There’s a reason why people say “It’s all gravy” when things are going their way. A good gravy ties things together; it can turn a dry roast juicy and flavorful, cover up the sins of lumpy mashed potatoes, and at its best, makes it feel like you’re taking buttery biscuits for a dip in your favorite swimming hole.
A challenge with so many gravy recipes is that they are either so specific to the dish they’re being served with or so generic that they don’t help you learn how to consistently make a smooth and delicious gravy.
For this gravy recipe, our goal was to develop a simple technique that can be used with any meal and versatile enough to be adapted to fit the flavor profile of whatever dishes are being served.
This recipe has well-balanced flavors that come from a simple fortified stock, along with fresh thyme, and mustard powder that complements the bite from the paprika to create a gravy that is both interesting and familiar.
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How to Make Gravy
In its simplest form, gravy is a thickened sauce usually served with roasts, potatoes, biscuits, vegetables, and more.
All it takes to make gravy from scratch is a fat, thickener, and liquid. The most common fats include butter or pan drippings from a roast or other dish that will be served with the gravy.
The two most common thickeners are flour and corn starch. Common liquids include pan juices, stocks that are often fortified with additional seasonings, water, wine, milk, and cream.
The flavor in a gravy starts with the liquid being used, the more flavorful the liquid, the better tasting the gravy.
To keep this gravy recipe simple, we start with a basic stock that can be bought at the grocery store and fortify it with a few aromatics. An excellent way to ensure a gravy’s flavor matches the dish it is being served with is to use whichever stock or broth (chicken, beef, vegetable, fish, etc.) corresponds to the main dish being served.
Fortifying a stock is as simple as sauteeing a few vegetables in a saucepan, adding the stock, and letting it simmer for 30 to 40 minutes. As it cooks, the color and flavor will deepen in ways that improve its quality.
The types of stock readily available from grocery stores are a good place to start if you don’t have the time or inclination to make your own. As you can see in the picture below, simmering stock with aromatics for as little as 30 minutes deepens its color and enhances its flavors.
The simplest way to thicken and season gravy is to start with a roux. A roux is a classic cooking technique that browns equal parts flour and fat in a pan before adding liquid.
A tip for more robust flavors is to add the herbs or spices being used to the flour before cooking it in the pan. The heat from the pan helps release their flavors as the flour browns.
To bring everything together, add the cooking liquid to the roux a cup at a time, whisking it in as it starts to thicken. Once all the liquid has been incorporated, add any additional seasonings and let the sauce thicken over a low simmer.
It usually takes 10 to 15 minutes of cooking time for the gravy to thicken as it simmers. It should be stirred regularly with a whisk as it cooks. The gravy will continue to thicken once it comes off the heat.
Simple Ways to Season Gravy
The best gravies have a smooth texture, are well seasoned, and compliment the dishes they’re being served with. You can always tell people love a gravy when they keep grabbing seconds of things, so they have something to sop it up.
We’ve designed the recipe below to be easy to make and endlessly customizable based on the dishes being served. Here are some ideas for how to make the gravy your own.
Fresh herbs are one of the best ways to season roasts and help to brighten the flavors in a gravy. Add a teaspoon of minced rosemary, thyme, sage, or oregano to give it a pop of flavor.
Adding milk, cream, sour cream, or extra butter can give the gravy a creamy richness with an almost silky texture. The addition of dairy is also an easy way to thin out a sauce that has gotten a little too thick.
Depth of flavor
Whenever a gravy ends up tasting one dimensional, it’s a good idea to add something to deepen and round out its flavor. A few of our favorites include wine, good mustard, or even ground mustard powder. When adding wine to a gravy, use the same type of wine that you’ll serve with the meal.
Another great way to add depth is to add more umami. The simplest way to increase the umami flavor in a dish is to add a half tsp of Umami Powder and half tsp of Msg to the stock as it cooks. If you want to know why this works read Everything You Need to Know About Umami.
There is no reason why gravy should be boring. A few easy ways to add zip to gravy is to add a teaspoon or two of your favorite hot sauce, some apple cider vinegar, or a little cayenne, cumin, or chili powder.
Add them a 1/2 teaspoon at a time, tasting as you go to match the heat to your taste preferences.
