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Nov 21, 2013 04:50 PM

Make ahead gravy dark and thin

I made Chef John's make-ahead turkey wing gravy ( today for the first time and even though I followed the recipe to the letter, I've got 3 issues: it didn't make as much (4 cups instead of at least 6), it came out dark, dark--like beef gravy--and it wouldn't thicken up.

Because I only had 4 cups of stock, I used 2 T of fat (that's all it produced) plus 2 T of butter and ... oh dear...I just realized this moment that I only about 2-3T of Wondra flour when I meant to do 1/4 cup. Oops--guess that's the thickening problem?

What I'm wondering right now is if I should freeze it till T-Day and then do the roux all over again, adding this gravy as though it's only stock--adding the pan drippings from the turkey breast I'll be making (if I don't opt for pot roast instead--I'm conflicted).

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  1. Well, first, if you roasted the turkey wings and vegetables, it wouldn't be surprising if the turkey stock was almost the color of canned beef broth. Its supposed to be a brown stock, not a blond stock. Its probably a little darker in part because you may have concentrated it more than they did in the video and in part because you didn't add as much fat and flour as the recipe called for.

    The recipe called for a total of five tablespoons of fat and 1/2 cup of flour. So you were short a tablespoon of fat (more or less) and 5 - 6 tablespoons of flour, according to the recipe proportions for 6 cups of broth.

    So what I would do in your case is first off taste the gravy as it is now, and see if its too strong tasting. In which case I would add small amounts of water or commercial chicken stock and keep tasting until it seems right. I would put a tablespoon of butter and 2 tablespoons of flour in a small saucepan, and brown the roux until it is the color of caramel or tan pantyhose. I'd then stir in all but 1/4 cup of the gravy and see how much it thickens. (Allow it to cool, it will thicken as it cools.)

    If its still not thick enough at that point, you've already added a lot of butter to the mixture, and I'd want to stop there if I were you. If it needs more thickening, I'd take a small amount of cornstarch or potato starch (maybe a teaspoon) and add it to the reserved 1/4 cup of gravy, stirring to incorporate, breaking up any lumps. What you are doing is creating a slurry to allow you to add additional thickener to the gravy.

    You'd then heat up the majority of the gravy, over medium heat, and start whisking before you start adding the slurry. Mix the slurry right before adding, and pour in small amounts at a time, constantly and vigorously whisking (if it clumps, you'll never get it to unclump) and continuing to whisk after incorporated. It should thicken pretty quickly. (Cornstarch and potato starch are pure starch, and therefore much more powerful thickening agents than flour is.)

    Does that help?

    18 Replies
    1. re: ePressureCooker

      Wow, thanks for the detailed instructions! Want to come over to my house? I could use one-on-one lessons.

      My husband and I think the gravy actually tastes okay, but it's definitely not as good as what my mom used to make. (It's one thing she never got around to teaching me--probably because she was always doing it during a holiday with a thousand things on her mind.)

      1. re: Thanks4Food

        You're welcome. I love to help people. Helped my roommates in college fake being able to cook for their boyfriends. ;D

        OK, let's try to diagnose this. You say, not as good as mom used to make. By that do you mean, not as flavorful (as in doesn't taste as richly of turkey as I remember), its a little flat and one note (no depth of flavor), or she used to add herbs to it that you don't know what they are?

        If its not as rich and meaty as you remember mom making, there are one of two things you can do at this point. One, when you make your turkey proper, there will be some awesomely delicious drippings in the bottom of the pan that you can add, but there'll also be a lot of fat, and you have to be careful about that, given how much fat you've already added. You could also go out and get some chicken base, like Better for Bouillon, and add that in to amp up the flavor.

