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Gravy

  • Soop Dec 21, 2011 08:19 AM
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Hey Hey
I can never seem to make really good gravy. I've tried a number of recipes (notably Jamie Olivers (from his xmas special a few years back)), but it never comes off quite right.

Right in my case, is Bisto*-like; not sweet, an umami, rich gravy, though I quite like a thin gravy.

The other day, I roasted a chicken, and since we had some veg on the way out, I threw a roughly chopped onion, about 5 sticks of celery and about two handfuls of carrot sticks (I don't buy carrot sticks, I buy carrots - I find pre chopped veg strange, but I digress), then topped it up with about 2-3 cups of water. I considered putting in the wine then, but didn't.

Well, the chicken came out, and sho' nuff I had some stock, but that wouldn't make gravy on its own. I removed the veg, tipped in the rest of the chicken juice and put it on the hob, adding the glass of wine now. When that had boiled off, I had some very sweet tasting stock. At this point it seems that chefs have some kind of gravy, but I had to resort to adding Bisto to this. And very nice it was too.

Well downstairs, I just saw The Hairy Bikers (TV Chefs) making their gravy, and they seemed to make a flour/fat roux with their pork fat, which of course they developed with water into a delicious gravy.

Is gravy always such a pain in the ass to make? Is there no secret, simple technique to make even an acceptable gravy? I understand it might be different from meat to meat, so for a standard, let's select roast chicken, though I'm open to other techniques.

*Bisto is a make of gravy granules in England, not sure if they have it in the states

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  1. There is gravy--which generally involves a thickener like flour--and then there is a pan sauce that usually doesn't. If you want a quantity, gravy is the way to go, but for intense flavor a pan sauce is wonderful and that's what I usually make: roast chicken in pan with carrots and garlic. Pan should not be so big that large areas are dry. Remove chicken to serving plate and keep warm. Squeeze cooked garlic out of cloves, discard outsides, mash a carrot with it. Put pan over heat and pour in small amount of stock to scrape up all the brown bits, add the mashed vegs, stir some more, if dry add a little stock, if wet continue to reduce over the heat. At the end, pour the juices from the chicken plate back in, add a knob of butter and take off heat. Serve as is or strain. (I'm not much on gravy so will leave that to others.)

    4 Replies
    1. re: escondido123

      I use pretty much this method, but sprinkle over flour before mashing everything up (I chuck in carrots, celery, onions, garlic, leeks if I have them) as I like a thick gravy. I stir this in then add the stock and simmer down for quite a while. Often I will add cornflour as well, I like a thick shiny gravy that sticks to my food not a puddle of juices!

      1. re: pj26

        Well sometimes I make a jus with steak - by deglazing the pan with some red wine vinegar, reducing to about a tablespoon or less, and then adding a knob of butter. I suppose this would work with the chicken, but without the veg?

        The veg is always too hard to mash as well, I tried using a potato ricer (I think it's the carrots)

        1. re: Soop

          In the time it takes for your chicken to roast the carrots should be soft if you put them under the chicken where they stay moist and absorb the juices.

          1. re: escondido123

            Right - that's what I do and they are usually soft enough to mash up.

    2. I don't like adding wine to gravy because the residual sugars in the wine will lead to a sweeter sauce. Did you make your stock with the chicken carcass after picking the meat off your roast? You may need to add a bit of fresh chicken to give it a fuller flavor.

      The best gravy will be made from pan drippings from roasted meat. The crackly bits at the bottom of the pan will give your sauce a great, complex flavor and can be weaned off the pan with a splash of water (no need for the wine). Add this to a medium roux (butter-based for me), along with some fine stock. Whisk until it reaches your desired thickness and season to taste. (With chicken in particular, I find a splash of soy sauce and a bit of citrus makes for a really wonderful gravy.) If you make gravy with prepared stock after taking your roast out of the oven, you're looking at maybe 15 minutes of simple work to make a delicious sauce.

      2 Replies
      1. re: JungMann

        Ah Jung, unfortunately, home made stock is a luxury I can ill afford. I have a tiny (ice-box) freezer, which is currently taken up with a ham, and I find it really hard to freeze stock in a usable manner.

        However, I can see this producing a wonderful gravy.

        Jesus, I don't have room for it, or the money right now, but I'm pretty sure a proper freezer would not only improve my quality of life, but also pay for itself over the years by being able to freeze left overs, and things like stock.

