Why Your Turkey Gravy Needs Burnt Onions

Photo: Claire Lower

Turkey gravy causes almost as much kitchen anxiety as a turkey does. Thought it’s a simple sauce comprised of fat, flour and stock, nailing both the viscosity and flavour profile can require some amount of fussing and fiddling. Both goals are made more attainable by burning an onion.

Burnt (not caramelised) onions are a sort of secret weapon for sauces and dressings. The onion thickens the gravy slightly, which is nice if you didn’t make quite enough roux, but it also just tastes really, really good. They have a deep, roasted, umami-packed flavour. To me, it’s a flavour that has a developed quality to it. Burnt onion doesn’t taste “thrown together”; it communicates “this thing was cooked for a while, and it was cooked with love and attention.”

This quality makes it an excellent add-in for any gravy, but its ability to make a jar of store-bought taste homemade is pretty startling. Similar to our burnt onion ranch, the charred allium obscures telltale synthetic flavours that often accompany mass-produced food products. Depending on how seasoned your gravy is, one whole onion is plenty for two-to-four cups of gravy, and the process is simple. You can burn the onion a few days ahead of time, then blitz into your gravy just before serving. To make it, you will need:

  • 1 white onion

  • 1 tablespoon of oil

  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt

  • At least 2 cups of gravy, either store-bought or homemade

Halve and slice the onion into thin semi-circles. Heat the oil over high heat in a large stainless steel pan, add the onions, and sprinkle them with salt. Give ‘em a quick stir to get the oil evenly distributed, then leave everything alone for a bit. Once the onions start to burn, start stirring them occasionally, until they look like this:

Photo: Claire Lower

Remove the onions from the pan, let them cool, then puree half of them into two cups of gravy with a hand blender. Taste, and blitz in the other half if you want more of that deep, roasted flavour.


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