        I would also recommend that when you heat it up to serve it, you add in maybe two tablespoons of vermouth, sherry or white wine, and let it cook for a couple of minutes to get out the raw alcohol taste and let it incorporate into the gravy. Flavor molecules are soluble in three things: water, fat and alcohol. Just the addition of alcohol will increase the flavor, because compounds you couldn't taste beforehand will be able to be picked up. And that doesn't include the actual flavor of the alcohol. I personally like vermouth a lot, its a fortified wine actually made with a number of spices, so there's a little extra something something in there. ;D

        1. re: ePressureCooker

          Sorry, it took a while to get back. I would say doesn't have the richer turkey flavor hers had. There's no way she added herbs and spices--other than S&P. Salt, pepper, and butter were pretty much all she ever used. Oh, but I do remember her having this bottle of stuff she'd add to gravy (Gravy master?) but maybe that was only when she made beef gravy.

          It's okay to use BtB Chicken for a turkey gravy?

          1. re: Thanks4Food

            Okay. Then I would guess that perhaps you didn't simmer your turkey as long as she did. You pretty much want to simmer the bones just until the point they start to get soft, that way you've gotten the most minerals and collagen out of the carcass. Portions of the connective tissues dissolve and collagen converts into gelatin, which adds flavor. (You'll know how much gelatin is in the broth when you refrigerate it overnight, the more solid it is, the more gelatin there is.)

            And yeah, absolutely, you can use chicken Better Than Bouillon since they don't make turkey (I think). Its not going to dilute the "turkey" flavor, after all, they taste a lot alike, and it will give you some of that umami (meaty savoriness) because it has both glutamates and nucleotides in it, so it should increase the richness and meaty quality of the gravy.

            Two pieces of advice. Use the regular, not the reduced sodium BTB, ATK is right, they are formulated differently, and the regular stuff is much better than the reduced sodium formula. Second, add it in small amounts at a time (a teaspoon, say), incorporate it well, and then taste before adding more. It can be salty, so you need to stop before it makes the gravy too salty for your taste.

            1. re: ePressureCooker

              It sounds like the original poster is trying to recreate a gravy that his/her mother made from a whole roasted turkey. Maybe even roasted with the stuffing inside. With just roasting some turkey wings and making a stock ahead of time, it is not ever going to be the same. I know my mother and grandmother made the BEST gravy, but the turkey was usually dry. What is missing is the fond from the bottom of the pan from the roasting turkey. No amount of BTB is going to make that same taste. There is just a trade-off between making ahead and making your gravy with the drippings from the roasted turkey.

              I know how to make my mother's and grandmother's gravy. They never used broth or anything like BTB. They used the water that the potatoes were boiled in to make the gravy. I do make a broth/stock before hand using turkey legs/wings. I also make some gravy ahead of time and add it to the gravy I make with the drippings from the pan.

              Yes it is Gravy Master, used for all kinds of gravy, not just beef.

              1. re: Springhaze2

                Well, we're not trying to exactly replicate Thanks4Food's mother's recipe here, we're just trying to fix up the gravy they have now as best we can, to make it better, and as close as possible, given the circumstances, to the gravy they remember from childhood.

                I've also given some suggestions for the next time, to help them get closer to that, but I don't think anyone here is under the illusion that its going to be as good as what mom made.

                1. re: ePressureCooker

                  Thanks for your reminder, but isn't trying to make a gravy as close to possible from what they remember from childhood, replicating a taste memory? I was pointing out the difference in technique and why you are not going to get the same results.

                  Basically taking short cuts are not going to be the same as the original, no matter how much we want them to be.

                  As I said, I also try to make gravy ahead, but it is just not going to be the same.

                  And please do not add fish sauce....

                  1. re: Springhaze2

                    Why is roasting legs and thighs different from roasting a whole turkey? They seem to make at least as much fond, and you can roast without worry of overcooking, then boil to extract more flavor than you would with a whole bird.

                    This is the recipe I use for the stock, roasting in the oven. There is a link for the gravy.


                    No fish sauce.

                    1. re: Shrinkrap

                      I wonder if adding fish sauce to gravy will become a running joke on CH. I've never tried it myself, I don't know if I ever would risk it, but I understand the concept behind it, even if I'm less than eager to test it out...