        1. re: JungMann

          I agree with Jung. I don't like adding wine because it sweetens the gravy too much for my tastes. Even 1/2 cup added to a pint of gravy makes it too sweet for me. But I love all these other posts I am reading in here. I am getting lots of ideas here.

        2. I don't know if I quite follow what you're doing--are you roasting your chicken in the water with the vegetables? That's what it sounds like to me. If so, then once you reduce it, you can just add butter to thicken it.

          I like to use the pan w/ the chicken dripping to make the gravy, as JungMann said. I roast my chicken in a cast iron skillet. Remove the chicken, and put the skillet on the stove. Add flour and stir up the bottom. Add wine, if you want (I like white wine added here) and then warm stock that you've made in advance. Thicken and season. It's all the brown roasted pieces that give it the nice flavor.

          5 Replies
          1. re: chowser

            I see. It seems like this whole idea of a mirepoix is pretty uncommon.

            Just to clarify (as I should have done in my original post) it's a big old thick metal roasting tray with a rack the chicken sits on. pretty much this: http://static.petersofkensington.com....

            How much butter do you need?

            1. re: Soop

              If you use the carrots and garlic as your "rack" and then set the chicken on top of those you will have better drippings.

              1. re: Soop

                If you like the flavor of the mire poix, you can use it, either in the chicken or below as the rack, as escondido recommended (I will freeze vegetables that are about to go bad and use that as my rack sometimes). Just remove before making the gravy. If you add water, you end up steaming the chcken and I like the crisp skin from a dry oven. In your pan, you can remove the chicken and vegetables, put the pan across two burners and reduce, if needed, scraping the bottom. Add wine if you want before reducing. As to how much butter, it depends but at least a stick I'd say. You can also puree some of the vegetables for more flavor and to help thicken.

                1. re: chowser

                  A stick of butter for a standard size chicken? Wow, that sounds like so much to me considering we usually have less sauce than that it total. But maybe your talking about a big roaster--though I wouldn't use that much for a turkey. Guess we see gravy/pan sauce very differently.

                  1. re: escondido123

                    I was talking about a large roaster but I am heavy handed with butter. Don't ask me about how much salt I use for Zuni chicken...

            2. Gravy should not be hard at all. It's basically just leftover juices thickened with flour, cornstarch, arrowroot, butter, or by reducing.

              The best way to make sure you have enough "juices" when you roast a chicken (or any other meat) is to add either water, stock, or broth to the bottom of the pan prior to roasting. (you can use a rack or put the meat directly in the pan) You can add any veg you like, typically I use onion, carrot, garlic & herbs. As the chicken is roasting baste with the liquid and add more to the bottom of the pan if it looks like it's evaporating. Once you pull the bird from the oven, let it rest and use any juices that run off in your gravy base. Strain the liquid from the veg. (I use a fat separator by OXO, if you don't have one, get one, it's essential) You can save the veg & puree it and add to your "gravy" as a natural thickener, it adds alot of flavor. Next pour the liquid in a sauce pan and bring to a minor boil. Taste to see what needs added, salt, pepper, garlic powder, soy sauce, etc... If you don't have enough liquid, you can let it reduce to make a pan sauce or add some stock or broth. At that point, choose your thickener. I'm on a beurre manie kick (equal amounts of butter & flour mixed to for a paste). You can make a slurry with cornstarch or arrowroot & water. IMPORTANT: take the pan off the burner & add your thickener. Whisk constantly to combine, add the pan back to the heat and let it come back to a minor boil. Taste it again, you can add more seasonings and/or butter. If it's too thick add some water, stock, or broth. If you are using flour, it will thicken as it cools. If you need it thicker, mix some more slurry ( a little at a time). If it gets lumpy take an immersion blender or a regular blender (with a towel on the top to secure the lid, there's nothing worse than a blender full of hot food exploding all over), pulse it until smooth and add back to the pan.

              Voila, you have gravy!

              There's a whole other set of instructions for a roux based gravy: that's where you take your fat (bacon grease, sausage, butter, oil) and add flour to form a paste. You then "cook" it over med or so heat for anywhere from 1 minute or until a deep golden brown, stirring constantly. Add salt, pepper, and any other seasonings. Typically at that point I add milk and stir like crazy, it will thicken immediately. Keep adding milk and whisking to combine. You may also use stock instead of milk, it won't be a white gravy tough. Taste and add seasonings if needed. Bring to a minor boil, remove from heat, it will thicken as it cools.

