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Ultimate Make Ahead Gravy
Credit: Photo: Hector Sanchez

Homemade turkey gravy is a point of pride for Thanksgiving cooks and the favorite part of the feast for many of us. It's the rich, velvety, finishing touch for the entire plate. Now that many cooks are salt-brining their turkeys to ensure the meat is moist and well-seasoned, our pan drippings and homemade stock–the core elements of homemade gravy—can turn out saltier than we expect, which can result in gravy that's too salty.

The best defense is a good offense. If you brine your turkey, taste the drippings in the roasting pan before you begin the gravy. If they're exceptionally salty, dilute them with another type of flavorful fat, such as unsalted butter, bacon fat, or duck fat.

If your gravy is already finished, here are a few things to try to reduce or offset excess saltiness:

  • Whisk in a whole dairy product, such as a splash of cream, half-and-half, or crème fraiche. You can also use full-fat sour cream or plain yogurt, although it might make the gravy too tangy. Do not let the gravy boil after adding any dairy product.
  • Dilute the gravy with unsalted liquid stock or broth. Homemade is best here because it has strong meaty flavor not found in most store-bought stocks. Avoid bouillon cubes and granules, which are also quite salty and will worsen the problem.

The additional liquid will thin the gravy, of course, so you might need to thicken it with a cornstarch slurry, which is nothing more than cornstarch dissolved in a little cold water. Bring the gravy to a boil after adding the slurry to activate its thickening powers. Don't be tempted to sprinkle dry cornstarch directly in to the gravy. It will lump in ways that you cannot whisk away.

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Similarly, you can't sprinkle in dry flour at this stage. To use flour to thicken finished gravy, you need to mix the flour with fat and make a simple roux or beurre manie. To use roux, melt a few tablespoons of butter in a small saucepan and whisk in an equal amount of flour, whisking until smooth. Cook over medium heat until the mixture bubbles gently and then cook for 2 minutes to eliminate the raw flour taste. Whisk the roux a spoonful at a time into the warm gravy until the gravy thickens. To use beurre manie, use your fingertips to knead together equal portions of flour and butter in a small bowl until the mixture is thick and smooth. Form the beurre manie into marble-size balls and whisk them one at a time into the warm gravy until it thickens.

  • Whisk in a splash of alcohol, such as sherry, tawny port, madeira, brandy, bourbon, or semi-dry white wine. It doesn't reduce the saltiness, but it can help  balance the flavors.
  • Whisk in fresh lemon juice or good vinegar one teaspoon at a time. The goal is to balance the saltiness, not turn the gravy citrusy or sour.
  • Whisk in a big pinch of sugar. Again, the goal is to balance and counteract the saltiness, not make the gravy sweet.

Wondering about the old advice of simmering a raw potato in gravy? Alas, it doesn't work. Although potatoes do soak up salt as they cook, they don't reduce the salinity of the cooking liquid.

This story originally appeared on southernliving.com