By Jason Masters
Environmental Health Director
Hi Jason, quick question. Can you tell me about gravy? Why should I *Be Serious* about food safety when it comes to gravy? The gravy is my family’s favorite part of the meal, and with Thanksgiving coming up, I’d really like to know more about how to make the best and safest gravy for my perfectly roasted turkey.
Happy Thanksgiving Paul! You know, this is a question that I always get asked this time of year. Everybody wants to know the secret ingredient to making a great gravy. Well, I want you know that I have that secret, and I’ll be happy to share it with you guys. You know, gravy is the thing people remember, and the thing people get upset about when it’s gone. It doesn’t matter what you’ve got on your plate, if there is gravy available, you pour it on. You pour that gravy on EVERYTHING. “Boy, you get some gravy on that plate!” my dad would command… “But Dad, its chocolate chip pecan pie…” I’d respond. “Don’t you sass me, boy!” And THAT’S how I learned to love and appreciate gravy. True story.
Now another thing you need to know is the difference between a gravy and a sauce. Gravy IS a sauce, and most of the gravies we are familiar with are actually just derivatives of one of the 5 classic French sauces. So the real difference between a gravy and a sauce is simply cultural semantics. In some applications, we call it a gravy, as in “biscuits and gravy”, other times it’s a sauce, as in “spaghetti sauce”. The one thing that all the sauces have in common (well, except one) is the use of a roux. A roux is just flour and a fat cooked together to form a paste. Once you have that down, the rest is easy. Now you don’t really need to know all the classic French “mother” sauces, but if you are really interested, you can find them here [https://guide.michelin.com/hk/en/hong-kong-macau/dining-in/the-5-mother-sauces-of-french-cuisine/news]
For the purposes of this article, (and for the purposes of Thanksgiving, duh…) we are going to focus on the Veloute sauce. Its super basic and super easy once you know the secret. It’s starts as just your basic roux. In this case, we get our fat from the drippings (or “drippins” as I like to call them) from the roasted turkey, and mix it with the flour to form that paste we talked about earlier. Then we add some stock, and BOOM, we got gravy. Seriously that simple.
So if it’s so easy to make, then why am I talking about it? What’s the food safety issue here? Well, I’ll tell you. It’s a little bacteria known as Bacillus Cereus (or B. Cereus…see what I did there?) and it wants to hang around your thanksgiving gravy like your weird uncle who keeps dipping his fingers into everything… (You know who you are…). Bacillus Cereus likes the warm, comfy feel of a gravy blanket, and honestly, who wouldn’t? It is naturally found in the environment, and is a spore former that is pretty good at resisting hot and cold temperatures. So how do you keep this little guy at bay? Easy! Keep your gravy hot! Hot holding temperatures in restaurants are at least 135 degrees F for all food products. No exception for home use. You don’t have to keep it boiling, but a nice, even heat will keep that delicious gravy safe. Remember, nobody likes tepid gravy except Bacillus Cereus, and he wasn’t even invited! If you want to make your gravy ahead of time, (which, let’s be honest, is a great idea, but nobody ever does that) just make sure to cool your gravy properly, and refrigerate at correct temperatures. Remember, we talked about thawing turkeys last year and how much time it takes…(24 hours for every 4 pounds of bird)…so you are going to be limited on space in your otherwise empty fridge. Don’t make the mistake of leaving your gravy on the counter because you have 14 different casseroles in there. When it’s time to reheat that gravy, just make sure it comes up to at least 165 degrees, and then holds at 135 or above. How are you going to know what temperature it is? Use your meat thermometer! I know you already have it set out to use on your turkey…right? Obviously you remember the final cook temperature for turkey…no reason for me to mention that turkey needs to reach 165 degrees to be safe. No reason for me to remind you that if you have stuffing in that bird, that stuffing needs to reach 165 degrees, too…
So, as promised, here is the secret to a great thanksgiving gravy (or Veloute)…The secret ingredient is not an ingredient, it’s a measurement. This is where a lot of people mess it up, but all you have to remember is this…(mostly) equal parts flour and fat. Simple as that. A good amount of gravy is about 4 cups. I mean, that’s good enough for most families; that should take care of about 10 or so people. Not my family…we need about one cup per person. But that’s beside the point. Cook your fat and flour together until nice and brown, about 5 tablespoons of each. The color of your final gravy is correlated to the color of your roux, so if you like a nice, light gravy, just cook your roux until its lightly browned. If you like a deeper, richer gravy, cook it until it’s a little darker. Cooking it longer will also take out the slightly raw taste of the flour. Now one thing to keep in mind… If you don’t have enough fat from your drippings, you can either substitute butter, or add butter until you have equal amounts. Won’t hurt a thing. When you have reached your desired color, start slowly adding your stock. You will need about 4 cups or so. Whisk continuously, and bring to a boil. This is important. The boil is the kill step in the process. E. Coli can survive in dry flour, so don’t skip that step! After the boil, reduce to a simmer and taste. Toss in some salt and pepper if you need to, or throw in a sprig of thyme or sage. If you feel fancy, splash in some white wine. Congratulations! You just made a French sauce! Brag about to your family about how you are an international chef!
Have a great Thanksgiving!