              Adding a little bit acid at the end will brighten the flavor. You can use a little vinegar (any kind you like) or some lemon juice.

              Have fun with it & keep trying. The more you make it, the better you'll get at it.

              The ingredients aren't set in stone, you can substitute to your liking and tastes.

              6 Replies
              1. re: jcattles

                Thanks man - though anything that requires that much stirring would be pretty hard for me to juggle with all the other bits and pieces.

                How long do you reckon the whole process takes?

                1. re: Soop

                  It really does sound like a lot but in reality it only takes a few minutes. Once everything is incorporated you don't have to stir constantly, Usually I make my gravy very last, once everything else is done.

                2. re: jcattles

                  Thank you for this explanation!!

                  1. re: jcattles

                    Question- when I take some fat from the drippings to make a roux, it is recommended that the roux cooks adequately to get rid of the "raw flour" taste. So if I use beurre manie- is it necessary to cook the sauce longer to cook out the raw taste of the flour?

                    1. re: Epicuriouser

                      That's a issue that most cookbooks gloss over. Beurre manie is often used at the end of cooking as a way of refining the consistency of the sauce, so there doesn't seem to be much time for 'cooking the flour'. My guess is that usually the amount of flour used this way is small enough that it doesn't matter much.

                      Regarding that cooking the roux so it gets rid of the raw flour taste - an alternative is to cook the completed sauce long enough to get rid of the raw taste. That would be more appropriate when making a cream sauce where you don't want to develop any color in the roux.

                      Frankly I have never noticed the 'raw flour' taste, so I focus more on getting consistency of the sauce right (not too thick, not too thin, depending on the use of course), and flavors like salt.

                      Of late I've using Wondra flour, a pregelatinized flour that is much more forgiving when used as a thickener.

                      1. re: Epicuriouser

                        I usually cook the flour for a least a minute or two to get rid of the raw taste. It depends how dark you want it to get. Most of the time I don't want much color, but the darker you get it without burning it the more flavor you will get.

                        As for the buerre manie, paulj's comment below seems right to me. Since the butter & the flour are minimal, it's only necessary to cook long enough for the consistency to be right. The flour will thicken it, the butter will flavor it.

                    2. You may have added too much wine. That will definitely make it a bit sweet. I usually use a splash of white wine and some times white vermouth in a pinch.

                      I once watched Julia Child clip off the bony non-meaty ends of the uncooked chicken wings for a quick simple broth for gravy. She boiled those ends in a saucepan with a cup or so of water while the chicken was roasting and it made a delicate stock to use in addition to the drippings and deglazed juices from the bottom of the pan. You may want to defat the glazed mixture. I usually put all this together in a saucepan, bring to a boil and thicken with some flour mixed separately and smoothly with a little bit of cold water to a little bit looser than a paste and whisk that in the boiling stock mixture. Simmer for around five minutes to cook the flour, season to taste w/ s & p and some thyme, and a splash of white wine (I some times add a little cream or half and half here) and there's a nice gravy for chicken.

                      1. most gravies or pan sauces benefit from a shot of acid--vinegar or lemon juice, so don't be afraid to add that, especially if you find yours comes out too sweet. A little bit of fish sauce can work wonders, too, depending on the meat.

                        I think the thing that makes great gravy is a really well reduced stock. If what you've got is soup making concentration, reduce it A LOT for gravy.

                        If I'm making actual gravy vs. pan sauce, I use the roux method. Start with your roasting pan, pour off whatever liquids are in there, add a fat of some sort and flour and stir till bubbly. Gradually whisk in a little liquid, booze or wine to deglaze. Add your pan drippings back in, whisk and reduce until you like the consistency. Season well, and if your stock was weak tasting, don't be afraid to pump up the meaty flavor with some good quality stock concentrate (evidently aka Bisto for you).
                        Note that getting the flour/fat to stock/drippings ratio correct takes a bit of practice. It's better to err on the side of too thick because you can always add more stock or liquid to thin it back out, vs. screwing around with having to pre-hydrate more flour with a (cold) liquid to try to thicken it up if it's too thin. I do keep a can of Wondra flour on hand for this purpose because it can go right in to hot liquids without getting lumpy.

                        Two homes I cooked at for Thanksgiving type meals both did cornstarch gravy. I've never been a fan.

