Turkey Gravy 101: Your Recipe For Success
Rouxs and slurries and giblets, oh my! If you're intimidated, don't fret — there are a lot of folks in the same (gravy) boat. Here's everything you need to know to make perfect gravy this Thanksgiving.
Gravy is what makes (or breaks) Thanksgiving, for me at least. It’s the first thing we run out of every year. And once the gravy boat is empty, well, the meal is basically over.
I didn’t realize what an ordeal a simple gravy can be until I began throwing my own Friendsgivings as a young adult. Sometimes you get hardly any pan drippings. Sometimes it’s a lumpy mess. And sometimes you just want your mom to make it for you.
Since mom — or grandma, or whoever your family relied on — can’t always save the day, here’s everything you need to know about not ruining the heart of Thanksgiving dinner.
How To Avoid Lumps
Lumps are the bane of any Thanksgiving cook’s existence (and we're not talking about your mashed potatoes). Most turkey gravy recipes involve some type of roux — and how often do you make a roux? Typically, once a year — and it’s easy to forget after 365 days.
Like all French recipes, it’s about technique. A roux is a mixture of equal parts fat and flour that is cooked on the stove. For a classic turkey gravy, the fat comes from the roast turkey, fortified by butter if you’re a little short. Then, you whisk in an equal amount of all-purpose flour. Some recipes will call for a wooden spoon ... but ignore those. The whisk, preferably a flat whisk, is where it’s at if you don’t want lumps.
Whisk constantly while gently shaking in the flour, and you should be okay. Whisk again when adding the pan drippings and turkey or chicken stock. And if somehow you still have lumps, despite your best intentions, put the gravy through a mesh strainer.
The Wonder Of Wondra
Aside from technique, there’s a secret weapon for gravy making — Wondra flour. The packaging is a relic from the 1950s, but do not be fooled — this is thoroughly modern gravy magic. Wondra is an “instant flour,” which, like “instant rice,” has already been cooked, then dried again. It dissolves in an instant, as it were, which means far less chance for lumps to develop. It’s Martha Stewart’s go-to in her exceedingly spare gravy recipe.
A Word About Cornstarch
If a classic roux feels like just too much, or if you’re accommodating a gluten-free dinner guest, find the cornstarch for a slurry. It’s a go-to, if sometimes forgotten, thickener. To thicken the fat, turkey drippings, and stock, add a slurry. A slurry is simply a mixture of a starch and water that is used to help create a thicker gravy. It's similar in principle to a roux, except that a roux is cooked, whereas a slurry is mixed raw and added to the liquid afterward. The rule of thumb is 1 tablespoon of cornstarch, plus a little more, for every cup of fortified stock in the roasting pan. For an easy turkey gravy, like this one from MyRecipes, cornstarch is essential.
Drippings Or No Drippings?
A classic turkey gravy is built around pan drippings. In this go-to recipe from Saveur, you pour off all but seven tablespoons of the turkey drippings from the roasting pan, add all-purpose flour and stir over low heat until smooth and golden. Add sherry and stock, then voilà! 10 minutes of whisking and you’ve got perfection. Pro tip: At the end, add any extra juice from the plate where your Thanksgiving turkey is resting for an additional flavor infusion.
But say you don’t want to fuss with a last-minute roux. There are make-ahead gravy recipes, which, by definition, don’t include turkey fat. You can whip them up on the stovetop before that turkey has even been defrosted.
In the simplest recipes, like this popular one from Add A Pinch, you make a roux and add turkey stock. That’s it. If you judge your gravy by its color (and I do) this one can feel a little meh. For richer color — and richer flavor — this recipe from Epicurious relies on porcini mushrooms and Madeira. It's OK to substitute the turkey stock with chicken broth if that's what you have on hand, or use vegetable broth for a vegetarian option.
To Giblet, Or Not To Giblet — That Is The Question
Turkey giblets can feel like a throwback to another era — but they are very Thanksgiving. The little bag inside the turkey typically has a mixture of liver, heart, gizzard, and turkey neck — and sometimes kidneys. For an old-fashioned gravy, you’re meant to simmer these together on the stove over low heat while the turkey roasts, then shred the meat from the turkey neck, mince the organ meat, and add it all back into the gravy right before serving. The giblets add texture, as well as flavor. Add in the giblet broth for yet another layer of flavor and to perfect the gravy’s consistency.
Do you need turkey giblets? Technically, no. You can have a perfectly delicious gravy without them. But do they make your gravy that much better? Indeed, they do.
Just don't let that flavor go to waste. If you forego using giblets in your gravy, use them (along with the carcass from the roasted turkey) to make turkey stock the next day.
Vegan Gravy? Yes, It Can Be Done!
Say you have mixed company at your Thanksgiving table — including some vegetarians, some vegans. A flavorful gravy that works for all might seem like a challenge, but it’s really not. Turkey gravy isn't the only game in town! Skip the drippings and giblets, obviously. The stock should be vegetarian. For vegans, choose something other than butter for your roux, or go with a cornstarch slurry. Then layer in flavor with your favorite savory ingredients, such as mushrooms, onions and garlic, herbs, soy sauce, and/or wine.
For inspiration, this vegan gravy recipe, from the Vegan 8, is made earthy with the addition of nutritional yeast and Cabernet Sauvignon, while this one, from Plant-Based Cooking, leans heavily on mushrooms and a bit of tamari as well. The goal for all gravies — vegetarian, vegan, or otherwise — is the same: a silky-smooth, umami-rich sauce that brings everything at the table together.