How to Make Gravy from Scratch
Gravy is something we had with nearly every meal as a kid. And it is something that I continue to make with many meals today for my family. When I was a kid it was almost always a brown gravy, made after frying meat. Other times, it was a milk gravy made with sausage or ham. On holidays, it was the wonderful giblet gravy. We also had red eye gravy, tomato gravy, and onion gravy. I think the only time we didn’t have gravy was on spaghetti night and taco night. My Dad use to tell me stories of how his grandmother would make him brown gravy and serve it over french bread as a treat when he arrived home from school.
Gravy is a very simple concoction that can be made very easily with a little patience. It is simply started with a roux, a mixture of fat and flour, and then a liquid is added. The secret to making a foolproof gravy is the order in which the ingredients are added. First the fat must be melted or heated in a skillet. Then the flour is added. As a rule of thumb, you add 1 tablespoon of fat for every tablespoon of flour. And then add one cup of liquid for every tablespoon of fat and flour.
So the formula for a gravy is 1 tablespoon fat = 1 tablespoon flour = 1 cup liquid
You then whisk the flour into the fat and cook this roux mixture for at least 2 – 3 minutes. Depending on the type of gravy you are making, a simple thickened stock gravy, a blond gravy, a brown gravy, or a dark brown gravy, cooking times for the roux mixture will vary. Remember when cooking the roux, you must continually whisk the roux to prevent burning. If at any time you scorch the mixture, you must stop and start over.
When you reach the desired color of the roux, you add the liquid. The darker the roux is, the better off you are using a simmering liquid. For a light colored thickened stock type of gravy, the temperature of the liquid is not all that crucial. For a very dark roux though, the starches in the flour begin to break down. Using a simmering stock to make the gravy for a dark roux will help insure you do not lose any of the thickening quality in your roux.
Here are some helpful hints for easy gravy:
Use a heavy bottom skillet or iron skillet – Using a flimsy skillet may lead to burning.
Always use a whisk – I always use a whisk now, even though my mother never did, and never had any problems. However, it is just easier.
Use your pan drippings – They are there ready to use after cooking your meat, and very flavorful.
Measure – If you are having gravy problems, make sure you measure. Even though your mother or grandmother did a little of this and that, and it was always perfect, doesn’t mean anyone can achieve perfect results by eyeballing.
Cook the roux – Make sure you cook the roux, for any color gravy, until it smells nutty.
Use stock instead of water – Add more flavor to the gravy by adding flavorful stock, homemade or store bought is fine. You can also add red or white wine, depending on what type of meat and flavors you are having. I have also used many varieties of alcohol, and beer to make gravies. Let your imagination find the perfect flavor for you.
Gravy is too thick – Add a little more water, stock or milk, depending on the gravy you are making.
Gravy is too thin – Let it simmer longer till it gets thick enough, adding cornstarch dissolved in water will alter the taste, but is effective.
Gravy lakes flavor – You can add whatever spice you have handy, fresh or dried. Salt and pepper, Worcestershire sauce, barbecue sauce, the possibilities are only limited by your pantry and fridge. Just add whatever sounds good together from the fridge or pantry till it tastes good.
Practice – You may not get it the first time, but don’t worry. The ingredients are super cheap, especially if you are using water to practice with. Just make it over and over, until you get the consistency right without lumps. There are lots of tips for removing lumps like using a strainer or a blender, but it will never be just right. Practice makes perfect.
Now what type of gravy would you like to make? Here are some simple traditional gravies:
Brown Gravy is a browned roux and stock or water combination, usually made after frying meat. I like to make it after frying chicken or pork chops. I just pour the excess oil from the pan, and leave the bits from frying in the bottom of the pan. It is very delicious over mashed potatoes or white rice.
Milk Gravy is a roux and milk combination, it is essentially a Béchamel sauce, exempt is doesn’t have nutmeg. It is usually made after frying chicken or chicken fried steak.
Sausage Gravy is a milk gravy made with browned sausage pieces. You can make it with any flavor of sausage you like. I simply brown the sausage, then add the flour right to the sausage and let it absorb the oil, as the flour cooks. My favorite is to use sage sausage.
SOS is an old army favorite I learned from my Dad. It is made from milk gravy and chipped beef, the same way you would make sausage gravy.
Giblet Gravy is made from a roux and stock that is made from the giblets and neck of a bird.
Red Eye Gravy is not really a gravy at all, but a delicious combination of pan drippings from a ham steak and black coffee. You make it by de-glazing the pan that you fried your ham steak in with black coffee, or water. This is another old favorite my Dad taught me.
Chocolate Gravy is a delicious gravy over biscuits, and a real treat for the kiddos. There are lots of varieties of this gravy, and I have a recipe coming soon.
Tomato Gravy is a gravy made with fresh or canned tomatoes, I like to add a little balsamic vinegar for an extra kick.
Onion Gravy is a gravy made with sweated or caramelized onions. My favorite is pork chops simmered in onion gravy.
After you have the basics down, you can make a gravy from the pan drippings of anything. You can use your imagination and add different herbs and spices, sauces, stocks, and wines to create many wonderful gravies.
Photo courtesy of anthimeria.