Best Gravy!
November 26, 2010 11:18 PM   Subscribe

Best gravy recipes?

I have a Thanksgiving dinner this Sunday (I'm in Austria; we don't get Thursday off so we make up for it by having multiple Thanksgivings on various weekends). I'm just in charge of gravy. With Thanksgiving just behind (most of) you, can you give me your best gravy tips?
posted by sdis to Food & Drink (25 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not always a fan of Jamie Oliver, but his gravy recipe is exactly how I'd do it; the results are, as the title suggests, consistently good.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 11:30 PM on November 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

The best gravy is made with delicious stock. I'm assuming you mean turkey gravy? Either way, get yourself a bunch of bones, crack them open with a cleaver to release the marrow, and make a really flavorful broth. Turkey necks, wingtips, backs, all those little bits with cartilage are the best.

I like carrots, onions, and celery in my stock. Other people like other things, but basic root vegetables are always a safe choice. Do add some, though, the sweetness and herbal notes help bring out deliciousness in whatever you put your gravy on.

Some people like to use cornstarch in their gravy, but I hate it. It has this weird mouthfeel, too cloying. I like regular all-purpose flour for a thickener, whisked in thoroughly a spoonful at a time.

Rosemary is my favorite gravy herb, followed closely by the family secret spice - marjoram. If you don't want to have spotty gravy, strain it, but otherwise chop your herbs very fine. If you aren't at all sure what herb would go well with the rest of Thanksgiving dinner, parsley is a delicious choice.

If you want to add some alcohol, a good sherry is nice, otherwise a glug of wine will be great, too.
posted by Mizu at 11:38 PM on November 26, 2010

As strange as it sounds, I really like this vegemite gravy. Super easy and no need for stock or pan drippings if you don't have any. Even though the vegemite is super salty to begin with, you still might need to add salt when cooking. I make it without the salt at first and just add it to taste at the end.
posted by youngergirl44 at 11:40 PM on November 26, 2010

basic root vegetables are always a safe choice

It's aromatics you want, not root vegetables. With carrots being an exception - great for sweetness. But really, the important vegetables are onions, celery, shallots, etc. Root vegetables in the sense that most people use the word - potatoes, turnips, beets, celeriac - are not going to make your stock any good at all. (Unless you're making borsht, I guess, but that's neither here nor there.)

More gravy tips: it's all in the roux. You want a nice roux, done somewhere between blond and peanut butter color. Stir it smooth. Whisk in your stock slowly and it'll stay smooth.
posted by Sara C. at 12:32 AM on November 27, 2010

Also, I'll put in a suggestion for sage as a good herb choice. It's good with most traditional autumn/Thanksgiving dishes, and it's frequently used in the stuffing your gravy will be eaten directly on top of (in fact, if in doubt, confer with the person making the stuffing).
posted by Sara C. at 12:34 AM on November 27, 2010

I like this recipe I found in a 200 year old cookbook.
posted by XMLicious at 12:39 AM on November 27, 2010

Response by poster: These are great, thanks! (And keep 'em coming!)

For those using a vegetable trivet, what veggies do you use? And do they end up in the gravy?
posted by sdis at 1:28 AM on November 27, 2010

I've just been there...

Make a combination of Jamie Oliver's and XMLicious's 200-y-o recipe:

