By Nancy Sheehan.
GRAVY! The very idea of making homemade gravy can strike fear into the heart of even the most skilled and adventurous chef. But, as confident cooks know, a well-made sauce is the crowning touch on a delicious meal. Good homemade gravy enhances a lean pork loin, a beef filet, a hearty roast chicken, or baked fish—and it also makes a wonderful base for many casseroles and stews.
It’s simple science. You need three components to make gravy: fat, a thickener, and liquid. What makes each gravy unique is its particular combination of herbs, spices, zests, wine, and anything from cornmeal and milk, to even coffee!
Every region in the United States has its own style of gravy. In the South, Red Eye Gravy—made with leftover coffee— and Milk Gravy are ubiquitous. South Carolina boasts a delicious shrimp version. Midwesterners prefer a sausage or hamburger recipe, and Californians like fruit zest and juices added to theirs.
Intimidated by visions of serving a lumpy, bland dressing? Fear not. You can pass right by that jar of gravy at the supermarket. Making delicious, lump-free gravy is easy. Using a few basic techniques, you’ll win rave reviews at your holiday dinner table. Follow these simple steps provided by Ron Vale, the owner of The Corner Stop Restaurant in Cohasset, and George Jordan, Chef/Owner of The Barker Tavern in Scituate.
Ron Vale kindly shares the methods he uses at the Cornerstop, a neighborhood eatery located at the crossroads of Hingham, Hull, and Cohasset.
While your meat is roasting, finely dice an onion, a carrot, and a stick of celery and set aside. Locate 2 to 3 cups of appropriate stock—beef, chicken, or vegetable.
When you judge the meat at proper doneness, remove it from the oven. Transfer the meat to a warm platter to rest until serving. Skim off all but roughly a quarter-cup of fat from the roasting pan then place it on one or two burners of your stove (depending on the size of the pan) over low to medium heat.
Add your finely diced mirepoix and cook for 5 to 7 minutes (until onions are translucent), scraping up the bits from the bottom of the pan. This activity develops a lot of flavor while reducing the moisture content of the drippings.
Add 3 to 4 tablespoons of flour and keep working it all around in the pan. Cook the roux until lightly browned with a nutty aroma. You can add herbs, such as thyme, sage, or rosemary, if you like, toward the end of this phase.
Add a splash of wine (red or white depending on the roast) and your 2 to 3 cups of stock, stirring madly to avoid lumps. Cook a few minutes, stirring. Strain through a sieve, then keep warm, adjusting seasoning and adding salt and pepper to taste. Augment with herbs, cooked mushrooms, etc., as desired.
TIPS FROM SCITUATE’S BARKER TAVERN
George Jordan, Executive Chef/Owner of The Barker Tavern in Scituate advocates using cornstarch to thicken your holiday gravy. Cornstarch not only yields a gravy with a smooth, light consistency and savory, clear flavor, it’s also gluten-free.
Start the gravy right after roasting your turkey. Move the roasted turkey to a heated platter to rest in a warm spot for a few minutes. Carefully pour the liquid that has accumulated in the roasting pan into a saucepan and skim off excess fat. Deglaze the roasting pan with a little white wine or turkey stock, scraping up as much of the caramelized poultry bits as possible. Add pan juices to the saucepan and simmer a minute. Strain if necessary. Most likely, you will need to add 2 or 3 cups of broth to achieve a decent quantity of gravy (it’s a great idea to start simmering up a stock of giblets and turkey and vegetable trimmings as you put the turkey in the oven to roast).
Bring saucepan to a simmer on a low flame. In the meantime make a slurry of about 3 tablespoons of cornstarch to 3/4 of a cup of cold water, cream, or stock, whisking until smooth and well incorporated. You may not need all of this mixture, so whisk it into the simmering stock only a little at a time, until the resulting consistency of the gravy appeals to you. (It will thicken immediately as long as your stock is on the boil, and it will not lump unless you fail to whisk it at that critical moment.)
The gravy should be smooth and glossy. Sample and season to taste with salt and pepper, a little lump of butter, and herbs and spices, if you like. Thin if necessary with more stock or cream.
Nancy Sheehan embraces family traditions with homemade gravy, a key accompaniment to many holiday meals.