The turkey may be the star of the show, but everyone knows Thanksgiving dinner is really all about the gravy. You’ll find it all over my plate; it’s not only ladled onto the sliced turkey, but I also mix it into my favorite side dishes, adding flavor to mashed potatoes, stuffing, and cornbread. So, it’s kind of important to get it right.
I’ve met a lot of cooks who stress over making their own gravy, and there are certainly a lot of tips out there that reveal the secrets to making a perfect batch. These articles are great to help you figure out ways to infuse the maximum amount of flavor into that golden goodness, and they’ll even give you ideas for how to avoid lumps and darken things up. But, sometimes you just need one thing that will make your life easier. I’ve got it for you in two words: pre-made roux.
Make your roux ahead of time
Roux (pronounced ROO) is one of the first things you learn about in culinary school. It’s a smooth paste made from flour cooked in fat. When you add it to a liquid, it transforms regular ol’ broth or milk into a thick, creamy sauce, giving body to your soups and sauces. At home, you usually cook the flour in a pan and add the liquid directly to it, but in a restaurant setting we often make roux ahead of time.
It’s one of those shortcut secrets that restaurant chefs use to speed up ticket times and increase efficiency in the kitchen. I got so used to doing it at work that I started doing it at home!
As it turns out, it’s the best thing that every happened to me on Thanksgiving Day. Think about it: You’re already pretty stressed out from juggling all those cooking tasks. You have a huge turkey to manage along with multiple side dishes, appetizers, and desserts. When it comes time to make the gravy, you’re frantically re-heating your vegetable sides, mashing the potatoes, and thinking about carving the turkey. Do you really want to risk burning the flour and ruining your gravy? So, instead, make your roux ahead of time!
How to make (and use) roux
All you need is equal parts fat and all-purpose flour. You can use any fat you like (vegetable oil, bacon grease, butter, or chicken fat), but keep in mind that the gravy will be tastier if you use a flavorful fat. That’s why I never use margarine or shortening to make roux, because those fats have very little flavor.
Making the roux
In a small saucepan, slowly heat the fat over medium heat until it’s melted. You’re ready to add the flour if the fat bubbles when you sprinkle a pinch of flour into the pan. Add the flour and whisk until it forms a rough paste. As you cook, whisk constantly and notice how the roux begins to soften and thin. After about 5 minutes, you should no longer smell raw flour as you hover your nose over the pan. That means it’s done!
You might be used to cooking your roux longer than 5 minutes (a dark roux for gumbo can take as long as 45 minutes!). You can continue cooking your roux if you like, but a brown roux won’t have as much thickening power as a white roux.
Once the roux is made, store it in an air-tight jar in the refrigerator. It keeps for a while (and you can also freeze it), so feel free to make a big batch for soups or sauces.
How much roux do you need?
In general, here is how much white roux you’ll need to thicken your sauce. You can always thin it out if it gets too thick, or add more pre-made roux if it’s too thin!
- For a thin sauce, use 1 Tbsp. each flour and butter per cup (8 oz.) of liquid.
- For a medium-bodied sauce, use 2 Tbsp. each flour and butter per cup (8 oz.) of liquid.
- For a thick sauce, use 3 Tbsp. each flour and butter per cup (8 oz.) of liquid.
- For a super thick sauce, use 4 Tbsp. each flour and butter per cup (8 oz.) of liquid.
Using the roux
When you’re ready to make gravy, combine the pan drippings from your turkey with homemade broth and heat it up until it’s almost boiling. If you have the range space, the best way to avoid lumps is to place the roux in a separate medium saucepan and slowly add the hot broth, whisking continuously as you go. If you don’t want to dirty up an extra pan, you can vigorously whisk the roux into the hot broth and give the gravy a whir with an immersion blender (here’s our Test Kitchen’s favorite model) to smooth things out.
All that’s left to do is pour it into a gravy boat and pop it on the table!