A Complete Guide to Making Sensational Vegan Gravy

Everything you need to know in order to nail a stellar plant-based gravy that will please omnivores and vegans alike.

Vegan Mushroom Gravy in a white boat
Photo: fabeveryday

While the science of ersatz meat and other vegetarian substitutes for animal products has grown leaps and bounds in the past few years, some things are still harder than others to replicate. One thing many of my vegetarian and vegan friends have noted that they miss or just can't get right is the gravy for Thanksgiving. About six years ago, I was working in a vegan diner and I began experimenting with a vegan brown gravy recipe. After a lot of blood, sweat, and nutritional yeast, I finally landed on the recipe I still use today.

The thing is, this recipe isn't necessarily a recipe at all; I like to think of it as more of a guide. Swap in different seasonings or use a different milk depending on what your tastes are or what you have on hand. This recipe is endlessly riffable and if you stick to the basic technique and ratio of flour, fat, and liquid, your gravy will turn out great every time.

A few notes before we dive in…

The Vessel

I always use my cast iron Dutch oven to make this recipe. It's big and sturdy, and perfect for building up the little brown bits on the bottom of the pan (a.k.a free flavor!). If you don't have one or don't want to use yours, no stress! This recipe can be done in any saucepan that isn't non-stick.

The Fond

Speaking of little brown bits stuck to the pan, this is the single most important aspect of the recipe. It's called a 'fond' and is often created by searing meat, but we're using it here to extract as much flavor as possible from our veggies. It takes a little extra time and it can seem like it's burning but trust the process, I promise this technique will yield a great tasting gravy.

The Milk

If you're keeping this recipe vegan (versus using traditional dairy for a vegetarian-friendly spin) go with the plant milk you like best. However, I would definitely recommend choosing a milk with a high fat content for this recipe; a good bet is anything that says "barista style" or something similar on the label.

The Yeast

This recipe calls for nutritional yeast and if you're not already familiar, it's a yellowish flake that is often used in vegetarian and vegan foods. It's very savory, lightly cheesy, and pleasantly nutty in flavor, but usually contains no sodium despiste it's natural umami flavor. It also contains all nine amino acids making it a complete protein — basically, a nutritional and flavor powerhouse. Nutritional yeast can sometimes be difficult to find depending on where you live, but in the past few years it's been popping up more and more at supermarkets around the country. So if you don't already have some on hand, I'd highly suggest picking up a jar for this recipe (and using the rest on popcorn!). If you're not sure your local grocery store carries nutritional yeast, it's easily found online.

The Shrooms

Now, the super secret umami flavor bomb here is the dried porcini mushrooms. They can be found at most well-stocked grocery stores with a bit of digging, as well as online. Using the soaking liquid as well as the rehydrated mushrooms themselves is what really makes an unforgettable vegetable-based gravy. Once you try them, you'll always want to have them in your back pocket for any vegetarian or vegan recipe that could use a boost of savoriness.

Mushroom House Dried Porcini Mushrooms

dried porcini mushrooms

How to Make Vegetarian Brown Gravy

  • Dried porcini mushrooms
  • 4 tablespoons vegan butter, divided
  • Half an onion, diced
  • 1 rib celery, diced as small as possible
  • Splash of wine
  • 1½ teaspoons dried sage (or 4-5 large fresh sage leaves)
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme (or 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves)
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup plant-based milk
  • 3 teaspoons soy sauce
  • ½ teaspoon vegan Worcestershire sauce (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons nutritional yeast
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder

1. Before you get started, bring about 3 cups of water to a boil. Put all the dried mushrooms in a large, heatproof bowl and pour the boiling water over them. Leave them on the counter to soak for at least 20 minutes, but longer is better. Once they've soaked, drain the mushrooms and reserve the liquid. Once the mushrooms are cool enough to handle, roughly chop them and set aside.

2. To prepare the gravy, heat your saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat and melt 1 tablespoon of butter. Once melted, add in the onion and celery, seasoning liberally with salt and pepper. Let cook until the veggies start to brown and stick to the pan slightly, about 8-10 minutes. Add in a splash of wine to deglaze the pan, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to get all of the toasty little bits off the bottom.

3. Once the wine has evaporated, add in the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter and the herbs. Once the butter is melted, add in the flour, making sure to sprinkle it evenly over all of the veggies. Stir well to form a roux and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the roux is slightly darkened, stirring constantly.

4. Carefully add in about a quarter of the reserved mushroom soaking liquid, quickly whisking to prevent lumps (this will create some steam so be careful!). Add in all the milk, again whisking vigorously to prevent lumps. Once you see a few bubbles, add in about half of your remaining porcini soaking liquid. Next, add in the soy sauce, vegan Worcestershire sauce (if using), nutritional yeast, and onion powder. Stir to combine and add in your chopped mushrooms.

5. Simmer on low for about 10-15 minutes. Taste for flavor and texture, adding in more salt or more liquid until the flavor and consistency is to your liking.

Variations and Substitutions

-This gravy is vegan as written, but if you're cooking for a vegetarian crowd and prefer to use traditional dairy products, you can easily swap out the vegan butter and plant-based milk for traditional butter and cow's milk.

-Try adding paprika and cayenne and omitting the sage for a cajun-style gravy, perfect for biscuits and gravy.

-Add in pre-cooked and crumbled veggie sausage and more milk (and less of the mushroom liquid) for a country-style gravy.


What if my gravy is lumpy?

Despite what others may say, lumpy gravy is not the end of the world! Everything is going to be OK. We have a few options here so you can try the one that best suits your needs. The first and simplest option is to just whisk, whisk, whisk. Really put your back into it, if the lumps are not too firm this should do the trick. If that doesn't work you can either strain your gravy to remove the lumps or give it a quick whiz in the blender or with an immersion blender (off the heat and carefully!). If you choose to strain, you'll lose the little bits of celery and onion, but don't sweat it — their flavor will linger. If you choose to blend, the celery and onion will be broken down into the gravy which will make their flavor a little more intense. Blending might also change the texture of your gravy slightly but it will definitely still be delicious and your guests will be none the wiser.

What if my gravy is too thick?

An easy fix! Just splash in a bit of water or veggie stock if you happen to have some on hand and whisk away. You can also use any leftover porcini liquid you might still have. Just be sure to taste and adjust your seasoning accordingly.

What if my gravy is too thin?

Not to worry! The easiest (and most effective) route here is to scoop about half a spoonful of cornstarch into a small bowl and mix in a few spoonfuls of water until it's smooth, and then whisk it into your gravy. Let the gravy cook over medium-low for a few minutes while stirring, and you should see it start to thicken. If it's still too runny, repeat the process again.

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