Bourbon Gravy 101 with Video

(Recipe from THE BIG BOOK OF SIDES; photo by Ben Fink.)

I have shared my recipe for making perfect gravy many times, all over the world.  (No exaggeration: I taught a turkey class in Korea once.) There is more than one way to make this holiday essential, but my version comes from years of experimentation with different methods. I’ve settled on the “make it in the roasting pan technique with degreased drippings” technique.

The beauty of this version is that the ingredients are measured.  Without measuring, perfection that can be elusive.  So, set yourself up with a fat separator (the kind with the spout coming up from the bottom), a flat roux whisk, and some turkey stock…and get ready to make the best gravy you’ve ever had.  My not-so-secret ingredient is bourbon. And here is a video with step-by-step instructions.

The secret to great gravy is measuring. My grandmother would simply stir flour into whatever was in the roasting pan (fat, juices, and browned bits) to make a paste, then add enough broth to thicken the mixture. She was a great lady, but her gravy was unreliable to say the least, because the amount of fat varies with every roast. Separate the fat from the juices and go from there.

  • For every cup of gravy, use 1 cup of liquid (the degreased pan juices combined with an appropriate chicken or beef broth), with a roux made from 1½ tablespoons each flour and the fat from the pan. Just multiply this amount as needed. You may only want 1 cup of gravy for a roast chicken, but 2 quarts for a roast turkey. If you run out of fat from the pan, use melted butter.
  • Allow about 1/3 cup of gravy per person—some people will want more, and some less, so know the appetites of your audience. It’s better to make too much gravy and have leftovers than to run out.
  • A fat (also called gravy) separator is a great utensil, and even if you use it rarely, it is worth the investment. The 2-cup size is fine for chicken and duck, but for larger birds, use the 4-cup model.
  • A flat whisk (also called a roux whisk) is another useful utensil, as it allows you to get into the corners of the pan, and whisks in a wider swath than a narrow whisk. If you have a nonstick roasting pan, use a silicone-coated whisk.
  • During roasting, let the drippings evaporate so they brown to a deep mahogany color, as dark drippings will flavor and color the gravy. To stop them from browning too deeply and burning, add broth or water to the pan. I never need to use gravy coloring.
  • Alcoholic spirits, such as bourbon, pump up the flavors of the other ingredients while adding their own flavor to a dish.  All-American bourbon is the perfect fillip for this gravy, and brandy (or Cognac) is also good. Just be judicious–one or two tablespoons for every cup of gravy is enough. Too much bourbon will simply be too strong.  White wine or vermouth are fine. However red wine and its derivatives (such as sweet vermouth or Port) will only give the gravy a murky color, and are not recommended.
Print Recipe
Bourbon Gravy 101
Any time you have pan drippings from a roast, be it red meat or fowl, you have the beginnings of gravy. Just think of gravy as any roux-based sauce: Make a roux from fat and flour, add a liquid, and simmer. That’s it. Make the gravy directly in the roasting pan so you are sure to get every last bit of the browned meat juices, as these provide flavor and color. The proportions below are for about 2 cups of gravy, so just multiply it out for the amount that you need, allowing about 1/3 cup per person.
Course Sides
Cuisine Thanksgiving
Servings
6 to 8 servings (about 2 cups)
Ingredients
  • pan drippings from roast chicken, turkey, goose, beef, or pork
  • 2 cups reduced-sodium chicken or beef broth (see Note), as needed
  • 1/4 cup bourbon
  • 3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
Course Sides
Cuisine Thanksgiving
Servings
6 to 8 servings (about 2 cups)
Ingredients
  • pan drippings from roast chicken, turkey, goose, beef, or pork
  • 2 cups reduced-sodium chicken or beef broth (see Note), as needed
  • 1/4 cup bourbon
  • 3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
Instructions
  1. Pour the pan drippings into a 2-cup gravy separator (or glass bowl), leaving any browned bits in the bottom of the pan. Let the pan drippings stand for 3 to 5 minutes. Pour off the dark juices from the separator into a liquid measuring cup, leaving the clear fat in the separator. (Or spoon off the fat from the top of the pan drippings in the bowl, and transfer them to a smaller bowl. Pour the degreased juices into a liquid measuring cup.)
  2. Add enough stock to the drippings in the measuring cup to make 2 cups total cooking liquid.
  3. Add 3 tablespoons of the reserved fat to the pan and heat until sizzling over medium-low heat. (If you do not have enough fat, make up the difference with melted butter.) Whisk the flour into the pan. Let the mixture bubble, whisking constantly, until it turns beige, about 1 minutes. Add the bourbon, then the broth mixture and whisk well. (This is your chance to eliminate any lumps, so put some elbow grease into it!) Bring it to a simmer, whisking up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Simmer, whisking occasionally, until the gravy has thickened and lost any taste of raw flour, 2 to 3 minutes. If the gravy seems too thin, increase the heat to medium and boil until it is as thick as you wish. If the gravy seems too thick, thin it with additional stock. Season to taste with salt and pepper. If desired, strain the gravy through a wire sieve to remove any extraneous bits of drippings. Serve it immediately. (Leftover gravy can be cooled, covered, and refrigerated for up to 3 days.)
Recipe Notes

Of course, use chicken broth for poultry and beef for red meats.  Homemade stock is always better than canned broth.  At Thanksgiving, I always use homemade turkey broth, made from the giblets (but not the liver, which is bitter) and turkey parts (such as separately purchased wings or backs).

Comments (3)

  • Annette

    November 9, 2019 12:53 pm
    Turkey Gravy Without the Drippings | We usually smoke our turkey which means I don’t have any drippings for my gravy. Trust me I have tried to make gravy …

    Reply


    • Rick Rodgers

      July 20, 2020 8:15 am
      To make drippings for gravy without roasting the entire bird, buy some turkey wings or other inexpensive parts. If you have a cleaver or heavy knife, chop them up at the joints. Toss with a little cooking oil and spread in a roasting pan. Roast at 400F until browned and they give off fat and drippings, about 1 hour. Reserve the turkey for another use. Use the fat and drippings in the pan to make the gravy. I learned to do this one time at a cooking class when a helper accidentally cleaned the roasting pan from the turkey and tossed out the drippings and fat. I saved the day by roasting the giblets with some other trimmings. Drippings add so much flavor and color to gravy. With smoked turkey, I can gather the drippings if I smoke the turkey on a rack in a foil roasting pan. The problem is that the dripping get very smoky and the gravy is too "strong." Some people like that, but I prefer the gravy to be a counterpoint to the turkey, and I don't need smoky gravy with my smoked turkey.

      Reply


  • Heather

    January 30, 2020 7:14 pm
    Cooking ...

    Reply


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