                2. re: Springhaze2

                  Hm... this is the second person in the last few days to mention using the potato water in the gravy, and I must admit I'm completely baffled as to where. Gravy is made with fat and flour and drippings and stock. Maybe a little wine if you're really crazy. Water doesn't come into the picture at all, not that I've ever heard.

                  Do you mean to make the stock with? But you'd make the stock way before you ever boiled potatoes, no?

                  I'm confused. Not the first time, mind you...

                  1. re: acgold7

                    Gravy isn't necessarily made only with fat and flour (in the form of a roux). By using the spent cooking water from the potatoes, they are essentially using the potato starch in the leftover water to thicken the gravy instead. This is the same principle where you add some of the pasta cooking water to your pasta sauce in order to thicken it. Potato starch, like cornstarch, is a much more powerful thickener than flour is, and it doesn't need to be browned the way flour does to remove the taste -- its a much more neutral taste. As long as its in a slurry (dissolved in water), it doesn't need to be coated in fat, either, to prevent clumping.

                    1. re: ePressureCooker

                      No, just the opposite, you add pasta water to your pasta sauce to *thin* it, not thicken it.

                      If you wanted to use a slurry to thicken it'd have to be way more concentrated than the potato water. A corn or potato starch slurry is probably 50 to 100 times more concentrated than potato water is. We use both all the time. I love slurries. I just wouldn't use them in gravy unless I wanted them to taste (and feel) like Chinese Food.

                      This seems really backwards and misguided to me. I remain baffled. You'd have to cook it down for hours. You want to intensify flavors, not dilute them.

                      You brown the flour to make it taste all... browny. You don't have to brown it to remove the floury taste at all. Just a couple minutes of cooking will do that, and Jacques Pepin says even that is a myth .... it cooks out after the liquid is incorporated when it comes to a boil. He happens to be right. Otherwise you couldn't make a béchamel or veloute or mornay, right?

                      1. re: acgold7

                        Have you actually ever used a potato starch slurry to thicken gravy? Any idea what it really tastes like? Because I have, and it doesn't taste like Chinese food, and it doesn't dilute the flavor. Whereas roux can actually dilute the flavor, depending on proportions.

                        1. re: ePressureCooker

                          We use a potato starch slurry every day to make our Gluten-free gravy in our restaurant. What we don't use is potato water from boiling potatoes, because we don't boil our potatoes... but that's another thread. Our slurry -- actually a blend of six different gluten-free flours that took us about six months to get just right, but which don't take well to the roux treatment -- are about a 50-50 mix of starch and water, not the 100-to-1 ratio you'd get out of a pot of spent potato water.

                          As I said, I have nothing against slurries. I just don't get the application of a gallon of water that used to have potatoes in it, but if it works for you, go for it. I was hoping for an explanation that made some scientific sense but it looks like that isn't in the cards.

                          Now if you said you actually used a cup or so of finely mashed potatoes to thicken a quart or two of gravy (which we've done with some success), that would make more sense.

                          We've never had a problem with a roux diluting flavors, but then we're known for pretty big flavors anyway, and we're pretty careful about that. I *have* been known to send trays of mac n' cheese back to the kitchen if they weren't intense enough. Usually the cooks have gotten lazy and used too much milk, but that isn't the fault of the roux. On the contrary, it's usually because the roux worked too well and they needed to thin it out.

          2. re: ePressureCooker

            Okay, ePC, I followed your above instructions and now have a nice thick-ish gravy (but not "turkey pudding" as Chef John calls it). I think that with the addition of pan drippings from the turkey breast on Thanksgiving, it will be quite tasty.

            Seeing that it's only going to be me, my husband, and an 80-year-old gentleman who had no where else to go, no one's going to be complaining. :-)

            I will re-visit this all next year and contemplate that pressure cooker...

            Thanks again!


          3. I saw a recipe today recommending a bit of fish sauce for deeper flavor!

            12 Replies
            1. re: Shrinkrap

              Ah yes, that would probably be because of umami (glutamates or geez, I'm forgetting the name of the other component needed) - Better Than Bouillon also has both. ;D

                1. re: Shrinkrap

                  Not like fish does, true, but there are many recipes where anchovies are used to provide some umami and an earthy taste, but they don't make the dish taste or smell like fish.

