There is something comforting about homemade gravy — it’s unctuousness, how it adds flavor to the most bland foods. Gravy is an important subject. Italians fight over whether it should be called salsa or gravy or sauce. Does it have meat in it? Is it used to dress meat? Gravy Wars, by Lorraine Ranalli is a fun read where this argument is debated.
Cooks have been using gravy for centuries, and the simplicity of the recipe hasn’t changed much. What most home cooks fear is the perceived complexity of the technique in making their gravy come out smooth and silky. The successful gravy will consist of laser-focused attention, well-timed stirring, boiling and the addition of fats and starches at the correct time. Gravy must be well-seasoned and the correct consistency. Sounds difficult? The process is easy once you get the hang of it.
First, choose the type of gravy you want to create. What is its purpose? Is it to compliment meat? Biscuits? Will it be a binder for a casserole? Beef, chicken, turkey or vegetarian?
Select your ingredients. Use a good quality stock (homemade is best, but isn’t required). Choose a low-salt stock that does not include MSG in its ingredient list. Use unsalted sweet cream butter. What’s with all the unsalted ingredients, you say? You will be seasoning your gravy with meat drippings, our spice, or your own concoction (or all of the above) and you don’t need the broth or butter companies to do it for you. The next ingredients are all-purpose flour and seasoning. You could skip the flour and use corn starch at the end, but I find that making a traditional roux with flour yields the best results.
Melt 2 tablespoons of butter and 1 teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil in a medium-sized saucepan or skillet over medium heat. Add in your spices and herbs and stir them around in the pan, coating everything with the fat. At this point you could sauté onions or mushrooms, if desired (just remember mushrooms will soak up the fat like sponges, so you’ll need to add more).
Sprinkle in 2 tablespoons of flour and stir well until the flour bonds to the fats. Allow this mixture to cook for a minute or two, until the roux starts to brown. Add in 2 cups of stock and turn up the heat to high. Stir constantly, being sure to smash any remaining bits of roux. If you cooked meat in the pan before your gravy, this is where you will deglaze the bits from the bottom, which adds quite a bit of flavor to the gravy. Add in any liquid flavorings as desired, such as 1 tablespoon of Worcestershire, soy sauce or wine. Bring to a boil, and then lower the heat to a simmer for five minutes, stirring frequently. The gravy will begin to thicken as you stir. There should be no remaining roux lumps in the end. Remove from heat and serve immediately.
Troubleshooting: What happens if you wind up with lumps at the end of this process? This means the fat and starch did not bind well enough before liquid was added. Return the gravy to medium heat and add in 1/2 cup more stock. Stir and smash out lumps until smooth. You can also put the gravy through a fine-mesh sieve to remove lumps.