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Questions regarding Thanksgiving Gravy and Using Roux or Cornstarch

I've read a lot of the threads on gravy, but would like to start a new one to see if I can understand the chemistry / mechanics of making a good basic gravy. Because I didn't, this past Thanksgiving. :-( Here's what happened (apologies in advance - this will be long):

The day before Thanksgiving, I made a make-ahead gravy with the intention of adding the drippings after the turkey came out of the oven. Following instructions and videos I found online, I used equal parts butter and flour, and cooked the roux for about 5 minutes, whisking constantly, until I got a paste-like consistency. I then added homemade turkey stock in 1-cup increments, and cooked the gravy for 40 minutes. I intended to cook it for only 15 minutes, but it tasted floury, so I kept cooking it. As the gravy thickened, I added more stock, hoping that the floury taste would dissipate. It never did entirely, and I eventually said "it's good enough". (I used 6 T. of butter to 6 T. of flour, and started with 6 cups of turkey stock; I probably ended up using 10-12 cups of stock.)

The next day, we took the 2 turkeys out of the oven and off the grill and combined the drippings. After defatting the drippings, I added some to my warmed-up make-ahead gravy. My friend deglazed the roasting pan and drippings with some white wine and leftover water from boiling the potatoes for mashed potatoes, and used a cornstarch slurry to thicken the gravy. Her gravy was delicious, and was so easy to make. Mine still tasted floury and had a slightly gritty texture, although the drippings did add a lot of flavor. I ended up adding some fresh lemon juice, which helped a little, but not much. I was really disappointed in my gravy, especially after all that advance work.

I know there are lots of ways to add flavors and make your gravy "your own", but what I'm really trying to understand is the proper (fail-safe) way to make a basic gravy. Here is what I'm wondering:

1) Why did my gravy turn out floury tasting? (This has happened to me in the past, too, so I must consistently be doing something wrong.)

2) What are the advantages (or disadvantages) of a cornstarch slurry? My friend is from the Midwest and she said that's how they always make gravy. Is this a regional thing?

3) I know that a butter / flour Roux is a French classic, and it's supposed to be easy to make. But if it's that easy, what am I doing wrong?

4) Why make a roux, which contains so much fat, when you can just shake up a cornstarch slurry or even a flour slurry? Does the butter make that much difference to the flavor?

Any and all opinions and advice, the more detailed the better, are welcome. Thank you!

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  1. No expert here on the chemistry, but I make fabulous gravy;).
    I never do it ahead, I see that is popular, but if you make a roux from the mostly defatted drippings, the gravy is delicious , easy and not unnecessarily greasy. I cook veggies under the turkey and blend these into the gravy, forming the base. I might add a little butter for the flavor of it, but the drippings are delectable. It takes fifteen minutes at the most and since I rest my turkey for an hours here is no problem with time.

    A roux that tastes raw before adding stock will always taste raw. I don't measure flour and drippings but I think 1:1 is way too floury.
    A cornstarch gravy is easier , but will not reheat well.some people prefer it; if you do, try it next time.

    8 Replies
    1. re: magiesmom

      1:1 is the standard ratio of fat:flour in a roux.

      1. re: FoodPopulist

        Yes, that's the standard that I used, 1:1. And 2T of butter + 2 T of flour in a roux will thicken 1 cup of liquid to gravy thickness. I prefer to use the half amount of a flour roux, then complete the thickening with a slurry of tapioca starch before service.

        1. re: Melanie Wong

          I use 2:2:2 meaning 2T "lipid of choice", 2T flour and then 2 cups stock.

          To magiesmom, I don't know what "really thick" drippings are? Do you reduce them?

          1. re: c oliver

            No, they include the carrots and onions from under the turkey.

            1. re: magiesmom

              Got it. I think you're like I am. Those vegetables have "given their all" and including them in the gravy is perfect.

              1. re: c oliver

                Sometimes I'll puree the vegetables with an immersion blender (or food mill), and use that to thicken the braising liquid.

                1. re: paulj

                  Yes, sometimes I do that too but lately I just cut them small and they fall apart.

