Sometimes you want a more substantial sauce than a weeknight jus. And sometimes it’s Thanksgiving and you’re in charge of the gravy. Gravy is simply thickened stock, so the quality of the gravy is directly related to the quality of the stock. This is why, if you know you want to make gravy, it’s worth the effort of having good stock on hand.
Sometimes other ingredients are added, but they don’t need to be for it to be a rich gravy to ladle over chicken and mashed potatoes. I like to add a little sautéed onion, which makes most savory dishes better. You can add mushrooms, chopped giblets, or whatever strikes your fancy.
While you could thicken the gravy with a slurry of cornstarch, I think a gravy thickened with flour has a better texture and is generally more satisfying (partly because of the flour and partly because the flour has to be mixed with butter or fat from cooking the bird). Smaller amounts of stock can be thickened with beurre manié, butter into which flour has been kneaded. Larger amounts benefit from a roux, in which you cook the flour in the butter rather than just kneading them together. The point of combining the fat and the flour is to coat the granules of flour so that that the flour won’t clump as it expands to do its thickening work. (But I’ve seen chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten simply sprinkle flour directly into cold coffee to thicken a duck stew, so even the fat isn’t strictly necessary.) The fat can be butter, with a roux made separate from what you’re cooking, or the roux can be made in the roasting pan using the fat from the bird.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and hit it with a three-finger pinch of salt. Stir to coat the onion with the melting butter and continue to cook until the onion is translucent.
Add the flour and stir so that it becomes coated with the fat. Continue cooking until the flour smells like pie crust.
Whisk in the stock, stirring and dragging a flat-edged spoon across the bottom to keep the flour from sticking. The stock will thicken as it comes to a simmer. Taste and, if desired, add a pinch more salt.
You can use the gravy right away or, for a more refined gravy, you can pull the pan to the edge of the burner and lower the heat till it’s at a light simmer on just one side of the pan. Let it cook this way for 20 to 30 minutes, skimming the foam and skin that forms on the cool side of the pan.
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