              1. re: Shrinkrap

                The devil made me do it!

                I was just finishing my make-ahead gravy and it seemed to be missing an undefinable something. Maybe a touch more salt? A squeeze of lemon juice? Remembered this thread and said what the hell. I added about 2 teaspoons of Red Boat fish sauce to maybe a quart of gravy. Voila! It really did deepen the flavor. And is completely undetectable as fish sauce. Making note for next year.

                  1. re: JoanN

                    I salute you! You're a brave woman to risk your Thanksgiving gravy for the better understanding of Chowhounders as to the way of umami in gravy ;D

                    1. re: ePressureCooker

                      Caveat: Not sure I'd have done it with a brand other than Red Boat. Red Boat is the pricey, first press, extra virgin, of fish sauces.

                      1. re: JoanN

                        Duly noted. Right now I am simmering what started out as five quarts of stock, for four people. I think I can afford to pilfer a bit, and see what a little fish sauce adds.

                        I have two fish sauces that are VERY different. How do you judge fish sauce quality?

                        I found this;
                        "Fish Sauce Taste Off"

                        and this

                        "Fish Sauce Taste Test"

                        One of mine is the "Three Crabs Fish Sauce". The other I got outside "Out The Door", near the Slanted Door in the Ferry Plaza in SF. That one is from Thailand, says "mam nem dac biet", and "super", and is a thick and cloudy brownish grey color. Found it!It is actually "anchovy sauce". "Mam nem sauce is the name of the product used to make the dip, and the prepared dip itself. It is fermented fish, either in chunks, or pulverized into a liquid. It is the made from the solids left over from making nuoc mam (The clear brown vietnamese fish sauce)."


                        This one looks pretty snazzy


                        1. re: Shrinkrap

                          Good finds on those fish sauce taste-off articles. I’ve used both Tiparos and Three Crabs in the past and, in fact, still have some Three Crabs in the fridge. Comparing labels, Red Boat lists anchovy and sea salt; Three Crabs lists anchovy extract, water, salt, fructose and hydrolyzed vegetable protein. Tasting them side-by-side, Red Boat is initially very salty, but with much deeper, smoother flavor. And it’s a gorgeous, dark color.

                          I bought the Red Boat after reading Edward Lee’s book “Smoke and Pickles.” Chef Lee says with regard to Red Boat, “Cuong Pham makes the best fish sauce I’ve had this side of the Pacific. . . . Fish sauce is as essential to Southeast Asian cuisine as good olive oil is to Italian cuisine. I use it to finish soups, sauces, stews, and dressings. A couple of dashes will bring to life an otherwise dull sauce. If only the rest of life were that easy.”

                          1. re: JoanN

                            I'm planning on replacing my fish sauce with Red Boat as well. I first read about it in Smoke and Pickles and then I noticed that they stock it at Brooklyn Larder (specialty food store owned by the Franny's folks) and they really talk up how special it is. I have Golden Boy on hand now but I don't love it.

                            I'm not planning on adding any to my gravy though!

                            1. re: JoanN

                     it supposed to be kept in the fridge?

                              I have the "mam nem dac biet" in the fridge; that stuff is a little scary looking. I have gone back and forth about storing the clear stuff.

                              BTW, I did taste test a bit of my stock with and without the "Three Crabs", and the difference was pretty interesting. In a good way. And no perceptible smell at all.

                              1. re: Shrinkrap

                                Oy. A constant problem in my life. What needs to be stored in the fridge and what doesn't. I will have stored something in the cupboard for years and then I read somewhere that it's best stored in the fridge and I jump up, grab the container, and try to find room in what has become condiment hell. No longer recall where I read that, but it must have been an authoritative source (in my mind at least) or I wouldn't have done it.

                                Would never have occurred to me to use fish sauce in non-Asian dishes solely for it's umami factor. Live and learn.

