or anybody else’s. Seriously.
I have literally saved the day with this simple technique. It’s a little bit embarrassing when, after spending all day preparing and cooking a holiday meal the host or hostess spends the better part of the meal heaping praise on me for creating this magic potion. You, too can bask in the glow of all this praise.
This technique works for any gravy. If you’ve roasted a pork roast, this works. Or any roast meat for that matter. Would you use it for fish? Probably not. Why? Because most fish is not very fatty. And anyway, i like my fish unadorned, steamed or cooked on a charcoal grill.
How about a pot roast? Absolutely. I take the roast out of the pan, remove most of the vegetables I have roasted with the beef. When I do pot roast, I usually add whole cloves of garlic and I chop the onions into quarters because i like big chunks. I don’t even remove the skin around the garlic clove. Just toss ‘em into the pot. You will, of course, need to remove these skins and discard them before you serve. You will also remove the sprig of thyme or whatever you have used as an herb.
I will leave the garlic and some of the burnt onion in the pot as I sprinkle on the flour. As I cook this (and BEFORE I add any liquid) I mash the garlic with the flour. This will impart some wonderful flavor. Don’t worry, it doesn’t make the gravy ‘reek’ of garlic. It just adds another flavor note that will improve your gravy.