        2. re: FoodPopulist

          I know, but with drippings that are really thick and rich I can use a lot less and it tastes better.

      2. I can't help you with the science of it but I'll tell you what's never failed me in 45 years of cooking.

        First, make your roux directly from the drippings and fond in the bottom of your roasting pan over a hot flame. Whisk in flour* until you have a roughly equal percentage of starch and fat and a smooth paste about the consistency of pancake batter. Cook that about a minute. It should be bubble around the edges.

        Now, add the stock and/or water from boiling your potatoes. This is a matter of estimation but use less than you think you'll want. Whisk it in -- I love a flat whisk -- until your gravy is smooth. Turn the heat down after it boils for about a minute. Let it simmer for another minute or two.

        Finally, taste so you can correct the seasoning and add additional stock/water for a thin pourable tasty gravy. If there are lumps of starch, veggie, dripping, give the whole thing a whiz with the hand blender.

        * Now the business of that asterisk. In the last several years I have adopted the method that Shirley O. Corriher credits her mother with. When I put my turkey in to roast I throw a couple handfuls of the dressing/stuffing in the bottom of the roasting pan. Whatever it is; whatever is in it: nuts, fruit, bread, rice, aromatics. Whatever. When you begin your gravy mash and stir that into the drippings first of all. Add flour but only in small increments as necessary to supplement the starch in the bread.

        Continue as above.

        Oh, one more note: if you've got any other interesting liquids from cooking veggies or perhaps soaking dried mushrooms, these are also excellent flavorful additions.

        1. you need to cook the flour a little longer, I wait until the flour and butter is a blonde color with a bit of a toasted smell. Roux is just the classic way before cornstarch and arrowroot were available. Some people think the old fashioned way is best. Some people think the method that gives the best results is the best.

          7 Replies
          1. re: jaykayen

            But she cooked the gravy 40 minutes. Shouldn't that cook the flour just as well as the toasting before adding liquid?

            Generally instructions, such as this:
            say you can make a trade off between cooking time for the roux and cooking time for the sauce. Make a brown roux takes time, and develops flavor. It also reduces the thickening power of the flour. But once you add the liquid the gravy needs little further cooking.

            1. re: paulj

              Yes, I cooked the gravy for such a long time that I expected the flour taste to cook out. Perhaps the addition of liquid "seals in" the flour taste?

              1. re: goodeatsgal

                It's not that the liquid seals in the flour taste, it's that once you add liquid, your mixture can't get above 212 degrees (boiling), which isn't hot enough to cook the floury taste out. When you are cooking the roux by itself, the flour can get much hotter because the oil will get much hotter than 212. If you cook your roux until it's at least blonde, you won't have a floury taste.

                1. re: biondanonima

                  ^^^Exactly. I don't make gravy that often, but when I do, I cook the roux until it is golden and starts giving off a nutty smell. Then I add the liquid.

            2. re: jaykayen

              Yes. It's important to let the roux cook out.

              And don't use a whisk to combine the flour and fat. Use a silicone spatula to work it together into a paste. Then use a whisk to combine the roux with your liquid.

              1. re: C. Hamster

                C. Hamster - why do you use a spatula to make the roux? Is there really a big difference from using a whisk?

                Also, how long does it take for the roux to cook out?

              2. re: jaykayen

                I use arrowroot and cook the roux until it's toasty brown. It works every time and the consistency of the gravy remains the same - whether it's eaten right then or frozen and defrosted later.

              3. I make gravy 2-3 times a month; I don't know what works for everyone else but I use both the roux method and the cornstarch slurry method. For thanksgiving, I made the gravy but I did not cook the turkey so I didn't have the drippings as I would normally so I cooked turkey necks in my slow cooker to get stock but it could have been done with broth, bouillon cubes or other poultry base & water, etc.

                This is how I made the gravy: Because I'm trying to cut back on my fat content, I chilled & defatted the stock. Using a non stick skillet, I browned my flour without any fat over very low heat, stirring it every couple of minutes with a wooden spoon until it got to the color I was looking for or whatever you want your turkey gravy to look like. I then ladled in the hot stock and kept stirring the mixture until mixed in and lump free. Mix in whatever seasonings you want to add; in my case, I added salt free seasoning blend, pepper, onion powder, a spoonful of better than bouillon base and Worcestershire sauce.

