Have you ever had the misfortune of tasting gravy that was bland, watery, or as starchy as dragging your tongue across a pile of raw flour? To assist you in avoiding such a mishap at your Easter dinner, letâ€™s get to the basics of perfect gravy.
Gravies are sauces made with the pan drippings of meat or poultry. Sauces are made to add flavour, moistness, richness, and appearance to prepared foods.
The sauce or gravy requires three elements: a liquid, a thickener, and flavour.
Though ham is also very popular, for this Easter example, the focus will be on turkey gravy.
The liquid for gravies is simply the juice from the poultry, with additional broth and/or wine.
The thickener will be a roux (pronounced â€œrooâ€), a cooked combination of equal weights of fat and flour.
Flavours will be added from roasted vegetables, herbs, and seasonings.
Always cook turkey on a rack inside the roaster, to prevent the bottom half of the turkey from boiling in its own juices. Below the rack should be a few bay leaves with rough-chopped onion, celery, carrot, and garlic. As the turkey cooks, the liquid is needed for basting, but excess juices should be removed occasionally (and reserved) to aid in the caramelization of the vegetables.
Once cooked, remove the turkey from the roasting pan, drain and reserve the remaining liquid, and allow the fat and juices to separate. Add a bit of the fat back to the roasting pan, along with some flour, and cook on a medium-low-heat stovetop with the vegetables for a few minutes. That will cook out the starchy, raw flour taste, and help to brown the vegetables. It should be fairly thick and pasty.
Slowly deglaze the pan with some white wine or broth. Deglazing is the process of removing the browned bits of flavour from the pan and incorporating them into the sauce. Incorporate the reserved turkey juices (not the fat) and additional broth (or additional broth and white wine) gradually to avoid lumping.
While heating through, continue to add enough broth/wine to the thickness you want. Remember: the full thickening power of the roux will not take effect until the gravy reaches a full boil.
The vegetable pieces and herbs can now be removed by the aid of a wire mesh strainer. Taste, and season the gravy with salt and fresh cracked pepper before serving.
Additional herbs such as thyme, sage, and oregano can be used, but in small amounts, to prevent overpowering the gravy.
Dried herbs should be added while cooking the roux, as they need re-hydration time to release their flavour. Fresh herbs are more delicate; add them with the liquid once the pan is deglazed.
Whatever the gravy or sauce you make, always create depth of flavour by adding a variety of complimenting tastes rather than just one bold main ingredient.
For example, a tomato sauce made only by reducing diced tomatoes will only taste like tomatoes â€“ add wine, broth, onions, garlic, herbs, etc. to the cooking process, and your sauce gains character.
Dear Chef Dez:
I know if my sauce or gravy is too thick I just add more liquid, but what if it is too thin? How do I add more flour without it going lumpy or tasting starchy?
Sharon G., Abbotsford
Mix equal amounts of flour with room temperature butter into a paste, and whisk in small amounts of this paste to your sauce while continuing to cook until the desired consistency is reached.
The fat of the butter mixed with the flour will separate the starchy particles from each other and prevent lumping. The continued cooking will eliminate the starchy taste, and the butter will also add extra sheen to your sauceâ€™s appearance.
To Chefs, this paste is called a â€œbeurre maniÃ©â€ (pronounced burr mahnyay), in case you want to impress your friends and family!