I love nothing more in life 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 instead of a worry. Thankfully, there is always someone who volunteers, often, my husband Kelly and his mother.
This 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 on. Slowly, stir broth into the roux and drippings and boil them on medium-high until you get the consistency you want. Season to taste with lots of ground black pepper and 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 should save 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 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”)
Melt butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. Using a whisk, 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 color as “toasting” the flour. The roux should be medium brown when 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, whisk in the broth to stop the roux from cooking any longer. Whisk and simmer for about five minutes until the gravy thickens.
Stick with it, don’t let the flour 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”
Add the pepper first because it is easier to adjust. Next, instead of adding salt, Karen and I use Knorr’s bullion cubes for flavoring. The amount you need will depend on variables such as whether you use unsalted or salted butter and regular or low-sodium chicken broth.
To successfully “season to taste,” cut the Knorr bouillon cube into four quarters. Add one quarter at a time until you hit that magical point where the gravy suddenly tastes beautifully rich.
Notice how velvety smooth the gravy is.
Reheat the gravy in a saucepan just before serving. Feel free to add strained juices from the roasting pan, if desired.
My friend, Renée, whose family likes to fry their turkey every year, reminds me there are no drippings for gravy-making when deep frying a turkey, so plan accordingly.
Thanks to Karen Rolen for teaching me how to make gravy. I’ll think of her every Thanksgiving when I make it. Once I got Karen’s recipe adapted for this post, I took a sample of the gravy to my friends. They each tasted it and agreed it was indeed sippable! Thanks, Mary, Susie, Corabel, Jane, and Mary for being taste-testers.
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