From Too Many Chefs -

April 6, 2005
Good Gravy, Charlie Brown!

When the boy and I got back from Chicago, I picked up a leg of lamb so that our reunited little family could share an Easter dinner together here in Paris. I know a lot of people out there seem to think that simply skimming the fat off the meat juices is enough to make a nice sauce for a roast. But I am a complete gravy freak and can't imagine wasting good gravy material in such a senseless irresponsible manner. I come from a family of amazing gravy-makers. They don't use packets of powdered gravy. They don't use bouillon cubes, as a former boyfriend (and self proclaimed great chef) used to do. Aunts, mother and grandmothers, they all somehow manage to take a few bare spoonfuls of drippings and fat and turn them into an overflowing basin of dark, rich gravy. It's an amazing heritage and it's no wonder that I'm a gravy freak today.

When I first started tackling roast meats I assumed that gravy was a simple matter. I'd watched my mother make it for years and I knew her routine: put a little flour and a little water in a jar, close it, shake it, pour it in the pan with the juices, cook down, salt and pepper and voilą...floury tasteless pale vaguely meat sauce!

It took me a while to realize that great gravy makers are not born, they are trained. They get good because they make gravy over and over and over. They also listen to their mothers and grandmothers, who told them "You really do have to let it cook down for a very, very long time." They have to go against their modern instincts and become as heavy-handed as their mothers in the salting of the sauce. They have to develop an instinct for how much flour and how much water the gravy can support so that you get the maximum amount of sauce without losing too much flavor.

And me? While my leg of lamb was resting I poured the meat juices into a handy gravy boat that separates the grease from the juice. (This is my one departure from the wisdom of my elders: I do not have the patience to carefully spoon away the grease and find the gravy boat is much more efficient anyway. My heretical sister follows her mother-in-law's lead in gravy and leaves all the grease in the pan!) As I waited for the juices to settle and the grease to rise in the gravy boat, I put about a third of a cup of flour in a jar, added about a cup of water and shook. I then poured the juices back into the roasting pan and put it over a fairlyl high flame. As I had some leftover red wine to hand, I poured about half a cup into the pan as well. And then I patiently allowed the juices and wine to reduce, scraping up the bits of meat stuck to the bottom of the pan. After about ten minutes, I gave the flour and water another shake and poured it into the pan. At this point, I uncovered the meat and started carving it, pausing to stir the gravy from time to time. If you take your time to carve the meat carefully and serve the rest of the meal, by the time everything is on the table the gravy will be just barely ready. You can strain it if you feel there is a need; I rarely do. Salt and pepper very generously; it really does need it.

I've been making gravy for about ten years now and I figure my gravy is about half as good as my mother's. Give me another ten years and I think it might be almost as good as my grandmother's!

Some ideas I have picked up elsewhere on interesting ways to improve your gravy:

For lamb gravy, add a couple of chopped anchovies. As you stir they will dissolve into the gravy and even anchovy-haters won't notice them. It gives a little depth to a weak-minded gravy. Obviously you'll want to go a little easier on the salt though.

If you have carrot- or potato-water left from cooking your vegetables, use it instead of plain water with the flour. It adds vitamins and flavour.

If you throw some shallots into the roasting pan in the last half hour of cooking your meat, it adds a lovely flavour to the gravy. You could also reserve a couple of the shallots and chop them up for the finished gravy. On the other hand, roast shallots are delicious on their own.

For chicken or turkey gravy you could also add a teaspoon of mustard and a heaping teaspoon of dried tarragon for an interesting twist. Again, this is especially useful if your gravy has come out a little watery and tasteless.

But in the end, the most important ingredient (as stressed by my mother) is Patience. With a lot of time and a little care you can stretch those spoonfuls of drippings as well as a pro!

(Apologies for the lack of a photo, but my gravy doesn't photograph as well as it tastes!)

Posted by Meg in Sussex at April 6, 2005 3:04 PM | TrackBack

I am so glad you posted this! Here in England, backs have been turned on traditional gravy with roast meats, in favour of jus.
I however, have grown up with gravy as the accompanient to roast dinners and just can't kick the habit, so it is so refreshing to find someone who shares my passion for it. Thank you.

As an interesting note, my family have always made it by sprinkling the flour on the juices, and stirring over a hot heat until you get a thick paste. We then gradually add the stock whilst whisking hard, and then let the grazy cook and bubble whilst carving. Again the judgement of flour and liquid is crucial. The flour paste stage helps to cook out the raw tatse of the flour.
Your way sounds interesting though, think I'll try it the next time we have a roast.

Posted by Sarah on April 8, 2005 at 6:55 AM

Love your spicy additions to the more bland gravies. My Grandmother Hager first added a little water to the pan, scraping up all the tasty charred morsels (this was way before Teflon), then did the flour/water thing. And, if the drippings on the bottom weren't sufficiently browned, she'd add heat to brown them first.

Not enough fat? - that's what that coffee can of bacon drippings under the sink was for. And in her chicken gravy she substituted milk as the liquid.

Posted by Marianne on April 8, 2005 at 10:15 AM

Sarah, I always made gravy the way you do too. But i've seen the shake flour in some water method and the resulting gravy has been pretty darn good.

On some occasions there isn't enough caramelized stuff in the roasting pan. In those cases, we caramelize onions and then add some toasted flour (yes dry fried, stirring constantly until the flour is golden - you can do a fair amount at a time and store it in a glass jar). Then water and/or water and stock. The gravy doesn't necessarily look all that great but it tastes fabulous.

The other thing we've discovered recently is to throw a quartered onion into the roasting pan about half an hour before whatever is being roasted is done. The gravy made with that is phenomenal.

And we never strain the gravy. What's up with that? All those really good bits left in the strainer.


Posted by ejm on April 9, 2005 at 5:58 PM

I think it's more traditional to brown the flour and then add the water, but I think it's easier to avoid lumps if you shake them together. But then you have to cook forever to get rid of the floury taste: it's a choice of evils I guess.

I can't believe I forgot to include giblets in the list of variations!! Yummy, yummy, but I'm the only one who likes it so I don't make it very often...

Posted by Meg in Paris on April 12, 2005 at 1:47 AM