Mercury is now entering gravy. Which means we’re going to see it everywhere pretty soon: blanketing meatloaf, pooling around buttermilk biscuits like a medieval moat, and bringing Thanksgiving turkeys to new heights. That doesn’t change the way I feel about gravy: meh. Like drinking hot water instead of a steamy mug of Earl Grey, it’s just missing something. That something is chili crisp.
Traditional turkey gravy is made by cooking butter, flour, and stock (or water) with the browned bits leftover after roasting a hunk of meat. Other recipes skip the drippings and find flavor from aromatics like herbs, mushrooms, and alliums. And some gravies are lugged home from the grocery store in a box. Whichever route you go, most of them lack a certain “depth of flavor,” test kitchen director Chris Morocco messaged me recently. “You can make it as thick as you want, or as salty as you want, and dump in all the butter in the world, but a good gravy needs richness of flavor.”
Chili crisp brings a triumvirate of important things: peppery heat, crackly texture, and umami to the max. There are tons of great brands out there. But Morocco recommends using Lao Gan Ma Spicy Chili Crisp, the iconic, red-lidded product often credited with kicking off America’s obsession with the condiment. The name translates to “old grandmother,” which is how you know it’s going to be good. Another reason is the addition of monosodium glutamate (MSG) and soybeans—both of which add a super savoriness and “wonderful base of flavor” to your gravy, said Morocco—as well as Sichuan pepper powder, crunchy fried onions, and sugar for mild, balancing sweetness.
I’m going to stir a tablespoon into my turkey gravy this Thanksgiving, but the formula works with any roast meat (or biscuits or mashed potatoes or, well, you get the idea). There is one potential drawback: Chili crisp is decently oily, “so you want to make sure you haven’t added so much that you get a slick on top of your gravy,” Morocco said. Add a teaspoon at a time to your finished gravy until you’ve reached a platonic flavor ideal. “And hold back on seasoning,” warned Morocco, since chili crisps can be salty already.
Beyond chili crisp, there are plenty of other ingredients that’ll quickly and easily enliven a so-so gravy. Try stirring in another favorite condiment, like Worcestershire sauce for a sweet tang, mustard for heat and acid, a Japanese curry brick for deep savoriness and spice, or hot sauce for a little zing. Like with the chili crisp, start with a small amount and add more to taste.
The stars are probably never going to perfectly align for gravy and me—this is not the kind of effortless love that lasts a lifetime. But with chili crisp in the mix, we’re having a fun seasonal fling.
It’s all gravy: