Gravy, baby. It's the savory cherry on top of Thanksgiving dinner. But we've all had the displeasure of disappointing gravy—lumpy, gluey, saturated with flour, bland (or too salty)—and it can throw off even the best turkey day meal. We asked Bon Appétit's test kitchen director (and gravy guru) Mary-Frances Heck to name the top mistakes home cooks make and how to avoid such tragedies. Heed her advice, and you'll be riding the gravy train.
1. Not Making a Roux
A silky-smooth gravy depends on a roux, which is just butter or oil cooked with flour. Learn how to make one here. And make more, just in case you run into mistake #3.
2. Making It Too Thick
Gloppy, overly thick gravy is kind of gross. (Gloppy, overly thick anything is kind of gross.) Thin it out by adding liquid (water, chicken stock, or turkey stock), tablespoon by tablespoon, to get it where it needs to be. You want it full-bodied and rich, so that it coats the back of a spoon—it shouldn't be drain-stopping material.
3. Making It Too Thin
First, taste your gravy. If it's too watery, simmer it for a few more minutes to concentrate its flavor. If you like the flavor but not the consistency, add extra roux. Whisk it into boiling gravy little by little until you reach what you deem perfection.
4. Seasoning With Salt Before It's Reduced
Salt concentrates as your gravy simmers; if you go overboard before you reduce, you may be in trouble. Focus on the texture of the gravy, then add a pinch of salt at a time to taste. If you do end up making it too salty, here's a trick: Cut a large potato into 1-inch pieces and simmer them in your gravy until they are tender. Then strain the gravy, discarding the potato. The starchy potato sucks up some of the salt, so your gravy may be salvaged.
Lumpy gravy is a Thanksgiving no-no. Usually it means that you didn't incorporate the roux well enough into the liquid (learn how to do that here). Try whisking vigorously to break up the clumps. If that doesn't work, just strain the gravy. Which brings us to ...
6. Not Straining It
It's a good idea to simmer onions, herbs, and other aromatics to enhance flavor, but chunky gravy is not for the Thanksgiving table—you want it to be silky-smooth. Strain it to get rid of all the extra flavor-giving ingredients (and clumps).
7. Serving It Cold
Nobody likes cold gravy! It should be the very last thing you make and it should be piping hot when it hits the boat. To keep it warm on the table, pour boiling water into your gravy boat before you pour in the gravy. The vessel will be nice and hot, keeping the gravy warm longer. Or, get one of these. —Mary-Frances Heck