Gravy is probably one of my strong suits and passions in cooking. As the holidays approach I often wonder how many first time ‘hosts’ are worried about how they’re going to make gravy for 12-25 people. It’s a substantiated ‘worry’ in my opinion. Once you go past gravy for 8-12, it’s never a fool-proof system. My goal through this column is to get you ready to the holiday and keep your stress level down.
Here are a few questions you need to have answered before you dive into the big day.
- What type of gravy am I going to make? If you want a recipe for the giblet gravy you’ve come to the wrong chef. It’s not a gravy that appeals to a great deal of palates, thus one big reason why I don’t make it.
- What thickening agent do you plan on using? I don’t recommend arrowroot often unless it’s necessary for dietary reasons. For my turkey gravy I usually reach for cornstarch. For sausage gravy I reach for flour.
- Flour/Cornstarch rule: If you use (1) tablespoon of cornstarch culinary rule says to use 2 tablespoons of flour. Does this rule hold true? Absolutely not.
- Try to find out how many guests are going to definitely attend you dinner.
Then, go a little further and see if some of them are ‘big’ gravy eaters.
There are 3 in my family. Phillip, our son, and I will eat LOTS of gravy, Ervin, my husband, very little.
- How do you plan on preparing your turkey? If you deep fat fry or brine you will not have any au jus for gravy, dressing or noodles. In this situation I suggest you get busy ‘NOW’ making thick au jus for Thanksgiving Day.
- Differentiate between what is thick au jus and what is just stock. According to my mom, you need good thick au jus for your dressing and gravy. Cook a couple of good size hens ahead of time and don’t add much water during the cooking process. The rich juices which release during the cooking is what you’ll need for delicious gravy and dressing.
- Be prepared for lumpy gravy. Yes, I am serious. Make sure you own a submersible blender for this particular reason. If you don’t have one then you will need to cool the gravy down a bit before it can go inside a regular blender.
- Purchase a canister of ‘Wondra‘, it’s usually on the top shelf above the flour. This is a quick rescue for thickening gravy. Wondra is flour that has been sifted sooo many times it can be sprinkled directly into the gravy without using any type of slurry.
- Learn how to make a slurry. A slurry can be dry or wet. When you mix flour or cornstarch into a dish to thicken it you use either a wet or a dry slurry. When I make sausage gravy I do dry, I work the flour into the fried meat and then add the milk. In turkey gravy I make a wet slurry mixing the cornstarch with cold water, until smooth, before adding it to the hot au jus.
- Even an experienced cook can have gravy issues when you start doubling and tripling recipes. ‘Most’ of the time it’s usually too thin. Seldom do I ever have thick gravy when I double or triple a dish.
Another decision you need to consider is whether you will be using au jus straight from the bird. The choice is whether to remove excessive fat/oils before you make the gravy or stuffing. I use a real simple method at work where I drop a cup of ice into the drippings. The grease will coagulate and you can lift it out and dispose of the fats. After I moved to the Ozarks a couple of assistants asked me if I wasn’t going to add butter to my sausage gravy because it was too lean!!! My response was: ‘You’re not serious?’ They were totally serious, we’re in the Ozarks after all!
Usually I never measure the amount of drippings to flour amounts. I’ve just made gravy for so long I just know how much to use. This, my friends, is what drives young cooks totally nuts! ‘If’ I am doing a dinner party for 35, which is pretty normal for me, I truly measure the drippings/au jus before I begin to thicken.
You don’t want to run the risk of messing up gravy for a large group of people. Why? Your reputation is on the line and you don’t want to be the ‘subject’ when everyone talks about runny gravies they have known!
How do you know how much gravy to make? OK, let’s see if we can settle that issue for you right now. First, my recipe below is for (4) cups of gravy. That would probably be enough for 4-6 persons. I would double the amounts for 10-12 persons. Also; look at the number of adults you are serving versus children. If you have 4 adults and 3-4 children, 4 cups of gravy could be adequate.
Seasoning the gravy: Usually this is pretty easy. Remember you can always ‘add’ but it’s pretty difficult to take away extra salt. I would suggest using a teaspoon and sampling your gravy. Sometimes there is a great deal of sodium in rubs and such so that you don’t need to add any salt.
Personally, I don’t appreciate it when people play with gravy. Guests usually desire gravy that’s downhome and simple. I also recommend steering clear of twisting all the ‘standards’ at your holiday meal. Guests enjoy something different brought into your dinner. But goodness gracious don’t ‘play’ with the entire presentation. In other words don’t do new recipes for every dish. I always make standard potatoes, dressing and rolls and then I think outside the box for sides and perhaps desserts. Simply yours, The Covered Dish. www.thecovereddish.com
Perfect Turkey Gravy
4 cups au jus
5 tablespoons cornstarch
1/3 cup cold water
Salt and Pepper to taste-
Heat au jus in a saucepan until quite hot, just about boiling. Place cornstarch and water in a bowl or container where a whisk will fit inside. Blend the two ingredients until smooth. If you encounter any problems, it’s OK to add just a bit more cold water. My mom always did this step inside a plastic shaker bottle.
Serves 4-6 persons.