Building a Better Gravy

Transform turkey drippings into a deliciously decadent gravy with expert tips and a recipe from Twin Cities chef and culinary instructor Jason Ross
Dark Homemade Turkey Gravy

Brent Hofacker - Adobe Stock

Gravy is a highlight of a turkey dinner for me. Spoon it on the turkey, mashed potatoes—and perhaps as a dip for the dinner roll. What could be better? I suppose some folks don’t think twice about that deliciously savory beige-brown liquid in the sauce boat, but maybe they haven’t had good gravy? Gravy cannot only enhance a great turkey dinner, but it can also help save a bird that stayed a little too long in the oven.

Here are steps to making great gravy from chef Jason Ross, an instructor at St. Paul College Culinary School, who created this recipe for Real Food. He helps you build flavor and transform brown bits left at the bottom of the turkey-roasting pan into decadent sauce. Learn to use fundamentals of cooking and turn gravy into star of the show. Fo extrar fun, Ross includes French cooking terms in case you want to impress your guests as you “pincer le sucs” and “mouiller.”

Tricks of the Trade

Use up scraps if you have them. Before roasting pans, there were bones. Similar to a roasting rack, bones and scraps help elevate a roast above the pan. In addition, they add flavor and browning to the gravy. If you have any scraps, turkey necks, wing tips, or poultry left in the freezer, add them to the roasting pan around the bird or under the rack. Any extra bones or meat added to the pan will increase the amount of browned bits in the pan and strengthen the flavor of the finished gravy.

Roux’s easier than you think. Four ounces of roux (that is 2 tablespoons of butter and a little less than ½ cup of flour) will thicken 1 quart of liquid gravy. The more the roux browns, the more flavorful your gravy will be, but it will also have less thickening power. Conversely, the less the roux browns, the stronger the thickening power.

Classic Turkey Gravy

Makes 1 quart (4 cups), about 10 to 15 servings

This recipe begins after the turkey is cooked and uses the browned remains in the pan. Any size will do, but a 14- to 18- pound turkey works well.

1 onion, minced
1 carrot, cut into ¼-inch slices
1 stalk celery, cut into ¼-inch slices
2 ounces or ¼ cup reserved fat from turkey drippings
2 ounces or ½ cup flour
1 cup white wine
water added to drippings, enough to make 6 cups total liquid
1-2 sprigs fresh thyme
1-2 bay leaves
1 clove garlic
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
salt and black pepper, to taste

  1. Intensify the browning in the pan (or “pincer le sucs” as the French say).
    After the turkey finishes cooking, remove the bird to rest on a platter. Pour off the drippings and separate the liquid fat from the rest of the drippings. Reserve the liquid fat to be used later. The rest of the drippings will be used to flavor the sauce. Next, heat the pan with the brown bits on medium heat, and cook until they turn deeper brown, like rich caramel. For extra flavor, try adding the giblets and neck to the pan and brown them as well. This should take between 5 to 10 minutes, depending on the level of heat, and will add flavor later to the finished gravy.
Browning vegetables

Photo by Terry Brennan; Food styled by Lara Miklasevics

2. Brown “mire poix” vegetables (that’s French for onions, carrots, and celery).
Add onion, carrot and celery to the roasting pan. Brown the mire poix on medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Take care not to burn any bits in the pan.

Deglazing the pan

Photo by Terry Brennan; Food styled by Lara Miklasevics

3. Dislodge and dissolve the brown bits by adding wine (deglaze).
Add wine to the pan. Use a wooden spoon to push and scrape the bottom of the pan. The wine helps loosen all the flavorful bits. Cook until the alcohol in the wine evaporates and the aroma of raw alcohol dissipates.

4. Add water and drippings to the pan (“mouiller”) and additional seasoning.
Next, add enough water to the reserved drippings to make 6 cups of liquid when combined. Add the combination to the pan and loosen any brown scraps not already loosened by the wine. Add black peppercorns, bay leaf, garlic and thyme and bring the sauce to a gentle simmer. With the heat on low, simmer for roughly 20 to 30 minutes. Skim any fat as it floats on the surface.

Making the roux

Photo by Terry Brennan; Food styled by Lara Miklasevics

5. Make the roux.
Roux is a thickener using 1-part flour to 1-part fat, usually butter. In this case, use the fat left from the roast turkey. While the sauce simmers in the roasting pan, start the roux. In a saucepan large enough to hold at least 1½ quarts, heat the reserved fat from the turkey on high. When the fat begins to sizzle, add the flour all at once to the pan. Immediately whisk to incorporate, which will help ensure a smooth gravy without lumps. Make sure to whisk into the sides of the pan, coating all the flour with the hot fat. As the flour cooks, it will turn blonde in color, and then over time more and more brown. Switch to a wooden spoon and cook the roux stirring for roughly 10 minutes until golden brown. Leave the roux in the pan to cool to room temperature as the sauce simmers in the roasting pan.

6. Strain and thicken the sauce.
Pour the sauce through a strainer removing all the vegetables, scraps, giblets, and seasonings, reserving the flavorful liquids. The solids may be discarded. Add the liquid to the roux in increments and avoid the dreaded lumpy gravy. Add 1/3 of the hot liquid to the room temperature roux in the saucepan, whisking to incorporate into a thick sauce. Add the next third and whisk, turning the heat onto low. Add enough of the last third to reach a good consistency. Gravy should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon or pool on a clean plate. Leave the gravy a little thin, as the sauce will thicken as it cools.

7. Taste and finish the gravy with salt and pepper.
Taste the gravy and add salt and black pepper as necessary. Though typically made and served immediately, gravy can be stored in a container in the refrigerator for 7 days.

• Use liquor, such as brandy or bourbon, instead of wine for a more intense and sweet flavor. (Be prepared for an impressive show when the alcohol ignites with a short burst of flames on the stovetop!)
• Add sage or rosemary to the other seasonings.

Looking for help preparing and cooking the turkey? Check out these tips and recipes.

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Mary Subialka is the editor of Real Food and Drinks magazines, covering the flavorful world of food, wine, and spirits. She rarely meets a chicken she doesn’t like, and hopes that her son, who used to eat beets and Indian food as a preschooler, will one day again think of real food as more than something you need to eat before dessert and be inspired by his younger brother, who is now into trying new foods.