                        1. I've never had Bisto, but I have three suggestions, based on your desire for an umami flavor.

                          1) Add pureed liver
                          2) If you don't like liver, add pureed mushrooms
                          3) Add Marmite/Vegemite. I would melt butter, mix in the yeast extract product, then slowly whisk in the stock and reduce to the desired thickness.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: FoodPopulist

                            Not bad ideas. I did make a gravy with the duck... giblets? once. The heart neck and kidneys I guess

                            1. re: FoodPopulist

                              I have added a half teaspoon of Thai fermented shrimp paste to a pint of gravy too for character and umami but I generally WON'T do that unless I taste it first and feel it needs something more. I like the pureed liver idea too.

                            2. Alton brown's method has never steered me wrong: http://www.foodnetwork.com/turkey-gra...

                              Drain the pan juices into a separator, make a roux with the fat, deglaze the pan with the reserved juices and added stock, and season with a smattering of herbs.

                              1. Agreed that it's worth watching how Alton does it, if for nothing else than to know one good technique.

                                I never use celery, carrots or any other veggie in my chicken/turkey gravy. I am a big fan of veggies but not in my gravy. Just keep a thin layer of water under the chicken to catch those drippings as you roast the bird. You can then use extra chicken broth (I personally like using low salt organic stuff), along with a bit of "better than boullion - chicken" or "BTB - Turkey", fresh ground pepper, and only at the end, add kosher salt to taste (BTB can be salty so don't add salt earlier on). If you like, season at the end with whatever herbs you like. Sometimes I'll use a bit of tarragon leaves or fenugreek leaves or just "poultry seasoning". A bit of fresh lemon juice can "brighten" it up.

                                You can also whisk in some roux to thicken if you like. If you wish a more meaty flavor - then use those drippings first to deglaze a pan that you have first used with chicken thighs or giblets. Good gravy is really pretty easy - your next one will be outstanding.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: jkling17

                                  This bought to mind another [potential] problem - sometimes I roast the taters under the chicken. Sometimes I don't, but it adds another dimension

                                  1. re: Soop

                                    how do you get your roast potatoes crispy and crunchy if you roast them in the same tray as the chicken? Wouldn't they go a bit soggy?

                                    1. re: Soop

                                      I'll add potatoes to the pan with the chicken, while the it's resting I'll put the potatoes back in the oven to crisp them up a bit. I like them a little softer rather than really crispy.

                                  2. How is you Bechamel (cream sauce, milk gravy, etc)? All the steps in making a good Bechamel apply to making a good meat based gravy. The basic components are
                                    a flavorful liquid
                                    a roux
                                    seasoning

                                    In one the liquid is milk/cream, in the other cooking juices from the meat or a separate stock
                                    In one the roux is made with butter and flour, the other might use the meat fat instead of the butter
                                    Seasoning applies to both - taste for salt, add some salt, taste again, and repeat. You many also want pepper, nutmeg or other spices, may be a bit of acid, etc.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: paulj

                                      Yeah I make a bad-ass bechemal, but I reckon it might be a bit too much effort while juggling all the other bits and pieces.

                                    2. Bisto ingredients:
                                      Starches, Salt, Caramel, Vegetable Protein

                                      Starches - e.g. corn starch (flour in the UK); a flour roux is just as good, maybe better
                                      salt - we expect gravy to be salty
                                      caramel - the rich brown color
                                      vegetable protein - the umami source

                                      The US has lots soup/bouillon bases that provide all these things except the starch. Perhaps the best comes in paste form, e.g. Better Than Bouillon. Sauces like Maggi, Worcestershire, even soy sauce add the color, salt and umami. Overall these are best thought of as enhanced sources of salt.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: paulj

                                        Nie one! Didn't even think to look at the ingredients!

                                        1. re: Soop

                                          I avoid the shop based ones as they often have MSG in which I have an allergy to. I also find making gravy rather therapeutic and satisfying!

                                      2. The quick way I make gravy is roast the chicken to done, take the pan juices and defat with a separator as mentioned above, put the juices back in the pan and bring to a boil. Scrape up all the cooked on bits from the bottom. Take some wine or vermouth, add cornstarch or browned flour to make a slurry and whisk it in til it thickens. If you like creamy, add a dollop of cream or milk. Voila!

                                        I heavily season my roast birds so no extra flavoring is needed. If you need to add additional liquids, simmer the giblets with some celery and onion on your stovetop while the bird is roasting and add that stock to the pan.