How to make a brown gravy, Jessica-style!

I’m sure there a thousand “how to make homemade gravy” posts circling the web, but here’s mine. This is to make a clear-ish brown gravy from any kind of non-breaded meat, such as turkey, chicken, pork or beef roast, basically anything that makes juices while cooking. I should add that it’s really hard to take pictures in your lefthand while making something like gravy with your right, my apologies for the bad pictures. Also, everyone has a different opinion on what the right kind thickening agent to add to non-cream gravies should be. I use cornstarch. It’s cheap, has multiple uses in the kitchen, and produces a clear, properly thickened gravy without dampening the flavor of the juices used to produce the gravy. It works for me,  but if you use another method…now is not the time to start sending me hate-mail, k? *smile*

This gravy was made with the juices from a turkey breast. Some people strain the juices to get rid of any bits leftover from the pan…I don’t. If you want to, feel free, I’m just too lazy.

The juices in a skillet (one with sides is important for something liquid-y like gravy). There’s probably about a cup of juices here:

Since this was a turkey gravy, I used chicken broth. You can use turkey broth, I just don’t keep turkey broth on hand, so I tend to go with chicken broth. If making a chicken gravy, go with chicken broth, for any other meat, use beef broth or a veggie broth. If you don’t have broth on hand, you can use boullion cubes and water to make your own, just follow pkg instructions. Here’s about 4 cups of broth (this is to make LOTS of gravy for something big like Thanksgiving dinner for a crowd:

Pour the broth in the skillet with the juices, and turn skillet on medium heat:

While that is heating, we’re going to make a cornstarch slurry. I don’t ever measure my cornstarch, but I put what I thought I’d use in a measuring cup so you could see how much I used. It was a little more than I really needed. The important thing to realize about cornstarch is that each container can have different amounts of thickening power. I’ve had cornstarch boxes that it only took a couple tablespoons to thicken a gravy or sauce and other boxes that it seemingly took 1/2 a box to get to the thickness that I want. You can start by using the instructions on the box of cornstarch for thickening sauces and gravy and work up to the thickness you actually want. I always end up using more cornstarch than the box calls for to get to the thickness that I want. Anyway, start with the cornstarch in a small cup or measuring vessel. I had a little less than 1/2 cup of cornstarch here:

Next, add a little bit of COLD water to the cornstarch. Yes, cold is important-warm water will make this glue-like flour-and-water kind of mixture which is not what you’re going for. Start by adding a couple tablespoons of water and try to stir. Keep adding water, a tablespoon at a time, until you are able to get the mixture to look like thick cream. Here it is just after I’ve added the water:

Next, get out a fork and use it to stir the mixture. It will be MEGA hard to stir at first, but have faith and keep trying. Unless you have been stirring for a while and it still looks like a flour-y mess, don’t add water. If it does look like that, you can add it a teaspoon at a time, stirring between each addition. Be sure to get to the bottom and stir until it stops giving you major resistance. If it begins to be as thin as water or milk, you’ve gone to far. Add more cornstarch and try to get it back to heavy cream-like thickness. Trust me on this one. If it’s too watery, you’ll end up having to make a second batch of cornstarch slurry, anyway, b/c it won’t thicken like you need it to:

Next, get out a whisk, and stir the broth/juices. Now is the time to add any seasonings you wish to add. I usually do pepper, (no salt, b/c it’s going to be salty enough from the broth) garlic, onion powder, and parsley (For turkey gravy, I also add a touch,like an 1/8 tsp., of sage, rosemary, and thyme). I don’t measure and I really don’t even know what to tell you to use. Maybe try 1/2 tsp of each and see how it tastes, if you don’t like it, add more of what you think it needs, and taste again. You can play with the broth a lot b/c it’s not going to stick on you until you add a thickener, so take the opportunity to experiment a bit with flavors. If you absolutely must have a recipe, I’d try this one, subbing the cornstarch and water for the milk and flour. It’s about the only recipe I could find online that was simple and had measurements for the spices, sorry:
“5 cups turkey stock with pan drippings
1 (10.75 ounce) can condensed cream of chicken soup
1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon seasoned salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 cup milk
1/3 cup all-purpose flour

Bring the turkey stock to a boil in a large saucepan. Stir in soup, and season with poultry seasoning, pepper, seasoned salt, and garlic powder. Reduce heat to low, and let simmer.
Warm the milk in the microwave, and whisk in the flour with a fork until there are no lumps. Return the gravy to a boil, and gradually stir in the milk mixture. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute, or until thickened. Be careful not to let the bottom scorch. Serves 28.”

A whisk is important b/c it can get to the bottom of the pan and can break up any chunks if some should develop (they shouldn’t, by the way):

Now is where it gets a bit trickier. This is the do-or-die moment of your gravy, so pay attention. Still on medium heat, your broth should be close to bubbling (if it’s boiling, reduce heat and wait until it has almost completely stopped bubbling-a few bubbles/simmer is okay, if you are a quick whisk-er, but for a first-time gravy-maker, I’d really suggest making sure it’s not bubbling at all at this point). With your whisk in one hand and the cornstarch slurry in the other, begin SLOWLY pouring the slurry into the pan and QUICKLY whisking it in. Pour slowly to make sure you have enough time to stir it in before it solidifies in annoying little chunks, and whisk quickly to avoid the same issue.

If this is your first gravy, you might try just pouring half of the slurry in while whisking and bring it to a simmer/boil while whisking constantly to see if it is thick enough. If it’s not thick enough to please you, lower the temperature again (still whisking all the time, b/c now that the thickener has been added is when the gravy can stick if you’re not on top of things) and when it’s not bubbling so much, add the other half of the slurry the same way you did last time-slowly, while whisking quickly. Bring back to a boil (you can raise the temp a bit to achieve this faster if you are really good at whisking the whole time). The key to understanding cornstarch as a thickener is remembering two very important things. One, the cornstarch cannot be added without making it into a slurry first if you don’t want lumps. Two, it does not fully thicken until it reaches boiling point. So don’t freak out if it’s not thick enough when you first add it. If your heat is very high, it may begin to thicken immediately, but it still won’t reach its’ full potential until it boils. So be patient. If you reach a boil again, and it still isn’t thick enough, you can make another slurry and reduce the heat and repeat the above steps to get it to the thickness you want. Here’s what mine looked like after thickening-see how it now looks like it’s all the same color, essentially? That’s what a thickener does to the juices:

And finally, here’s what my turkey dinner looked like:

And one final hint: If you don’t whisk quickly enough and your cornstarch seizes up in little balls or “lumps”, you can stir in what you can, then just put it through a colander or sieve to get the lumps out and make a new slurry, reduce your heat this time, and try to thicken it again. It likely will remain somewhat thickened even if most of the slurry seized on you, but it may be a little thinner than you want after straining it.

Published in: on October 18, 2009 at 1:06 am  Comments (4)  
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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Thank you so much for this post! 🙂 So sorry I did not reply earlier.

    I do think I should give gravy making a shot. 🙂

  2. Just wanted to say you did a great job with your description! A lot of the time there isn’t enough instruction and pictures are ALWAYS helpful!

    • You posted this on my birthday! Just had to say that!

  3. I just found your site about a month ago and have been eagerly awaiting your next post. Where have you gone?! I hope everything’s all right and we see a new recipe soon.

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