Gravy is a sauce, and sauces are there to accentuate, lubricate, flatter, decorate, improve, and compliment your meal. When put like that, I hope it’s clear that real gravy does not come from a jar or a packet.
At its simplest, gravy can just be the juices from the meat. Somehow, “would you like some meat juice” just doesn’t cut it in English, hence many otherwise English speaking restaurants and chefs using the French term “Jus”. I don’t know why this annoys me and strikes me as pretentious, but it does. It’s the diner’s fault, rather than the menu-writers; why “meat juice” produces a “yuk” response in English and not French is a mystery. Perhaps it’s the English-speaking nations’ notorious reluctance to embrace the reality of where meat actually comes from, and thus instinctively avoid reminders…
Anyway, assuming you want something a little more substantial than those controversial juices, read on to discover the method. As often with my recipes, I am deliberately hazy about quantities, and even ingredients: once again, it’s the principal that counts.
So, how do you make gravy? Beef gravy, chicken gravy, lamb gravy, pork gravy, duck gravy, any old gravy you like: the basic method for making gravy is the same. No, it doesn’t take a dozen or so paragraphs to teach you how to make good gravy: I’ll give you a quick summary in a few lines at the end.
Firstly, you will need some flavoursome liquid. Hopefully, whatever you are roasting will throw off lots of the lovely juices we were talking about earlier. When you take the roast out of the oven for its all-important resting period, leave the juices in the pan to settle for a few minutes, then skim off most of the fat – don’t think you have to remove every last drop of it, as apart from anything else, you won’t be able to. You can make this process easier by using a gravy separator, or by tipping the juices into a glass jug so that you can see what you’re doing.
Whatever, put the roasting pan, with the juices, back onto a low heat on the hob. Stir up all those crusty and delicious bits stuck to the base and sides of the pan. Assess the situation: do you have enough liquid for the amount of diners? If not, you need to add some. Liquid, not diners, obviously.
Stock is a good solution here. If you have been roasting poultry, and you were lucky enough to have got the giblets with it, you should have been making a stock with them while roasting the bird, and will now be adding this to the pan juices, and thus creating giblet gravy. If not, you hopefully have already made some stock on an earlier occasion, perhaps by following my recipe for chicken stock in this article, which works perfectly with the bones/carcasses of any roast, not just poultry. Being a sensible cook, you will have made sure to freeze some. Defrost it now, on the hob or in the microwave, and add it to your pan juices.
You could add wine as all or part of your extra liquid (the alcohol will cook out) or even plain water, if your basic juices are flavourful enough.
Now make what is known as a “cold water roux”. Put a few spoonfuls of plain flour (not cornflour or any other thickening type agent; just plain, ordinary household flour) in a jug or mixing bowl, and whisk in cold water until you have a fairly well amalgamated mix. It should be roughly the consistency of milk: don’t worry about a few lumps – we’ll get rid of them later.
Raise the heat under your pan, pour in the cold water roux, and bring to the boil, whisking as necessary. Once boiling point is reached, immediately turn it down and let it simmer. If, after a few minutes, your gravy is too thick, add some boiling water. If it’s too thin, either add a little more of the roux, or just let the gravy cook away until it naturally reduces to the consistency you like.
Let the gravy simmer for at least twenty minutes, to make sure all the raw flour taste is cooked out.
Taste for seasoning, and add salt and pepper as needed. Pour through a sieve into your gravy boat or gravy jug, and serve.
Vegetable or vegetarian gravy can be made in the same way: just make a good vegetable stock, add the juices from any roasting veg, and use any vegetable cooking liquids.
All done, with absolutely nothing from a packet – well, except the flour: if you grow your own wheat and grind your own flour, you’re way ahead of me! Oh, alright, you probably bought the salt and pepper too, but you know what I mean.
So, that’s it: how to make a gravy. However, you can fiddle with this to your heart’s content, by adding some other flavourings – just make sure they’re complementary to your meal: you’re not trying to upstage it here.
Good things to add to gravies (not all at once, obviously).
Wine – already mentioned, but a glass or so often really makes a gravy come alive.
Other booze – again, make sure the alcohol has time to cook out
Herbs – whatever suits the main event
Tomato Ketchup/Catsup – a glug or two adds sweetness and a little colour
Sugar – a touch of sweetness can be just what is needed, but go carefully
Mustard – a little goes a long way. Add a little, stir well, and taste before adding any more
Worcestershire Sauce – adds colour and flavour, but is also pretty salty, so again, use with caution
Redcurrant jelly, mint sauce, cranberry sauce etc – adds sweetness, tartness and depth of flavour
Horseradish – same caution as mustard, but great with beef gravy
Citrus juice – orange, lemon, lime, grapefruit, and perhaps a little of the zest, but no bitter white pith, or you’ll be sorry
Cream, or milk – be aware that the cream will also thicken your gravy
Garlic – if your food is already fairly garlicky, then you can go heavy: if not, add just the subtlest amount, or it will overpower the rest of the meal
Add whatever you like, really, but remember it’s gravy, not some exotic sauce.
How to make onion gravy: slice a pound or so of onions very thinly, and cook down very, very slowly, either on the hob or in the oven, until they have turned a rich, golden brown. To reach this stage they will have reduced in volume to about a fifth of the original amount. You will need to stir and turn frequently; be very careful that they do not catch or burn.
Stir the onions into your gravy, make sure to deglaze the bottom of the onion pan with a little boiling water and add these juices too. Add them early in the gravy making process, just after you have turned it down to a simmer.
Summary: Recipe for real gravy
All your meat juices, with some added stock, wine or plain water if necessary, plus other flavourings as you like. Whisk in mixture of plain flour and water. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer for at least twenty minutes, adjusting for thickness as you go. Strain/sieve, and serve.
You can, of course, make any of these gravies with no thickening at all, making your “jus” go further. Damn, I used the J word.