                I let it simmer until it was the thickness I was looking for and stirred in the picked & chopped turkey neck meat. If it needs some help to thicken, I'll add a tablespoon (depending on the amount of gravy I'm making) of cornstarch with the same amount of water, stirring to dissolve and drizzle this into the simmering gravy. Stir and cook for one minute. Simple.

                I don't use butter to make my gravy. If I do use a regular roux - cooking the flour in fat, I use vegetable oil. I'll add a couple or three tablespoons fat to four tablespoons flour. Stir over low heat for about five minutes or until the color you're looking for; add liquid, bring to a simmer and continue to cook until thickened. Pretty basic.

                Cornstarch slurry is by far the easiest gravy to make. I like it and use it a lot for sauces and sometimes to add to a cut of beef roast or steak. Simmer beef stock or other liquid. Depending on how much gravy you're making, add the cornstarch to cold water and mix until smooth. Drizzle in the simmering liquid and cook one minute or so. How much to use depends on how thick you want the gravy; if you're making a couple of cups gravy, use two teaspoons cornstarch to a tablespoon water to start. Mix it up, drizzle into the liquid; keep in mind it needs to be simmering when you add it. Cook it for a minute, if it's not thick enough, repeat until you get what you want.

                I haven't had a problem reheating a gravy with cornstarch; you may need to add more stock or broth, heat it over low temperature and whisk it but it will reheat. Or you could add the cold gravy to a food processor with some broth and buzz it prior to heating it. It should come out smooth.

                1. Did you tweak the salt level? I'm wondering whether the 'floury' taste was actually a low salt blandness?

                  Have you made a bechamel - a milk and roux sauce? Turkey gravy is based on the same method.

                  Cornstarch slurry is great for thickening a liquid that is already hot. But the resulting gravy tends to be glossy. Some other starches make it translucent. Roux sauce is less glossy.

                  Wondra flour is a pregelatinized flour that can be used in slurry. I've even sprinkled it directly on a cooking liquid.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: paulj

                    I didn't add any salt to the roux or the gravy, not until I added the drippings the next day. Since I had salt brined the turkey, I wanted to wait to see how salty the drippings were.

                    Now that you mention it, I have made a bechamel for macaroni and cheese. I don't recall a floury taste to it. Hmmm, I wonder what the difference was.

                    Regarding the glossiness caused by a cornstarch slurry, is that a bad thing? What's wrong with gloss?

                    1. re: goodeatsgal

                      Whether you want a glossy and/or translucent sauce/gravy is your call. It's preferred in Chinese stirfrys and clear soups.

                      Floury taste and graininess might indicate flour particles that clumped and didn't fully hydrate (or is the term gelatinize?). But I'd expect a 'lumpy' description more than grainy.

                      The higher status of roux may just be the result of it being a bit more finicky than a slurry.

                  2. Making gravy must be an individual preference sort of thing. I'm in my 60's. Tried lots of different methods. I have the best luck with a slurry. I like the thickening power of flour & the success I have when reheating it later. But the gravy tends to be 'foggy' looking & can mask some of the marvelous flavors from the drippings. Cornstarch makes a nice translucent gravy & all the flavors shine through. But your gravy will turn into a watery mess when reheated. So what I do is try to capture the best of both worlds. I make a slurry using 1/2 cornstarch & 1/2 flour. Perfect for me every time. To prevent that flour taste, I make sure I bring the gravy to a full boil after I add the slurry, stir constantly & let it continue boiling for a full minute. (Yes, I actually look at a clock.) I take it off the burner, taste, then season it & it's ready to serve.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: i_am_Lois

                      Exactly. I do the same using half and half but in a different technique. I start off with a flour roux cooked until it starts to smell toasted for half the thickening power when I make my turkey gravy ahead of time. Then on the day it's served, I will reheat and then add a slurry of tapioca starch to bring it up to the level of thickening I want. I don't know that I boil it for a full minute, but certainly no more than that.

