50 Shades of Gravy

Gravy’s got a brand-new gig.

It’s a cornbread layer cake filled with stuffing, frosted with mashed potatoes and iced with dripping ribbons of rich brown gravy. Just think of it, one slice and you’ve downed most of the holiday meal — no gravy boat required.

A fad? Probably, but photos abound on Pinterest and Twitter. Check it out. Like most people, I’m partial to a more traditional approach to gravy for the holidays (and I also like pulling out the old gravy boat). But that doesn’t mean there aren’t options. Below are a few superstars in the gravy world.

Pan Gravy: Make this right in the roasting pan once the turkey is done. Flour cooked in the turkey drippings makes the gravy thick.

Giblet Gravy: Adding giblets along with roasted carrots, onion and celery creates the flavor base. White wine pulls it all together, and flour thickens it up.

Creole Daube: A roux-based red gravy often served with beef.

“The essence of gravy is the simple combination of roasted meat drippings with flour. Get that combination right, and then get creative,” said Chef Stephen Huth, my brother-in-law and owner of Restaurant Cypress in Metairie. “You can throw in some bourbon, wine, cider — anything you want after that — and it’s still considered a gravy.”

While giblets are somewhat controversial, they can add both flavor and texture to turkey gravy. If you’ve got the pluck to handle them, keep these tips in mind:

  • Take the giblet bag out of the turkey’s innards the night before, and rinse and store the giblets in a plastic bag. That way you won’t forget to remove them before roasting the bird.
  • Cut the turkey neck into small (one-inch) pieces with a heavy knife.
  • In a medium saucepan, cover the neck and other organs with water, bring to a boil and then simmer for an hour or so.
  • Chop up the giblets and remove the meat from the neck (remember, you have to have some pluck). Set aside until you’re ready to make the gravy.

For those who prefer a velvety gravy (sans giblets), I asked Stephen to share his number-one tip for making gravy that’s silky smooth. All gravy, he said, should be made with a lightweight flour like Wondra, which dissolves quickly and mixes more easily than normal, all-purpose flour.
Sounds simple enough, but if gravy makes you nervous, try a store-bought version. Rouses selection includes dry mix packets, Heinz HomeStyle Gravy in a jar, and gravy seasoning mixes like Tony Chachere’s Creole Brown Gravy Mix. I remember a friend of mine (who shall remain anonymous) claimed to “make her own gravy” by purchasing three different types of store-bought gravy, mixing them up, and pouring them into her vintage porcelain gravy boat. She destroyed all the evidence before her family and friends arrived, and no one ever knew the difference.