Whatever there is in the pan of your roast, don't let it burn. Keep a close eye on the water level there, keeping it low enough to encourage some caramelizing but high enough to prevent any excessive burning along the bottom of the pan.
When the bird is done, have some place prepared where it can sit and rest; ensure also that you have a bit of free space on the stove and place to move.
If there are any chunky vegetables in the pan, get them out and set aside for the time.
Check for excess fat; take away some depending on the bird, but not all of it.
Take the still-hot roasting pan and add a bit of water, scrape and stir to ensure that you get all the brown deliciousness off the sides.
Set aside. Ideally, get it to a simmer (but that's a matter of space) while you melt a good chunk of (real) butter (I take something in the area of 3 tablespoons) in a pot large enough for all the gravy.
Don't use too high heat; the butter should foam and get calmer again but not burn.
Add now about a tablespoon and-a-half of white flour, stir into the butter, gently cook for a minute or so.
Off the heat, whisk or stir in a few tablespoons of your roasting-pan-juice at a time to avoid lumps to form, successively stir in more, whisk until smoothly dissolved.
Back on the heat, bring to a gentle boil, test how concentrated your gravy base is, make the rest of your plan from there.
At this point the gravy base is likely to be quite a bit too thick and too salty and concentrated. The day before yesterday, I had to add several cups of water and about one cup of red wine; you might need even more of the latter if the bird wasn't cooked with any wine involved - obviously tastes vary. Whatever you add, make sure you get everything back to a steady simmer and let it be there for about five minutes at least, stirring frequently. Check again for salt, a hint of sweetness (normally a result of onions and veggies), if necessary correct these.
You can, as Jamie does, puree the veggies into your gravy, but I'd never do this if there are too many carrots involved. If you have nice roasted onion wedges, you also can put them whole in the gravy, or just serve them at the side.

So, I'm only using the caramelized cooking juices from the roast of the day. No external source of stock or taste enhancers. YMMV in this respect, but generally spoken, nothing else is in fact needed, and you don't want to spoil your work with stock cubes or stuff like that.
If you haven't got a roast, because it's being prepared elsewhere or whatnot, you do need to make your own stock and listen to Mizu. I would even roast the cracked-open bones for a while.
posted by Namlit at 1:44 AM on November 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Variation on the vegetable trivet theme. When roasting a large chicken, a capon or a turkey, to stop it from drying out and to make stock, I roast it on a metal rack in the roasting pan, with the vegetable trivet under that (carrots, celery, parsnip, a little onion, garlic, herbs, lots of salt & pepper) and I also add a cup or two of water, before sealing the tray with foil to generate steam which will keep the meat moist. The water should not touch the bottom of the bird. The juices from the bird will mix with the water and vegetables to make a lovely stock.

When the bird is almost done, I lift the rack out, put all the vegetables and liquid into a separate container, replace the rack & bird, drizzle with olive oil and salt & pepper and then put it back in the oven without foil for the skin to crisp up and go that lovely golden brown.

To make the gravy, remove the bird and rack from the roasting pan, put the bird on a large plate, cover with foil and rest it. Then return the vegetables & stock to the roasting pan and follow the Jamie Oliver method.

Just before serving the gravy, pour into the pan any juices that have come out of the bird.

Oh, taste and season, taste and season. So important.
posted by essexjan at 2:36 AM on November 27, 2010

The secret to great gravy is fresh herbs. You can make a simple gravy with some drippings, stock, and cornstarch, plus some simple spicing such as salt, pepper and sage. Add fresh Sage and it comes alive. The drippings make it rich and add flavor but if you are chasing fat they can be skipped and it will still be good, but then fresh herbs become even more important. Some people like to add cream, buttermilk or milk and this adds some richness. Gravy for non-fowl meat is usually more focused on the drippings. These are less fatty usually so their fat doesn't overwhelm things. Of course you can then add in some fat. Sour cream and pan drippings makes a great lamb gravy. Gravy is a preparation which lends itself to easy variation and they are all good. No need to follow a fixed recipe and worry about exact measurement etc., unless you want to.
posted by caddis at 4:35 AM on November 27, 2010

I used to use cornstarch for my gravy, but have switched to roux. Just get it to the color of peanut butter before you add in stock and pan drippings.

For veggie trivets, carrots hold up best, but add variety for flavor. I like celery and parsnips.
posted by advicepig at 6:59 AM on November 27, 2010

I just made "red-eye gravy," which involves juices/fat from the turkey, bacon, and coffee. Basically: set aside the juices from the roasting pan (4 cups or so -- you can add broth or stock if you need to) and skim off the fat from that into a separate measuring cup. Use 1/2 cup of the fat to sauté about 4 ounces of 1/4-inch diced thick bacon for a few minutes, then add 6 tablespoons flour and mix that up for a few minutes more. Then add 4 cups of pan juices and 2 cups of coffee and bring it to a boil. Boil for 15 minutes or so to reduce, then add pepper to taste. Sooo yummy!
posted by mothershock at 7:10 AM on November 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

The truly best gravy is the Cook's Illustrated giblet gravy recipe from the New Best Recipe cookbook. Here's a web page that describes it, or if you have a subscription it's on their website.