                      I use tapioca starch because it has a cleaner taste than cornstarch and I always have it on hand for Chinese cooking. I also add white wine to the gravy finding it brings out new flavors and more depth. This year it was Alsatian Pinot Gris because that's what was leftover and on hand, but my favorite is to use off-dry Riesling. And the hot potato water is used to loosen the drippings.

                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                        Melanie, I've used cornstarch often in Chinese cooking, but never tapioca starch. Do you use tapioca starch in the same proportions as cornstarch? I'm going to have to do a comparison!

                        1. re: goodeatsgal

                          I never use it in any way that requires measuring so can't really say! But I think you'd substitute one for one.

                      2. re: i_am_Lois

                        This is the same way that my mom (and therefore me and my brother who normally now host the family thanksgiving dinner) make the gravy. I use some cold broth to make the slurry, the formula is 1T cornstarch + 1T flour for every cup of broth + drippings. And salt and pepper to taste.

                        My twist is amping up the broth -- I usually deconstruct the turkey so that I have the back in addition to the neck and giblets. I brown everything and then make a rich stock.

                      3. I saw Jacque Pepin and Julia Child on tv the other night and Jacque used a potato starch slurry.

                        I made two gravies this Thanksgiving one with a roux from chicken fat and flour and the other using a potato starch slurry.

                        They were both pretty good

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Unkle Al

                          Pepin and Child seem to have different strategies for thickening sauces at the end. Pepin often uses a starch slurry. Child seemed to prefer a beurre manie (basically a roux added a the end). They had a little discussion about this in one episode of their show.

                        2. 6T flour is way too much.

                          I'd also suggest mixing flour with water -- not butter -- in equal amounts. Start with a tablespoon (or two at most) each, and then add more if the gravy is not thickening. It thickens as it cooks down.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: Niblet

                            I know 6T of flour is a lot, but I also used 6T of butter. I wanted to make at least a quart of gravy since I was serving 24 people.

                            Niblet, when you say to mix the flour with water, are you referring to the kind of slurry that gets shaken up, or would you stir the two together in a pan similar to a roux?

                            1. re: goodeatsgal

                              Hi - I mean a flour & cold water slurry that you whisk into the hot broth/drippings. Learned from my Grandma and Mom. They've cooked for 24-30 people at Thanksgiving and didn't add so much flour but let it cook down to intensify the flavor. Hope this helps.

                              1. re: Niblet

                                My turkey grandmother (as opposed to my cookie grandmother) made her gravy with a slurry like that, but she used milk instead of water and referred to it as "thickenin'." If I'm making a thickened gravy, though, I use a tablespoon each of butter and flour for each cup of liquid, and cook the roux to a good brown in a glass pan (VERY old Pyrex!), which speeds up the browning. Not too much, though, since browning decreases the thickening power. If I want a pale gravy, as for chicken and dumplings or noodles, then beurre manie is a good way to go.

                          2. You can also cut directly to the chase, and make your own dry dextrin (from corn, rice, potato, or other "pure" vegetable starch or from less-pure starches like wheat flour), topic linked below. Dextrin can then be combined as convenient with whatever fat you like, or it can be (unlike cornstarch) dissolved directly in water. It gives the distinctive velvety texture of traditional French sauces, and thickened US gravies where the starch is well cooked in fat. It serves (including in commercial "demi-glace" shortcut products) like a vegetable adjunct to the natural gelatine in meat juices. Easily the most common, basic, and cheap of vegetable gums, despite others shining occasionally as fads.

                            Dextrin occurs constantly in cooking (e.g. on surfaces of toasted bread, forming part of toast's slightly sweeter flavor) and is the real point of cooking starches in fat in a roux.

                            In making a roux, first the starch bubbles as it expels its small moisture content. With further heating, the polysaccharide chains break down into derivatives (dextrin, which, unlike starch, is directly digestible, with a sweetish flavor, and soluble in cold water), then gradually break down further, yielding toasty flavors and darker color. When the dextrin later combines with water, it behaves differently from starch cooked in water, specifically it does not congeal into a such a durable solid (tending to keep its shape when reheated) as with starch, but a different colloid that melts on re-heating, not unlike gelatine dissolved in water.

