These quick ingredient additions turn basic sauce into a spectacular option for your dinner table.
You’ve got to roast the turkey, peel the yams, and casserole the green beans, so if standing over a saucepan praying to the gravy gods for lumps to dissolve doesn’t sound like the ideal way to finish off your Thanksgiving Day meal prep, skip it.
Several good varieties of store-bought gravy are available. Many brands release options just for the holidays, when they know frazzled cooks are looking for a few time-saving options.
However, even the best jar or carton of premade gravy isn’t going to taste as good as homemade, and that’s just a fact. That doesn’t mean, however, that it can never taste as good as the from-scratch sauce. This year, try one of these seven flavoring techniques to add greater flavor satisfaction to jarred gravy.
WATCH: How to Make Thanksgiving Pizza
1. Stir in turkey drippings
Classic turkey gravy is made with the pan drippings from the roasted bird. These drippings are primarily fat, juice, broth, and any flavorings from a brine or rub you use to flavor the turkey before it’s cooked. Even if you’re not going to use those juices and fats to make a gravy this time, you can add them to the jarred gravy for quick and incredible flavor.
Stir one to two tablespoons of pan drippings into every cup of gravy, being careful to not add too much and make the gravy overly thin. Heat over low-medium heat until warmed through.
If you add too much, simmer the gravy on medium heat for a few minutes to help thicken it up.
2. Brown up some butter
Most turkeys will release enough drippings for a decent gravy, but every once in a while, a bird can be stingy with its juices. In that case, make a flavorful fat option of your own.
Butter that is cooked over medium heat will separate out the milk solids and butterfat from water. When cooked, milk solids will turn nutty, toasty, and warm. The butter itself will turn from a bright yellow hue to a deeply golden one.
The positively delicious browned butter that remains is rich and comforting. You can use browned butter in any number of dishes, from cookies to roasted vegetables. With jarred gravy, however, it’s an easy way to add tremendous flavor.
3. Pour in the wine
Dry white wines like unoaked chardonnay, pinot grigio, and sauvignon blanc are often used in pan sauces for a quick hit of flavor. In a light sauce like turkey gravy, it’s a simple way to add depth and complexity to a basic boxed option.
Plus, it’s Thanksgiving, and the family is coming over. The wine is likely already on the counter, right?
4. Roast a head of garlic
While you’ve got the oven going for the turkey, green bean casserole, or mac and cheese, slip in a bulb of garlic and let it roast. Fresh or raw garlic is highly assertive and entirely too pungent for a simple turkey gravy.
Roasted garlic, however, is rich and sweet. Each clove also turns silky, almost creamy, in the high-heat roast. It can be mashed and turned into a paste that’s simple to stir into jarred gravy while it’s being heated.
5. Cheat with aromatics
If you were making your own gravy, you may start with a base of sauteed vegetables like onion, leeks, carrots, celery, and more. The flavors from these vegetables are delicate, but they help elevate a basic recipe with a subtly sweet earthiness.
Start the DIY gravy steps by sauteing several of these chopped vegetables in butter. When they’ve turned soft, stir in the premade gravy. Let the aromatics and gravy mingle until you’re ready to serve the meal.
Then, you can strain out the vegetables. You could also leave them in and use an immersion or stick blender to whirr them into the gravy. This will result in a thick sauce, but the additional flavors from the sauteed veggies may very much be worth the viscous gravy.
6. Boost with umami
Umami is a five-dollar word for “richness” or “savoriness.” Whenever umami-rich foods are used, the dish tastes incredibly full-bodied. That’s because the glutamates (a type of amino acid) that are in umami ingredients can fake “depth” and “concentration” of flavor like no other.
Foods with a great deal of umami include fish sauce, dried porcini mushrooms, Worcestershire, miso paste, and soy sauce. But here’s the thing with these ingredients: a little goes a long way.
When you’re adding them to your gravy, start small. Add a bit, stir it in, and let it simmer. Give the gravy a taste, and add more. Keep doing this until you’ve reached a richness you’re pleased with. If you overdo it, well, your gravy won’t be ruined, but it may overpower everything else on your plate.
7. Add fresh herbs
There’s almost nothing a few snips of fresh herbs won’t make better. When you’re heating up the gravy, add in a variety of your favorite herbs—think Thanksgiving classics like rosemary, thyme, parsley, or sage—and let the gravy extract some of the flavor while it heats. Strain the herbs from the gravy before serving.