Making gravy from scratch is one of my favorite things to do. I love the idea of taking a flavor that’s derived from the meat you’re cooking, adding some seasoning and making something that’s similar but complementary to the whole meal. I’ve been making gravies since my first cooking job as a teenager, and I’ll tell you right now – you’re going to make some truly awful gravies at some point (at least I did). Hopefully this little guide will help steer you in the right direction.
Gravy is simply the combination of two elements: flavor and thickener. Let’s start with flavor.
There are three general ways to get flavor into your gravy. First, you want to use a stock (chicken, beef) as your base. As your meat is roasting, simmer the spare parts (neck, giblets, etc) in the broth to soften them. After about 40 minutes, take out the parts and chop/mince them (minus the neck) as small as possible and return them to the broth. This is your second method of getting flavor into the gravy. Lastly, when the meat is done, add the pan drippings from your roast. Also, as I’m carving the meat I tend to add the scraps to the gravy.
You don’t need to use all three flavor-makers in your dish, but any combination of the three will do. Keep the gravy warm (but not boiling) as you prepare your thickener. I usually thicken my gravy as the meat rests before carving.
Unfortunately, you’re going to need to learn a little French real quick: a roux is what you’ll want to use to thicken most gravies. To make a roux, you’ll need to heat up some fat or oil in a pan on med-low heat. Lately I’ve been using a combination of animal fat (bacon grease, lard, or butter – also skimmed fat from your gravy base) and coconut oil. Once it’s warm, stir in some flour (I’ve been using rice or potato flour, since we are wheat-free at the house) – enough to thicken the oil but you don’t want it to be the consistency of play-doh. If it’s too thick or too thin, add flour or oil to compensate. Simmer your concoction (stirring frequently) until it starts to brown and give a “roasted” smell – should take 5-10 minutes.
Next, slowly stir your roux into the gravy in portions – about 1/4 of the roux at a time – and give it a couple minutes to thicken, stirring constantly. If it’s still too thin, add some more roux. This is the part of gravy making that can be tricky, but with practice you’ll get the consistency you like.
Be sure to taste your gravy and add salt or pepper to taste; I’ve always found that you can rarely add too much pepper. I’ve also found that adding garlic or garlic powder to gravy is disastrous.
There is another method to making gravy, which creates a sharper flavor and a clearer consistency, which may be what you’re looking for with some dishes, and is a good alternative if you’re only working with pan drippings. If you have a lot of liquid, take your pan drippings and simmer them on a medium heat to reduce it it to a manageable amount. On the side, take a small cup and mix some water with a couple tbsp of corn starch (or potato starch, in our case), make sure that all of the starch is dissolved. Add the corn/potato starch (again, in portions), continuing to stir until you get the desired thickness.
Lastly, gravy shouldn’t be confused with pan sauce. A pan sauce uses the leftover liquid or drippings from a roast and is then generally combined with additional broth and/or wine, and then reduced by cooking on a high heat. This is a great way to add a little moisture to a dish, or to enhance its flavor by adding a hint of tanginess. It’s generally very thin and only spooned onto the meat in small portions.