How to Fix Gravy Mistakes
Even when our holiday table is a groaning board, much depends upon the gravy. If the entire meal is stellar, excellent gravy is the crowning glory. And if things go wrong in the kitchen, gravy is the balm that can soothe (not to mention moisten and camouflage) any shortcomings in the rest of the holiday menu. So what should we do when the gravy itself is at risk of being that shortcoming?
The best defense is a good offense. The foundation of great turkey gravy is rich, robust broth that actually tastes like turkey. Whether you purchase broth or make your own, be sure to reduce it (by simmering, uncovered) until it tastes like delicious soup before using it. Enriching store-bought broth with a few inexpensive bony, collagen-rich turkey wings and/or the carcass of a rotisserie chicken or two will add lots of flavor and body, and will stave off a number of gravy problems.
If your gravy recipe includes flour, another brilliant strategy is to use quick-mixing flour such as Wondra or Shake & Blend instead of all-purpose flour. Because this type of flour is designed to use in gravy and sauces, it is quite unlikely to lump or turn gluey.
If it’s too late to upgrade the broth and flour and, then try these remedies. Start by identifying the problem(s), because honest assessment is key to knowing what to try.
The gravy is too thin
Simmer the gravy until it reduces and thickens, which might take an hour or more. If that doesn’t work (or you don’t have time), thicken the gravy with a cornstarch slurry, which you make by whisking 1 tablespoon of cornstarch into 1 tablespoon of cold water in a small bowl until smooth. Whisk the slurry into the warm gravy. Stir slowly and evenly (swapping the whisk for a heat-proof spatula) until the gravy comes to a low boil and thickens. Repeat, if necessary, until you get the thickness right.
Be sure to use cornstarch, not flour, to thicken gravy that’s already made. Please don’t use flour in a slurry or sprinkle dry flour into warm gravy. The uncooked flour will lump like crazy and, even worse, taste terrible. If you have no cornstarch, then you must quickly cook the flour in a little fat in a separate saucepan before adding it to your warm gravy. Start by figuring out how much fat and flour you’ll need for your volume of gravy. The basic formula is that 1 tablespoon of fat mixed with 1 tablespoon flour will thicken 1 cup of runny gravy. Warm the fat (such as butter, turkey fat, bacon fat, or duck fat) in a small saucepan over low heat. Sprinkle the flour over the fat and whisk until smooth. Cook for 2 minutes, whisking constantly. Don’t rush; it takes 2 minutes to cook away the dreaded raw flour taste. Whisk the warm flour mixture into your gravy. Simmer the gravy until it thickens, stirring slowly and evenly with a heat-proof spatula.
The gravy is lumpy
Bring to a simmer and whisk vigorously. Use a wire whisk, not a spoon or fork. If the lumps won’t budge, strain the gravy through a fine-mesh sieve.
The gravy is thick
Whisk in more flavor-packed enriched broth, and make sure the broth is warm.
The gravy is too salty
Whisk in a little warm cream.
The gravy is too blah
Add any or all of these, one at a time. Taste as you go. When something helps, decide if a little more of that good thing would help even more, or whether it’s done its job. The goal is to make the gravy taste more like gravy, not more like the thing you are adding.
Pat of unsalted butter
Spoonful of bacon drippings
Splash of alcohol, such as sherry, port, madeira, bourbon, brandy
Chopped fresh herbs, such as thyme, sage, or rosemary
Freshly ground black pepper
Small dab of Dijon mustard
A teaspoon of something acidic, such as fresh lemon juice or sherry vinegar
A teaspoon of high-quality demi-glace concentrate paste. (This is not the same thing as liquid stock concentrate, bouillon cubes, or bouillon granules, which can taste quite salty and unpleasantly artificial.)