But if you don't have access to the bird that's being roasted, it won't work. Also it's kind of a pain in the ass. Every year I consider not making it then remember how good it is and do it anyway. Every year I'm glad I did.
posted by misskaz at 7:28 AM on November 27, 2010

If your gravy does contain giblets, please do warn your guests beforehand.
posted by notyou at 8:27 AM on November 27, 2010

I just made gravy for the first time using the Pioneer Woman's recipe. It was delicious and super easy. I didn't add the cut-up giblets because...I just couldn't.
posted by apricot at 9:22 AM on November 27, 2010

notyou - Why? Is there some health concern with giblets? AFAIK, it's not possible to be allergic to only one specific part of an animal you otherwise eat, so...?
posted by Sara C. at 9:43 AM on November 27, 2010

Sorry for the derail...

Sara C: some people, like apricot, apparently, are squicked by giblets. Surprise giblets are the squickiest.
posted by notyou at 11:05 AM on November 27, 2010

Late to the party, but gravy is important. Use giblets to make stock, then reserve giblets for the dog's Thanksgiving. Ahead of time, make roux with flour and butter. Cook slooooowly until roux is toasty golden. Roast the turkey or chicken with some combo of an apple, pear, orange, onion, carrots and herbs inside; this will flavor the drippings and help make the bird moist and flavorful. I find carrots too sweet, and used apple this year. Butter the turkey before roasting. When it's done, remove to a platter to rest.

Put roasting pan over a burner and add stock from giblets, turkey or chicken broth and some wine, sherry or port. Cognac is not unheard of. Red wine will give it an odd color. I used white wine this year and it added depth of flavor but was unobtrusive. The alcohol helps incorporate the tasty browned bits. Not too much; it also adds sweetness. Use a whisk to get all the lovely browned bits off the pan and dissolved. Pour into a a big glass measuring cup and remove fat, then pour pan juices into saucepan. Whisk in roux, cooking slowly to let it thicken. Add more roux until you like the consistency. I'm sure there's a proper way to measure, but I always make extra roux. I always add too much roux and have to thin with more wine and stock. Strain, season with a bit of pepper and serve. If the turkey releases more juices, add them. A bit of marmite, vegemite or gravy master helps bolster gravy if you need to make a lot. Turkey gravy should be at least as dark as a grocery bag. I brine my turkey, so I don't add any extra salt.

Leftover turkey fat can be used to make roasted root veg extra delicious.
posted by theora55 at 11:17 AM on November 27, 2010

Sorry, I didn't realize people get squicked out by giblets. I chop them up very small and shred the neck meat but you're right that you should be up front with your guests about what's in it.

For what it's worth, the CI recipe creates a deep mahogany gravy (seen here alongside turkey sweet potato empanadas I made with leftovers yesterday) quite a bit different from the lighter colored gravy you see in the other recipes. Although it does involve a roux that I like to cook to a medium brown, the color primarily comes from the very caramelized vegetables from the bottom of the roasting pan. They come out so dark they almost look burnt, but they are the key to the deliciousness, IMO. If you can figure out a way to replicate that part of the recipe without access to the roasting pan, do so.
posted by misskaz at 11:39 AM on November 27, 2010

It's gravy - how could anyone even tell what specific parts of the turkey you used?
posted by Sara C. at 11:41 AM on November 27, 2010

I was in charge of gravy for my friend's Thanksgiving party. My turkey gravy wasn't anything special, but I also brought a vegan gravy and it was SO GOOD. Maybe it's not fair to link to that recipe since I made my differently. I used olive oil instead of butter. I left out soy sauce and sherry and cream.
posted by oreofuchi at 1:03 PM on November 27, 2010

I must respectfully disagree with those saying the aromatics or the herbs are the most important part of gravy. The most important parts are the pan drippings and the liquid you use to make the gravy. I use a combination of wine and stock (from the carcass of the previous year's turkey, or really good quality chicken stock - not broth - if I don't have any turkey stock). I have found in the past that vegetable trivets often soak up too much of the drippings and make a weak gravy.