It can be nice when you’re serving smoked chicken, turkey, or beef for the gravy to have a touch of smokiness. To add a hint of smokiness, substitute a teaspoon of smoked paprika for the paprika in the recipe, or add a couple of tablespoons of juices from whatever is being cooked in the smoker.
If you’re interested in recipes focused on gravies for specific dishes, check out our Turkey Giblet Gravy that is designed to make any turkey a star or the gravy from our Slow Roasted Roast Beef recipe that uses pan juices to create a robustly flavored gravy that is a perfect match for classic roast beef flavors.
A Few Tips for Easy Gravy
To help make sure no one complains about lumps in their gravy or that the taste reminds them of the paste they used to eat as kids, we’ve collected a few tips to make sure your gravy turns out silky smooth and full of flavor.
Start by making a roux, then add the cooking liquid or stock whisking as you go to incorporate it into the sauce. This prevents clumping and that horrible over-floured taste that comes from adding flour straight to a pan full of drippings or stock.
A trick when making stock is to reduce the cooking liquid before making the sauce to concentrate the stock’s flavors. Make sure not to add salt to the stock before reducing, or it can quickly end up tasting salty.
Use herbs and spices to build layers of flavor. People are counting on the gravy to hide the boring, bland taste of other dishes, so don’t disappoint them with something tepid and restrained.
Our testing found that a good ratio of butter and flour to liquid is 2 tablespoons of butter and flour to every cup of liquid.
If the gravy develops a skin across the top while it’s cooking, use a whisk to stir it back into the sauce, making sure to scrape the sides of the pan. There’s no reason to skim it off the top, which just creates extra work and can be messy.
If the gravy ends up a little salty or if other flavors are overpowering it, add a 1/4 cup of water at a time whisking as it’s added. Once the water has been incorporated, taste it and adjust the seasonings. The process can be repeated as needed.
Gravy can be made several days ahead of time, which is particularly helpful for big holiday meals. It can be kept in the fridge for four to five days.
The easiest way to reheat gravy is in a saucepan on the stove over low heat. The gravy will start with the consistency of jelly that will thin out as it warms.
To thicken runny gravy, make a small bit of roux in a separate pan and add it to the gravy, simmering it until it reaches the desired consistency. Do not add flour directly to the sauce. Adding flour directly to gravy is the leading cause of lumps and can easily ruin its flavor.
To thin gravy, after it’s been heated through, add a couple of tablespoons of stock, wine, or water. Slowly stir the liquid into the sauce until it starts to thin out.
What to Serve with Homemade Gravy
Having a simple gravy recipe at your fingertips makes it easier to whip up a batch of gravy whenever you’re roasting something for dinner or serving something starchy on the side. This recipe is particularly delicious with our Rosemary and Thyme Chicken, Sous Vide Pork Chops, or Smoked Pork Loin.
Let us know in the comments below your tips and tricks for making this gravy your own.
- 2 ½ cups stock, chicken, beef, or veggie, sodium free preferred
- 1/2 cup white onion, roughly chopped
- 1 clove garlic, chopped
- 1 stalk celery, chopped
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 sprigs of thyme
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1/4 cup flour
- 1 1/2 tsp thyme, minced, fresh preferred
- 1/2 tsp paprika
- 1/2 tsp mustard powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- In a good-sized saucepan, saute the onions, celery, and garlic for 2 to 3 minutes in a little olive oil.1/2 cup white onion, 1 clove garlic, 1 stalk celery
- Add the stock, bay leaf, and sprigs of thyme. Reduce the heat to a low simmer and cook for 30 to 40 minutes.2 ½ cups stock, 1 bay leaf, 2 sprigs of thyme
- While the stock is simmering, mix the flour with thyme, paprika, mustard powder, salt, and pepper.2 sprigs of thyme, 1/4 cup flour, 1 1/2 tsp thyme, 1/2 tsp paprika, 1/2 tsp mustard powder, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper
- When the stock has finished fortifying, strain everything out and set the liquid aside. There should be approximately 2 cups of liquid remaining.
- In a saucepan, make a roux by whisking the seasoned butter and flour together over medium heat. Once the roux has turned golden brown, slowly pour in the stock while whisking.1/4 cup butter
- Reduce the heat to a low simmer and whisk occasionally until the gravy has reached its desired consistency. This usually takes 7 to 12 minutes.
- The gravy will continue to thicken as it cools.