Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Gravy 101

Somehow the notion of gravy has this weird aura surrounding it, but I don’t really know why.
I think it deals partly with the fact that a lot of people who aren’t normally in the kitchen are taking on holiday meals. Gravy seems to be how most of those-new-to-the-stove commiserate.
“It was lumpy” . . . “It was bland.” . . . We didn’t have nearly enough!” . . . etc. etc.
Recipes hit it from all different angles, starting from different points, using various techniques and assuring different “fool-proof” methods.
And while the majority of them work in their context, you don’t walk away with much info on how to derive a gravy from various situations.
Maybe this will help:

You start with your flavorful liquid – giblet jus or chicken stock . . . and you add a roux . . . and that’s it.

First the liquid: Whatever it is, you just have to isolate it so that you can measure it. I would say it should be a dynamic, not just a wine or a juice, but a but a developed combination of flavors (a stock of sorts). I usually figure on a quarter cup a person, which is very generous, but I still manage to run low anyhow.

Next the roux: They say equal parts flour and butter . . . well yes, but that’s by mass and not volume. In other words, you have to weigh it, not measure it. Because flour can vary so much in mass to volume ratio.
But for those of you that don’t’ have an electronic scale.
It’s pretty much 1 tbsp of butter to 1 tbsp+1 tsp flour. You warm this duo up in a small pan and cook for about a minute, essentially toasting the flour slightly. Make a healthy portion of this to have on the side.

Now, you bring the liquid (whatever it is) to a boil and you stir the roux in. Roughly one cup of liquid to two tablespoons of roux. This method should prevent lumps and bumps, but if it doesn't you can puree the gravy in a blender and/or pass it through a fine sieve.
roux should look thinly sandy in texture.

The roux’s thickening characteristics don’t take effect until the liquid boils and the individual starches explode, like tiny popcorn. So when you add roux, give it a minute before you judge whether or not you need more.

Now the tricky part.
You have to assess it and adjust a little bit at a time.
Do you like the thickness?  If it is too loose, add more roux and boil. If it is too think, add more liquid.
If it is flat tasting?There can be two issues here. 1. The flavor is there, but it's not accented by enough salt . . . in which case you add salt.  2. There simply isn't great meaty flavor there, in which case I sneak a bullion cube into the gravy.  

Add a drop of acid (lemon, vinegar {maybe balsamic})  Unless you started with some tangy white wine, your gravy will benefit from a touch of acid.  It brightens the flavors. 

Think about sweetness? Sometimes a touch of honey, maple syrup or brown sugaris a great addition. 

Gravy should easily coat a spoon. I love mine with a lot of freshly ground black pepper.
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