                            I've seen dextrin in cooking described in detail over the years by several 20th-century writers (Escoffier already stressed its centrality to roux very clearly, a century ago), but despite brief recent references by compilers like McGee, it's a subject neglected by online foodie sources, and many home cooks today appear unaware of it.

                            Also, contrary to some recent assumptions, "pure" starches like corn and arrowroot aren't recent additions to Western cooking culture. Escoffier specifically recommended them as preferable in roux-making to wheat flour, whose additional protein components (vital in bread) become nuisances in sauce making. Quotations in linked thread. He even predicted that corn and arrowroot starches might completely displace flour in all sauce cookery.


                            11 Replies
                            1. re: eatzalot

                              You neglected to mention that it can also be used for a post-meal pyrotechnics display :-)


                              1. re: Bryan Pepperseed

                                That's an example of using dexrin for a glue or binder (I gather it burns when dry, so is convenient in firework mixtures). You also can use it to make your envelope gum, or labels.

                                The family connection between sauces and glues has been too obvious in a few sauces I've encountered over the years ...

                                1. re: eatzalot

                                  "The family connection between sauces and glues has been too obvious in a few sauces I've encountered over the years ..."

                                  Obvious to me also.......and (unfortunately) I rarely eat out.

                                  1. re: Bryan Pepperseed

                                    When he worked as a respected, feared, exceptionally well-informed newspaper restaurant critic in the US Pacific Northwest (in my experience, one of the very best in the US in recent decades) -- it was in the 1970s -- Matt Kramer had a favorite complaint: "A sauce so heavily floured, if it were baked it might have become bread."

                                    Julia Child, who of course was adapting Escoffier's canon for US home cooks, was critized in detail in the Hesses' famous 1977 "Taste of America" both for very generously interpreting the Escoffier sauce recipes' use of flour, and for fundamentally not understanding the principles or reasons for cooking the starches in a roux. Recall that JC was never, ever, a professional chef (a point she stressed when alive), but someone who took a chef-training course when nearly 40, to learn how to cook. She called for cooking roux "2 or 3 minutes" to be thorough. The Hesses contrasted the authoritative Larousse Gastronomique: even a _white_ roux, as for a béchamel, "to be cooked, stirring constantly with wooden spatula, five minutes without taking on color" (brown roux, as in the gravies discussed here, "takes at least twice as long"). Escoffier himself used far less flour in a béchamel, and simmered gently one hour. He even, in "Ma Cuisine," 30 years after his seminal "Guide Culinaire," had moved toward reducing starches in sauces (less than a tablespoon per cup of a finished simple velouté) -- the same direction other experienced French experts favored both earlier (Grimod) and later ("Nouvelle Cuisine").

                                    1. re: eatzalot

                                      Where does beurre manié fit into all this? Are sauces cooked with beurre manie gluier than sauces cooked with roux? I'm puzzled by how cooks will sometimes stress the importance of cooking the floury taste out of a roux and then turn around and use a beurre manié in another recipe.

                                      Here's an interesting side-by-side test:

                                      1. re: Scrofula

                                        Can I substitute amylase (from my saliva) for heat to break down starch into dextrins? :)

                                        1. re: Scrofula

                                          Scrofula, it really comes down to just raw vs precooked starch. The fat in roux is a vehicle for cooking starch; the fat in beurre manié is a vehicle for dispersing the starch so you can stir it into hot liquids directly, without it lumping. (In either case you have the option of skimming out the fat later, if it's a long-simmered broth-based stock like an espagnole.)

                                          I started making gravies from roasts (about fifty years ago) by thoroughly fat-cooking the starch (flour or whatever; type of starch ultimately is a minor factor) and I also have used starch slurries countless times. For casual cooking, the results are similar. Difference shows if you're looking _closely_ at texture and the reheating behavior, and comparing either starch method to purely gelatine-based sauces like reductions. The dextrin behaves rather like gelatine, as I mentioned.