                  2. When cooking the flour/butter in the beginning, the darker you let the flour get, the less it will thicken the gravy.

                    You could try making a little more roux and adding it to the sauce to thicken it more. But if the sauce is overcooked and "burnt" tasting, I would just start over with a carton of Turkey stock.

                    1. I'm re-reading "How to Read a French Fry" and I have another suggestion (for next year) to "up" the turkey flavor of the gravy. The author asserts that most animal proteins on their own taste remarkably similar, that it is the FAT in the animal that carries most of the flavor. If that's the case, and thus far, I haven't been steered wrong by the author, use equal amounts of turkey fat instead of butter next year to make the gravy, and it may well come out with a much more intense turkey flavor.

                      7 Replies
                      1. re: ePressureCooker

                        Can't find a link that's not behind a paywall, but that's how the Cook's Illustrated Make Ahead Gravy, published in 2001, is made and I've been making it that way ever since. The turkey fat is a natural result of making the turkey stock. I chill the stock overnight, skim off the fat, and use it to thicken the defatted stock the next day.

                        1. re: JoanN

                          Yes, ATK's "Slow and Easy Thanksgiving" episode was on today on one of the PBS stations, and I think there was something about that. I do what you do, however, I never use a fat skimer or anything like that, I always refrigerate overnight, that way I can collect as much fat as possible and repurpose it (either for gravy, or making hash, or put it in the freezer for future recipes).

                          1. re: ePressureCooker

                            I may have misled you. When I used the word "skim," I meant removing the hardened fat from the stock that had been refrigerated overnight.

                        2. re: ePressureCooker

                          I only got 2T of fat out of the wing roasting and did use it all. Next year I'll have to add some legs to it--or maybe I'll just do the whole darn bird. Or maybe I'll make spaghetti and meatballs. :-)

                          To Springhaze2, I'm absolutely positive my mother never used potato water in the gravy: it was just turkey drippings, butter, and flour--as far as I could tell. Then I recall her always adding giblets at the end. We always had at least 20 people over, so it was huge turkey. I'm not really trying to replicate it: I know I won't get the same flavor out of just using the wings. I'm just trying to get what I'm serving at least somewhat turkey gravy-like.

                          1. re: Thanks4Food

                            Thanks4Food, did you refrigerate overnight before harvesting the fat, or did you just do it with a spoon or one of those fat skimer devices while it was still liquid? I find I can get much more fat out of the liquid if I refrigerate overnight, or better yet, 24 hours.

                            And if you happen to have a pressure cooker, use that next time. Pressure cookers are WONDERFUL at getting flavor into the stock, and they really seem to render much more fat than conventional methods (you are not only cooking under increased pressure, but because of the pressure, under increased temperatures as well). Plus they're really good at converting connective tissue / collagen into gelatin, which means more flavor.

                            1. re: ePressureCooker

                              And I thought I had finally done good by buying CI's favorite fat separator at BBB.

                              BUT I haven't even looked at my gravy that's been sitting in the fridge since I posted 3 nights ago...

                              ...okay just took a look: there's no layer of fat on top that I could easily skim off, but there are globs of fat within the gravy. Think if I freeze it I could separate those out?

                              This is all so complicated for a once a year dish...oy.

                              1. re: Thanks4Food

                                It'll be better next year. Its only complicated because you didn't know exactly what you were doing, and you ran into some unexpected problems (not enough broth, not enough turkey fat, etc.) and they threw a spanner in the works because you didn't know how to fix it.

                                As for the globs of fat, its really up to you what you do. Usually you remove the fat before making the gravy, to control the amount in it. At this point, if you were happy with the way it tasted (if it didn't taste too greasy) leave it -- when you reheat the gravy, and stir it up, it'll mix back in with the rest of the gravy. If you really want to remove it, put it in the coldest spot in the FRIDGE (not the freezer) and then remove what fat you can...

                        3. Here's Jamie Oliver doing something very similar. Maybe a little less work? The result is excellent:


                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Robin Joy

                            In a liter of gravy I'll add about 1/4 t of fish sauce. No more. You can't taste anything 'fishy' but it does add a certain 'something'. I always use a tiny amount in most protein dishes.