How to make gravy
1. I am convinced that in the majority of people in Britain there is a latent passion for proper, old-fashioned gravy. I am also convinced that there is a general sense of panic about how to make it. Why else would there be a million and one packets, cubes and jars of granules to enable us to have gravy any old time without actually having to make it? But what exactly is gravy? Originally it described the fat and juices that exuded from a roast during cooking, which were then used as a 'dressing' for the meat and vegetables. The cook's skill now lies in combining what juices the meat produces with other ingredients to make a well-flavoured dressing.
2. Basically there are two ways to make gravy – the first is by 'de-glazing', which involves spooning off most of the fat from the juices, then scraping the sides and base of the roasting tin to release all the lovely caramelised bits. Wine or stock (or both) is added, and the whole thing is allowed to bubble and reduce to produce a small amount of concentrated but thin gravy. Or, for a slightly thicker gravy for a larger number of people, again most of the fat is spooned off, but then flour is stirred into the juices before the liquid. Either way, the essential point (as with any cooking skill) is to preserve and enhance the flavour. It is best to use a stock that matches the meat, that is a beef stock to make gravy for beef, and so on. If you are pressed for time, ready-made stocks are available, but equally a vegetable stock made from potatoes or other vegetables is perfectly all right.
3. It is essential to use a good solid-based roasting tin, so that it can be placed over a direct heat. Remove the meat or poultry from the roasting tin and have a bowl ready. Tilt the roasting tin and you will see the fat separating from the darker juices. Spoon off the fat into the bowl using a large tablespoon – you need to leave about 1½ tablespoons of fat in the tin. Then use a wooden spoon to scrape the sides and base of the tin to release any crusty bits, which are very important for flavour.
4. Next, place the tin over a direct heat (turned fairly low) and when the fat and juices begin to sizzle, add one rounded tablespoon of flour then quickly dive in with your whisk (a wire balloon whisk is essential to do the job quickly and smoothly). Only plain flour should be used for thickening, as self-raising flour tends to form lumps. Cornflour is not suitable as it produces a rather gelatinous, gluey texture.
5. Blend the flour into the juices with very fast circular movements. Speed is of the essence – gentle, faint-hearted stirring is not what's needed here. You should be mixing in the manner of a speeded up film!
Soon you will have a smooth paste, so now begin to add the hot stock, a little at a time, whisking briskly and blending after each addition. Now turn the heat up top medium and you will find that, as the stock is added and it reaches simmering point, the gravy will have thickened.
Now your own preference comes into play. If the gravy is too thin, let it bubble and reduce a little; if it’s too thick, add a little more liquid. Finally, taste and season with salt and freshly milled black pepper, then pour the gravy into a warmed jug ready for the table.
For pork, which has pale juices, add onion to the roasting tin. This will caramelise during cooking and give colour to the juices. The onion may also be used with other joints and poultry to give colour.
For lamb, add a teaspoon of mustard powder with the flour, a tablespoon of redcurrant jelly to melt into the gravy, and some red wine to add body.
For duck, add the grated zest and juice of a small orange, along with a glass of port.
For beef, add a wineglass of Sercial Madeira – this enriches the beef flavour magically.Return to main listing
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