                                          (Long discussions of these things appear online without ever getting to principles. Even some professionals cite tertiary writers like Harold McGee or Julia Child, both of whom have serious weaknesses in this subject area, as if they were some irrefutable biblical texts, instead of just popular writers who adapted much stronger sources to a mainstream audience. There's a whole CH thread debating received "rules" about hot vs cold liquid addition to roux, without anyone pointing out what's obvious if you play around a few times in the kitchen: it's just an issue of convenience for avoiding lumps, and even those can be cooked or beaten out of the sauce. Much as raw starch will lump when added to hot liquids, but not cold.)

                                          1. re: eatzalot

                                            The summary points that I've gathered (from you, puffin3 and online) are:

                                            starches are very long chains of sugar molecules (well, there is the distinction between long and branching chains).

                                            dextrins are starch molecules that have been cut into shorter chains.

                                            dextrins are produced by enzymes, as part of digestion, or by heat (though some sources say 'heat in an acidic environment').

                                            dextrins have a lower thickening power - a result of the shorter chains (I think).

                                            The main advantage of dextrins in thickening sauces is that the sauce does not stiffen as it cools (again the shorter chains). So cold gravy will be more appetizing.

                                            Wheat flour has more protein (gluten forming ones) than pure starches (cornstarch, potato starch, arrowroot). It also has that amylase enzyme (also a protein). Apparently it has a role in bread baking (in the dough stage more than the hot one?), but I haven't seem mention of its role, if any, in thickening.

                                            The nature of the 'raw uncooked flour taste' is unclear. Many talk about it, some dispute it, but no one describes it scientifically. Some wonder why beurre manié needs less cooking than a roux to get rid of that floury taste. I also wonder why spaetzle (flour, eggs, water, salt) not have a raw flour taste? It only cooks in the boiling water for a couple of minutes.

                                            1. re: paulj

                                              And there I agree with you completely. Would have to sample an example of someone's "uncooked flour taste" to understand it better (not, yet, possible online). Pasta cooks in a few minutes, but you don't see people citing uncooked flour taste.

                                              IMO the difference between dextrin sauces and starch sauces is appreciated by working with them, not by descriptions. Dextrins, again, resembling gelatines in effect, but cheaper. Gelatine, too, has "less thickening power" than starch per se (meaning, cooked result is less "thick" like mashed potatoes), yet few people bother to mention that, because they don't derive gelatine from or compare it to starch.

                                              There are several ways to make dextrin, the well-known sources that touch on this subject in the _cooking_ context are Escoffier and McGee. (Wikipedia notably weak.)

                                              The best illustration I know of cold cooked starch mixtures is that archetypal cheap British dessert, cornstarch blancmange. Parodied in a Monte Python skit (something about an animated blancmange loose in the countryside), metaphoric in Agatha Christie where an indigestive dinner is blamed on the blamcmange ("it looked like something from a mortuary"). All these sauce thickeners gel when cold, but they gel a little differently, reheat a little differently. Differences that don't matter much if you just need to get something ready to eat in a hurry.

                                              1. re: eatzalot

                                                Thanks eatzalot and others; this has been a very informative thread.

                                                So far I've been using flour for roux and beurre manié, and cornstarch in slurries, but it sounds like beurre manié is basically a fat slurry, so I might as well use starch for that as well, or just stick with slurries. Child said that beurre maniés tend to be 'more stable' than starch slurries, but I don't know if there's truth to that.

                                                I've also always used flour for roux. I guess there could be flavor differences here, due to Maillard reaction with the gluten and whatnot. Might do some side-by-side tests.

                                                1. re: Scrofula

                                                  Escoffier explained that in the Guide Culinaire; briefly the nonstarch components in flour simply cook, and become solids in a typical simmered sauce, to be removed, along with the butter, in the classic patient skimming. That's why he advocated purer vegetable starches in roux, where available; less to remove later by skimming. (It reads as if corn and arrowroot starches, which he specifically suggested, were a little more novel in French kitchens circa 1900.)

                                                  I guess some professionals are still taught that roux by definition is made with flour (one of them asserted that in the 2010 thread below) even though most US use of roux derives from Escoffier. An example of the value of looking at the original! Which I highly recommend to anyone interested. The Guide Culinaire is readily available in English, moderately priced on the used market.


