Making good gravy can be a tricky job. Many very good cooks never learn how. What is good gravy?
* It should be flavorful.
* It should be thick, but pour easily (the exception being thin gravy such as au jus)
* It should have the proper color, i.e., white should be white; blond should be blond; brown should be brown (DUH!)
* It should NOT have a flour taste.
* It should NOT be greasy.
* It should not be lumpy.
So, what's the secret to good gravy?
Mostly experience and following a few simple tips. Unfortunately, experience can not be taught. But with experience you will know when the gravy "looks right". And, of course, taste right. You will not make good gravy every time until you know from your own experience when it looks right.
But following a few tips will get you on the road to that experience. Perhaps the most important tip is to get the roux right first. Roux (pronounced "ruu") is a mixture of flour and oil and it determines the thickness and color of the gravy. Flavor can be accomplished simply by following the recipe and tasting as you cook but the thickness and color is determined by the roux (and cooking time).
Tips for Making Roux
The oil used can be bacon drippings, grease left in the pan after cooking meat, cooking oil or olive oil. Bacon drippings add a lot of flavor but you can use any type oil.
Although not a hard rule, start with about equal parts of oil and flour, perhaps 4 tablespoons of oil and 4 tablespoons flour.
Heat the oil first, then add a little flour while stirring. The mixture should be bubbling hot. Watch the consistency and color of the roux closely while continuing to stir and add flour.
The thickness should be a thin paste with no visible oil or lumps. If it is oily, add flour. If it is lumpy or dry, make sure it is bubbling hot and add oil as needed while constantly stirring. Remember, you want a thin
The second thing you are looking for while making the roux is the color. If you want a white gravy, cook just until you get a paste and the roux is white. If you want a blond (slightly tan) gravy, continue to cook until the roux is golden color. If you want a brown gravy, cook until roux turns a dark drown. Remember to stir constantly or it will burn.
When the roux looks right, start adding liquid. Generally milk or stock/broth (chicken, vegetable or beef). Milk or water may be used, but stock adds more flavor. If you start with a roux made from the above example of 4 tablespoons oil and 4 tablespoons flour, add 1 cup liquid slowly while stirring. Bring back to a simmer and continue adding liquid, watching thickness of the gravy. You will probably end up using about 1 to 2 cups of liquid. Be aware that the gravy will get thicker as it cools, so finish your cooking with a thickness slightly thinner than you want the final gravy.
The longer you cook the gravy, the thicker it will get. So, this is a critical point in making good gravy. You must learn from experience when the thickness is what you want, then remove from heat immediately.
And that is the secret to making good gravy. But, let's look at a couple of tips on how to add flavor.
Nothing adds flavor like onion.
In the above example add 1/3 cup chopped onions in the hot oil before adding the flour. Cook the onions just until they are tender. Do not allow to start turning brown. When the onions are soft and tender, tilt the skillet and push the onions to the elevated side while the oil flows to the lower side. While holding the skillet tilted, start adding the flour to the oil while stirring. When you have the proper roux level the skillet and mix the roux and onions together.
Salt and Pepper:
if your gravy is bland or slightly flour tasting, add salt. Good cooks that make great gravy always taste the gravy as a last step before removing from the heat. And don't forget a healthy dose of black pepper for flavor.
As previously mentioned, while milk or water may be used as the liquid, vegetable, beef or chicken stock (broth) will rev up the taste of your gravy. Broth may be purchased ready to use or make your own with water and bouillon cubes.
Finally, for flavor you may add a few drops of liquid smoke, Tabasco sauce or BBQ sauce. But be very careful, don't overdo it. You do not want your gravy to have a distinct barbecue flavor. You just want to spice it up a bit so taste, taste, taste!.
You may try adding a little minced garlic but, again, taste as you go.
We've emphasized the fact that the roux is the key to good gravy. All the steps are important but, quite simply, the best flavored gravy is awful if it is thick and lumpy or thin and watery. But anyone can make good gravy. Follow the tips here and keep on making gravy.
You can see our Southern sausage gravy recipe HERE
Check out our video on making sausage gravy HERE