There are several easy ways to make a delicious gravy. It can be thickened with a cornstarch slurry, made smooth with the addition of a roux, or served simply as the drippings straight from the pan. Gravy made with a roux—a mixture of fat and flour—is an age-old preparation which uses pan drippings from your holiday bird or roast. The roux thickens the gravy while adding an intense flavor and velvety texture. But don't worry if you aren't cooking a whole turkey or beef roast in the oven—you can still make a roux gravy using butter or oil to amp up an ordinary chicken or Salisbury steak.
A Roux Defined
A roux combines equal parts fat from either oil, butter, or the renderings of roasted meats with flour. It can be used as the base of a sauce or as a thickener in dishes such as clam chowder and macaroni and cheese.
Roux ranges in color from pale to deep brown, darkening the longer you cook it. A lighter roux preserves the flavor of the fat, whereas a darker roux takes on its own nutty, caramelized character. Depending on what you are serving, you can decide how long to cook the roux. For example, a clam chowder should retain a white, creamy color so the clam flavor shines through. In this case, a pale quick-cooked roux works best. On the other hand, Gumbo benefits from a deeper, more complex-tasting roux, so cooking it until darker is best. For a holiday gravy, you might prefer something in between, perhaps in the color range of peanut butter.
The Basic Roux Gravy Formula
The ratio of fat to flour to liquid is essential when making a roux-based gravy. You can adjust the amount of fat and flour depending on how thick you like your gravy. To make 1 cup of roux gravy, start with 2 tablespoons of fat, 2 tablespoons of flour, and 1 cup of liquid. If you would like a thinner gravy, decrease the fat and flour measurements to 1 1/2 tablespoons each, to 1 cup of liquid. The liquid can be broth, milk, heavy cream, wine, or any combination depending on how rich you want the finished product.
The Method for Making Roux Gravy
Making a roux gravy isn't difficult. First, determine how much gravy you would like, and then adjust the fat amount up or down as necessary according to the basic formula. If you run out of pan drippings, you can supplement the volume of fat with butter, cooking oil, rendered bacon grease, or melted lard.
You can prepare the gravy right in the roasting pan. Just be sure to first pour off any extra fat beyond the amount you need. This method allows you to scrape up the brown bits of flavor stuck to the bottom of the pan (the brown bits are called fond). Or, if you prefer, transfer the drippings to a clean saucepan or skillet. Before adding the flour, bring the fat back up to a medium-low temperature if it has cooled.
Sprinkle an equal amount of all-purpose or Wondra flour onto the surface of the hot fat and whisk continuously, for at least 5 minutes over low heat to remove the raw flavor of the flour. Add the corresponding ratio of liquid slowly to the roux while continuing to whisk. Bring it to a simmer, whisking continuously to prevent lumps, until it reaches your desired thickness. Keep in mind that the gravy continues to thicken as it cools.
Final Adjustments to Roux Gravy
Once the roux gravy is cooked, you may decide to alter the consistency and flavor a bit. To thin the gravy, add a little more broth. To thicken runny gravy, cook it a little longer. Always taste the gravy and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper before serving.
Use a fat separator if the gravy seems greasy. For an exceptionally smooth gravy, strain it through a sieve into your serving boat or bowl once it has been prepared.