I love nothing more than to sit around the dinner table with friends and family of all generations and enjoy a meal filled with storytelling, good food, and laughs. I particularly love Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve because of the traditions and feelings of anticipation and gratitude that go with them.
To get to the actual serving of the Thanksgiving dinner, I have to pass through a few cooking hurdles. For instance, I suffer from indecision everytime I cut into the turkey thigh to test for doneness. Are the juices truly running clear, or are they still ever so slightly pink?
And then there is the gravy. So much mystery there.
If it’s not lumps, it’s blandness. Making a velvety smooth, full-bodied gravy has eluded me for years. It is the reason why, in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the crazy hour before dinner, I nonchalantly ask, “Who wants to make the gravy?” as if it were an afterthought. Thankfully, there is always someone who volunteers, often, my husband Kelly and his mother, Catherine.
Earlier in the week, I was talking food with my good friend Karen Rolen, a joyful, spunky woman originally from Montgomery, Alabama. I asked her if she knew how to make gravy. She confidently and enthusiastically said, “Yes, I’ve been making it my whole life; where I come from, gravy is considered a BEVERAGE!” Her written instructions arrived the next morning.
“Make a light brown roux* with equal parts butter and all-purpose flour. I probably use ¼ to ½ stick of butter. Add hot turkey drippings and fonds** if you have them. Have two cups or so of heated chicken broth ready, and even if it’s good and homemade, have “Knorrs” or “Better Than Bullion” chicken base available for salt and seasoning later. Slowly, stir broth into the cooked roux and drippings mixture and boil on medium-high until you get the consistency you want. Season to taste with lots of ground black pepper and the chicken bullion. It’s usually good enough to drink!”
*To learn what a roux is, check out Bruce’s Turkey and Sausage Gumbo and learn why you might also want to consider saving the turkey carcass and trimmings this year.
**Fond is French for “base” and means the bits and pieces of browned meat or vegetables left in a pan after roasting or frying.
My goal was to tweak Karen’s instructions to create a make-ahead, flavorful and dependable gravy you could make a few days or hours before the holiday dinner.
Yield: Makes three cups (this recipe is easily doubled or cut in half)
½ cup butter (1 stick)
½ cup all-purpose flour
4 cups (1 quart) heated boxed or homemade chicken broth
½ teaspoon ground pepper
¾ to 1½ squares of Knorr Chicken Bullion (for “seasoning to taste”)
Mise En Place
Melt butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat.
Use a whisk to stir in the flour.
Stir continuously over medium heat until the roux starts to change color, usually about three minutes, give or take a few seconds. The picture on the left was taken at 2½ minutes. The one on the right was taken at three.
Think of the roux’s darkening as “toasting” or cooking the flour. The roux should be medium brown in color when it is done. This cooking of the flour is what gives gravy its depth of flavor and that desired taste of nuttiness. I promise, if this is your first time making a roux, you are going to feel very accomplished as a cook once you make this gravy.
As soon as the roux changes color, add the warm broth to stop the roux from cooking any longer. Whisk in the chicken broth and simmer for about five minutes until the gravy thickens.
Stay with it, so the flour does not get an opportunity to stick to the bottom of the pan. Also, do not adjust the seasonings until after the gravy has finished cooking because as the liquid evaporates the flavors will concentrate.
“Salt and Pepper to Taste”
I add the pepper first because I think it is easier to adjust. Next, instead of adding salt, Karen and I both use Knorr bullion cubes for flavoring. The amount you will need depends on a few variables such as whether you use unsalted or salted butter and “no salt added” or regular chicken broth.
To successfully “season to taste,” I cut the large Knorr bullion cubes into quarters. I add one small square at a time, tasting after each addition. Continue to add and taste until you hit that magical moment when the gravy suddenly tastes rich and delicious.
Notice how velvety smooth the gravy is.
Reheat the gravy in a saucepan just before serving. Feel free to add additional strained juices from the roasting pan to the gravy, if desired.
My friend, Renée, whose family likes to fry their turkey, reminds me there are no drippings for gravy-making when frying. This recipe would be a good solution for that situation.
If you wish to make your own chicken stock, consider these two posts to learn how: Chicken Stock from Rotisserie Chicken Bones and Rotisserie Chicken Soup, Revisited. I found little difference between using my homemade broth and the Pacific brand of chicken broth. Both are very rich in flavor.
Hope your Thanksgiving is filled with love and good cheer!
Once I got Karen’s recipe adapted for this post, I took a sample of gravy to my friends whom I was meeting for coffee. They each tasted the gravy and agreed it was indeed yummy and sippable! Thanks, Mary, Susie, Corabel, Jane, and Mary for being tasters.
Thanks to Karen Rolen for teaching me how to make gravy. I’ll think of you every Thanksgiving when I make it.
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