Thursday, October 21, 2010

Gravy, its not as scary as you think

I originally posted this on my own personal blog, Adventures In Mommyhood but always meant the post to go here.  So some of you may have seen this but for most of you this is a new post.

I love gravy!  Honestly, who doesn't ?  If you say you don't you are living in denial.  Growing up my grandma made some of the best gravy I have ever had.  Its one of  MANY things I wish I had been smart enough to ask her to show me how to make before she passed away, but I didn't  When I moved out on my own I quickly realized I had ZERO cooking skills and no clue how to make gravy myself.  I didn't even know where to begin.  Gravy can be intimidating like that.  I would occasionally buy the prepackaged mixes in the store but they were never the same.  They often turned out lumpy and had some pretty questionable ingredients in them.

If the above sounds like you, I dedicate this blog to you.  It can be done, gravy does not have to be scary or intimidating.  It can be fun to make. 
WARNING: Once you learn you may find yourself making gravy with EVERYTHING.  This is a typical side effect of gravy makin skills and may fade over time as you realize you will have this power forever.  Use your powers for good only please.

After a few years of trying I just gave up on gravy, it was a dreary future of dry bland mashed potatoes for us.  Finally a good friend gave me a very simple recipe to follow.  This gave me the base line to learn from.  I am not going to type out an actual recipe here as gravy is more of a science experiment.  You have to play with it, mess with it a bit, change things around.  Depending on your tastes and preferences you may need way more fat, flour, or liquid to make the gravy the way you like it.  I will give you a basic idea to run with.

The basics you will need to get started are:

1. Some sort of fat: I personally save my bacon grease for such things as this.  I have an airtight container I keep in the fridge with bacon grease in it.  Bacon grease is great for flavor, I often add a little to oil for frying and such.  Think this is weird, people used to do this all the time, that's why home cooking tastes so good.  Fat is flavor people!  My grandma used to keep her grease out on the counter, not even in the fridge.  She had matching containers purchased from a store that were labeled "Flour" "Sugar" "Coffee" AND "Grease". 
Other alternatives you can use in place of bacon grease: butter, shortening or even vegetable oil.
You will want about 1/4 of a cup to start.  This may seem like a lot, you can use less at first if you like, but this seems to be the magic number for our families needs.

2. Flour:  Start out with 1/4 of a cup or so, this is a good starting amount.  You may have to add more later so have some extra on the counter within easy reach. 

3. Liquid: I use milk for a basic gravy, start with 1 cup.  You can also use water (I would do at least 1/2 water 1/2 milk though) and drippings from meat to make a meat based gravy.

4. Cooking Tools:  You will need a deep pan and wire whisk.  I have found the wire whisk is the best utensil in the kitchen for gravy makin.  It keeps things moving and keeps the gravy nice and smooth, lump free.  If you are one of the few who like lumps-I know there are some- use a fork.

You will want to have all of these ingredients and tools on the counter nearby, within arms reach as you NEVER want to walk away from the gravy once you start.  Gravy should always be the last thing you make, after everything else is done and ready to go.  The trick is to just keep it moving, keep that whisk dancing.

Place the pan on the stove top, medium-high heat.  Place the fat of your choice into the pan and let it melt.  You want it to get good and hot.  A nice way to check if its ready is to sprinkle a pinch of flour in, if the flour bubbles and sizzles its ready to add the rest.

When the fat is ready, add the flour.  At this point you, the pan and the whisk are one, you cannot walk away unless one of your kids is killing another, then you can let the gravy go, you can always make more.  Once the flour is in the pan WHISK WHISK WHISK.  Keep it moving.  The flour within seconds will absorb the fat and turn into a white pasty looking substance.

Once the flour has absorbed the fat (this will take about 30 seconds) add the liquid.  Start with 1 cup, you can add more later if needed.  Again WHISK WHISK WHISK.  Keep it moving.  The liquid will combine with the fat/flour mixture.  At this point you can add some seasonings if you like.  The only thing I ever add is pepper and that's only to the basic or breakfast gravy.  You can add salt, pepper, whatever you like though.

Keep on whisking, you will see it start to thicken up.  This is where the science experimentation and personal tastes come in.  As it thickens you will have to decide many things.
 Does this look like enough gravy for my family?
 If not you will want to add more flour followed by more liquid. 
Is it getting too thick?
If its too thick for your tastes add more liquid
Is it too thin?
If its too thin add more flour, this is what thickens the gravy.
As you make these changes don't forget to WHISK WHISK WHISK.  Keep it moving.
Once it is the amount and consistency that you like it is ready to eat and enjoy.

Gravy, YUM!
The biggest rule of gravy-other than WHISK WHISK WHISK  Keep it moving-is Don't set your heart on it.  At least not the first few times you make it.  Like any other experiment it will take time.  It will not be perfect the first time you make it, or maybe it will, who  knows.  Just keep trying, you will get it I promise.

We now enjoy gravy with an average of 2 meals a week.  OK, so maybe that's not real healthy but it just tastes SO DARN GOOD.  Once I got the basic gravy down, using fat flour and milk, I began to experiment with making meat gravies.  These are very simple too, you just replace the milk with the drippings of the meat..  They make great accompaniments to the meal.  If you made a pot roast, use the drippings for a gravy and pour it over the meat.  Make some potatoes or rolls to go with the gravy.  The possibilities are endless.  With meat gravies I often use butter in the place of bacon grease, not always though.  Your family, and their tummies, will thank you for  your new skills.

 Now go make some gravy!

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