The American axiom “anything else is gravy” is a particularly lovely one because it indicates that the “extra,” the unexpected, is the gravy. It’s a bonus, or a boon.
That’s certainly how we feel about gravy: The more of it, the better. But every Thanksgiving, friends and family fret to us about lumpy gravy, mediocre gravy, salty gravy and (worst of all) not enough gravy. We reached out to Williams-Sonoma test kitchen pro to help troubleshoot the most thorny issues and improve your gravy, from roux to rosemary. (If you don’t already have a beloved family go-to, get recipe inspiration here.)
1. Add Cold Liquid to Hot Roux
“It’s kind of fiercely debated,” says Emily, “but I’m a firm believer in adding cold liquid to a hot roux.” Roux is the mixture of butter and flour that forms the base of a gravy before you add pan drippings and any additional liquid; slowly adding cold liquid to it and whisking all the while is a fairly classic technique to try to avoid lumps.
2. Consider a Gravy Separator
“Our gravy separator is so popular, it’s a pretty amazing product for removing all the fat from your liquid before adding it to your gravy,” says Emily. “It takes the drippings from the turkey, separates out liquid and fat, and traps the fat behind so you just get liquid.” Bonus: Leaving the fat behind will make it easier to emulsify the final product.
3. Take Your Time
It’s easy to feel rushed on the big day, but try to make time to cook your gravy slowly. “Add liquid a little bit at a time,” suggests Emily. “Don’t dump in all at once; it’ll never thicken. Have a little patience.”
4. Consider Cornstarch
Gravy looking thin? Not to worry; just add cornstarch that you have whisked with water. (Emily suggested a ratio of about teaspoon of cornstarch and a tablespoon of water.) Don’t simply add cornstarch on its own, she warns, which can make gravy lumpy and gummy.
5. Let It Simmer
It’s almost an obvious hack, but during the frenzy that is Thanksgiving cookery, it can get lost: You can thicken gravy simply by simmering it. “Let it simmer, evaporate off, and thicken on the stove,” says Emily. It’s as easy as the pie you’ll be serving later.
6. Salt Late
A lot of times you’ll read that it’s wisest to salt food early and often in small amounts. That’s not true with gravy, which will taste saltier as it simmers and water evaporates out of it. “If you add salt at the beginning, then reduce it down and it’s too salty, it’s hard to correct from there,” says Emily. That said, if it is too salty, “you can also add lemon juice or a little cream to taste at the end” to take the edge off.
7. Add White Wine
“I always add white wine to mine,” says Emily, “because a little white wine makes everything better.” Consider this recipe, in which wine is deployed to help deglaze the roasting pan. Combined with shallots, butter and stock, it makes a downright elegant gravy.
8. Add Chopped Fresh Herbs at the End
Sage, rosemary and the like are absolutely delicious in gravy, but “if you leave them in too long they can turn bitter,” warns Emily. “Either add a sprig at the beginning to take out later, or add chopped herbs at end,” thus avoiding bitterness.
9. Cover with Plastic
OK, the gravy’s ready to go, but how did it get that skin on top? That will happen unless you cover it with plastic wrap, even perhaps pressing the plastic directly on to the gravy. Be sure the pot is off the flame but still on the stove in a warm space, and that your pot isn’t so hot that it will melt the plastic. Foil will get condensation on it, says Emily, which is why she goes with plastic. Now you’re well on your way to good gravy.