Cognac Is Ina Garten's Secret To Unbeatable Holiday Gravy

Gravy is an integral part of holiday meals. Without it, neither Thanksgiving nor Christmas dinner would be quite the same. But that doesn't mean that you have to use the same old recipe year after year. So why not try some surprising additions to give your gravy a boost this time around? All sorts of options abound, from different sauces to exotic spices and even unexpected fruits or vegetables. Then, of course, there's the alcohol. Wine is a common ingredient used by chefs and home cooks alike, but what about hard liquor? When it comes to unbeatable gravy, the secret is in the spirits, according to Ina Garten. Specifically, cognac is the key.

It won't take much, either. Just a dash of the stuff will go a long way toward amping up the flavor. And because there is so little added, you won't have to worry about the alcohol content of your gravy. What doesn't burn off will be diluted adequately by the rest of the ingredients, so it won't be enough to register.

Is it okay to use brandy instead of cognac?

Ina Garten is best known for her television cooking show, "The Barefoot Contessa," where she is also known for using cognac in a variety of dishes. But cognac can be expensive, and if you don't usually drink the stuff, it might not be worth buying a whole bottle just to make your holiday gravy. This begs the question: Is there anything that you can use as a substitute? Of course! Since cognac is, by definition, still brandy (albeit fancy brandy produced in France under specific conditions), it's perfectly acceptable to use the cheaper version. It's the underlying notes and flavors that you are going for, after all.

The smoothness of cognac is more important when it is being served straight up versus going into a recipe. And Garten herself does allow for brandy as an option if you prefer. Truly, there's no reason to break the bank on an expensive French cognac unless you're also going to be sipping it while you cook or serving it with dinner.

What notes will cognac or brandy add?

As some of the sweeter high alcohol-content liquors, cognac, and brandy will impart that same element into your gravy, resulting in a smooth, multi-faceted flavor profile. The liquor's fruitiness will further add to the depth of flavor. And, since both are aged in oak, you can expect some smoky notes of vanilla to come through as well. You might even get a little hint of spiciness, depending on the particular brand that you end up using.

If you've never added a sweet element to your gravy before, it might be hard to imagine how it will benefit from the fruitiness of cognac or brandy. Rest assured, it will not be overwhelming or cloying by any means. Instead, it will be just enough to set this year's holiday gravy apart from all the rest. Not only will it be a nice change of pace from the typical savory sauce, but there's a good chance it will be the star of your dinner.