                              2. I'm surprised no one has mentioned using Wondra flour instead of making a roux at all. No lumps! No flour taste!
                                I defat the gravy/bottom of the pan drippings beforehand, then simply heat, perhaps adding low salt beef broth to make
                                more, then sprinkle Wondra flour, stir, check the thickness,
                                and usually add more.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: Bashful3

                                  I've never had any problem just using regular flour. Wondra isn't a product I have on hand.

                                  1. re: Bashful3

                                    Paulj mentioned Wondra earlier today, upthread.

                                    1. re: Bashful3

                                      I second Wondra. I always have a container in my pantry. I use it mostly for coating proteins for saute' or frying instead of flour. Also good for thickening chilis or soups along with gravies.

                                    2. From home ec class and mom I learned that rouxs are used in gravies and cornstarch or arrowroot is used for sauces. Think opacity for gravies and clarity for sauces.

                                      Cornstarch or arrowroot is good to have on hand for an emergency. I have saved many a roux based gravy emergency by adding a cornstarch slurry. Sometimes the next day after making the gravy and after adding the drippings the gravy can get too loose. Adjusting with a little cornstarch slurry helps thicken it back up. Also if I originally expected 6 for dinner but 4 more people showed up it is easy to add some stock to the premade gravy and a cornstarch slurry. With that said, I prefer the taste of gravies with roux. It really doesn't take too much time to make a new roux from scratch using butter to thicken gravy that has become too loose.

                                      After 20 years of cooking I gravitate toward sauces that I can cook down thus the need for a roux or cornstarch is not needed. Why ruin tasty butter with flour!? Just kidding, it is just my personal taste, everyone is different.

                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: free sample addict aka Tracy L

                                        That's the first time I've heard that gravies should be opaque and sauces should be clear. I wonder why.... perhaps it comes from the French tradition?

                                        Understanding that it's a personal preference, do you think gravies with roux are more flavorful? But not necessarily buttery?

                                        1. re: goodeatsgal

                                          The roux imparts its own flavor, and I feel it is a flavor that is complimentary in my mushroom and giblet turkey gravy. I don't feel the same way about mac n cheese based on bechamel sauce where I feel it detracts from the flavor profile I'm aiming to achieve.

                                          1. re: goodeatsgal

                                            "That's the first time I've heard that gravies should be opaque and sauces should be clear. I wonder why.... perhaps it comes from the French tradition?"

                                            No, many of the classic French "sauces" also are opaque.

                                            A clear sauce results from clear liquid with a simple thickener, like starch, or gelatin (in a broth reduction or glaze).

                                            Opacity comes from suspended materials, like fat (an emulsion).

                                            This thread addresses three separate factors. More vs less pure starches (corn, arrowroot, etc. vs wheat flour) -- in French tradition, that's a minor distinction, as I've posted. Addition of fat. And how the starch ingredient is cooked.

                                            Cooking starch in fat before adding liquid produces a different result, a different chemistry, from cooking the starch in liquid and then adding fat. I've tried to point this out. US gravy tradition (I checked this in a mainstream mid-century cookbook) is to first cook whatever starch you use in fat from a roast, until brown, before adding liquid. That's classic French "brown roux" and yields a less starchy, more gelatinous gravy because the fat cooking step converts the starch to dextrin. (But if you just lightly cook the flour or starch in fat, it's a "white roux" which will "eliminate the rawness of the flour" -- Escoffier -- without giving much dextrin, or toast flavor.)

                                            This might need a separate thread. I see many people now using starch or flour slurries in "gravy" recipes, not the classic US brown-roux method, though both approaches have long history. Chow "Thanksgiving Recipes" include two turkey "gravies," one using a browned (dextrinized) roux, one a starch slurry, neither observing that these are different methods giving different results. And the ins and outs of dextrin (common in popular writings about food science in the 1950s-60s) have been forgotten online, many people seem only to hear of the stuff in a recent connection with beer, though it also pervades home cooking processes.

