When it comes time to prepare this traditional sauce on Thanksgiving Day, even the most practiced home cook can be reduced to, well, gravy. Perhaps that's because making gravy feels like a test -- as if the results somehow measure our proficiency in the kitchen. Or that we think whisking up gravy should be child's play, though our own experiences have proven otherwise. Too proud to admit defeat, we improvise each year, following what we remember of Grandma's technique, and either end up with so-so gravy or with good results without quite knowing why.
So what happens when you're finishing up at the stove -- as the family waits at the table in anticipation of a delicious meal -- and you find that your gravy falls short of expectations? Here are some simple solutions to six common problems.
If it seems greasy, a fat separator should eliminate this problem. If you discover that your gravy is oily toward the end of its preparation, skim off as much fat as possible with a wide-bowled spoon.
If it's doughy tasting or chalky, make sure the flour has been cooked long enough: When flour is added to the pan drippings or butter, whisk constantly while the mixture cooks until it turns a deep golden brown and smells nutty. If the gravy tastes floury when you're almost finished, turn up the heat to maintain a rapid simmer for several minutes; then thin it again with more stock or water if necessary.
If it has lumps, strain gravy just before serving, using a fine sieve; discard solids.
If it’s too thin, simmer over medium-high heat, allowing liquid to reduce. If your gravy is still too thin, add a beurre manie: Make a paste of equal parts flour and softened unsalted butter, and add it a little at a time, whisking constantly, until the gravy thickens.
If it's too thick, gradually whisk a little stock or water into the gravy until it reaches desired consistency.
If it lacks flavor, you should adjust seasoning as necessary with coarse salt and freshly ground pepper. If you use canned stock instead of homemade, the gravy might lack depth of flavor. Homemade stock, even made with chicken rather than turkey, will produce a superior gravy -- so it's worth the effort.