When the turkey comes out of the oven, put the roasting pan (hopefully you have a good roasting pan and not one of those foil abominations) on the cook top. Turn the burner on and pour a little wine (about a half cup - red, white, doesn't really matter) into the drippings, and scrape all the goodness off the bottom of the pan. Let that cook off for a few minutes on medium heat. You're going to need a quantity of butter, all-purpose flour, and the stock. It's a standard ratio, so if you use 2 tablespoons of butter, you'll use 2 tablespoons of flour and 1 cup liquid. I had a lot of people over on Thursday so I ended up using 4 tablespoons butter/flour, and a bit more than 2 cups of liquid. So, melt the butter in the roasting pan with the drippings - I don't pour off the fat because I only make this particular gravy once a year and the flavor is more important than the calorie count! Once the butter is melted, slowly whisk in the flour. When you've cooked the roux for a few minutes, slowly add in the warmed stock, whisking constantly. When it's thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, you've got gravy. Taste it to see if you need to add salt (kosher is best) and pepper.

If you use this method, the gravy will be a lovely dark brown, not a sickly looking yellowish cafeteria gravy.
posted by cooker girl at 1:09 PM on November 27, 2010

What you need is a couple of turkey wings, roasted for drippings, and then simmered for stock after you defat/deglaze/scrape up all the yummy bits. And then you need to make your roux, etc, and a glug or two of dry sherry, and then if it's still missing a little ... something ... you need a bit of Worcestershire sauce or a dab of anchovy paste.

Best part is you can do all this ahead of time, and not be rushed with last-minute gravy making.
posted by cyndigo at 3:38 PM on November 27, 2010

I realize you're probably already making your gravy, and that it's probably a meat-based one, but for completeness here's the best vegetarian gravy ever.

I just made it (my first Thanksgiving gravy!) and it was unbelievably fantastic.

2 c. water
10 medium dried shitake mushroom

Boil water. Soak mushrooms in water overnight.

Strain the stock and chop the dried mushrooms.

2-3 T vegetable oil
1/3 c flour
1/3 c nutritional yeast flakes
1 T butter
1 t. thyme
1/2-1 t. "No Chicken" Better than bouillon
1 large clove garlic
black pepper (to taste)
pinch of sugar (if desired)
1 1/2 cups of water + more to taste (i.e. desired consistency)

Brown the flour and yeast flakes in the oil. Add the butter. Once the flour is slightly browned, begin slowly adding the mushroom stock. Mix with a whisk.

Mix 1 cup of water with the bouillon and gradually add to the pot. Crush the garlic and add to the gravy. Add the thyme, stirring well. Add the chopped mushrooms, stir, and cook until warmed through. Continue adding water until it is at the consistency you want.

It helps to do this a few hours before so that the flavors have a chance to meld. Then reheat, adding extra water if necessary to thin it to desired consistency (if too thin, somehow, you can cook off the excess water until the gravy thickens).
posted by Deathalicious at 6:46 PM on November 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

It's aromatics you want, not root vegetables. With carrots being an exception - great for sweetness. But really, the important vegetables are onions, celery, shallots, etc. Root vegetables in the sense that most people use the word - potatoes, turnips, beets, celeriac - are not going to make your stock any good at all.

I agree that carrots, celery, and onions are the most important ingredients in a stock. However, potato stock has an excellent flavor. After boiling a pot full of yukon golds once, I tasted the water and I have to say, it was delicious. Not a bad choice if you're trying to emulate the taste of chicken stock, actually. I wouldn't use starchy vegetables in a stock intended for gravy, though. I'm not sure if I'd want to risk blending different thickeners like that.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:57 PM on November 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

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