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Dec 1, 2013 09:57 PM

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.