                                            1. re: goodeatsgal

                                              That's a good question. I don't know why they taught that, it was about 35 years ago, my mom is gone as well as my home ec teacher. I am guessing it was a guideline rather than a rule. My mom almost exclusively used cornstarch. IMHO it is a matter of personal taste, I know people who really disdain gravies made with cornstarch. Personally I am not a big gravy person except for biscuits and gravy. I think butter added to some gravies/sauces while it is reducing really imparts some flavor and gives it a certain mouth feel. A little sauce goes a long way for me. If I do use a roux I can't taste the butter in it.

                                          2. There are many ways to make gravy or thicken sauces. You can use a slurry made of a mixture of water and either Wondra, flour, cornstarch, arrowroot, tapioca, or potato starch to name a few. You can make a roux with flour and some type of fat such as butter, lard, or oil. You can also make a paste of melted butter and flour to thicken your gravy/sauce. In some applications, you can simply thicken with butter.

                                            If your gravy tastes floury, it means you did not cook the roux long enough before adding the liquid. You need to get it good and bubbly for 1-3 minutes, unless your making a dark roux, then you go low and slow until you reach a molasses color. The longer you cook a roux, the less thickening power it has, but it has more flavor.

                                            I've always made turkey gravy with a cornstarch slurry. The flavor is cleaner and I just prefer it. I've never had a problem reheating the gravy and having it turn out watery.

                                            For beef or pork roasts, I typically mix a paste of butter and flour and add directly to the sauce and whisk it in. Sometimes, if the liquid is very hot, I'll temper the paste with some of the hot liquid first.

                                            There are many different techniques and reasons to use various thickeners, but basically it boils down ;) to your personal preference. Speaking of boiling down, you can reduce a sauce to thicken it without adding anything to it.

                                            If you would like to learn more about the different types of thickeners, I would suggest you check out Michael Ruhlman's Ratio cookbook. He has a chapter devoted to sauces and gravies and provides easy to understand reasons for using each type.

                                            Oh and one of the best tools for your kitchen is a gravy separator. It separates the liquid from the fat and allows you to use only the liquid. I love mine and use it all the time!

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: jcattles

                                              The most common cause for a gravy failure: 1 You must convert the flour to 'dextrin'. That requires heating the flour VERY gently to drive off the H2O. This will take some time. LOW heat so the flour doesn't burn. When the flour has barely turned the slightest golden add the CLARIFIED butter. The milk solids in table butter will and can 'sour' the gravy/sauce.
                                              Use a 6 part flour to five part clarified butter ratio. (Escoffier)
                                              ALWAYS completely cool/refrigerate the roux before adding the hot liquid. Add ALL the liquid at once and stir stir stir! Adjust the thickness with boiling hot stock. Season.
                                              These little things are what makes OK gravy/sauce into excellent gravy/sauce.
                                              Serve boiling hot.
                                              Think so what's so important to have the 6 to 5 ratio? 'Channel' Escoffier and ask him.

                                              1. re: jcattles

                                                More on Escoffier (details rarely mentioned online) below. I've used his book directly for 30 years. Many people cite Escoffier online who evidently never actually read his classic.

                                                People who've tried it usually agree the finest sauces come from reducing meat stocks, which gently thicken from natural gelatine, and concentrate flavor. (A cornerstone of "Nouvelle Cuisine" in France.)

                                                Well-cooked roux added to stock approximates this more cheaply, via dextrin rather than gelatine. The more cooked the roux, the less its "thickening" power -- BECAUSE its effect resembles gelatine more than starch. Starches give bulk viscosity, gelatine a syrupy effect.

                                                Escoffier pointed out that the butter in traditional roux is just a carrier, for cooking the starch without water. With stock-based French sauces, this butter is later skimmed off. Escoffier even advocated recycling it in later roux batches, for economy. There's no magic to a butter:starch ratio, only convenience -- as I already detailed in a linked thread, you can make dextrin without any fat, if you choose. Escoffier also favored "purer" starches over wheat flour in roux making, though I've learned that even some professional cooks don't know that.

                                                (An UNcooked starch-butter mixture, "beurre manié," is just another way of adding raw starch to a liquid; the end result is the same as if you introduced the starch and butter separately.)