Gravy snobbery

Hereby hangs a tale and a cookery conundrum; how do you make gravy? Traditional rich thick gravy. Not so thick as to stand a spoon up with, but not so runny it’s more like dark water. Simple question isn’t it? Hey, no problem, use the dripping from the meat, a little Bisto and corn starch mixed in cold water and liquor from boiling the spuds for mashing and no problemo, right? Perfect every time.

I happen to like gravy made in this fashion. Great when the dinner choice is traditional English meat veg and potatoes? Just the ticket every once in a while, yeah? Some good old fashioned British style nosh for a change. Gravy made heavy on the onions for serving with Sausage and Mash, or with a pinch of garlic salt to add an edge to chicken or pork. It’s grrr-eat! Or not. However, chacun a son gout. Each to their own, right?

This evening the Sticker household was faced with a dire emergency. A cataclysm threatening to dwarf that bit of inclement weather over the other side of the continent by a factor of 12. No Bisto gravy powder; and I wasn’t going to hike 15km along rainstorm darkened rural Canadian roads to the nearest stockist just for one five dollar packet, or 25km to the nearest stockist of overpriced British products. Think of the carbon footprint dahlings! I thought in my naive optimistic way I’d just fire up the ‘pooter and find a recipe on the jolly old interweb. Job done, brownie points in the offing, another expats hurdle overcome. Yay. Piece of cake. Or not.

Typed the search term “Home made gravy browning” into the mighty Google and was promptly brought up short. Some of the recipes were along the lines of “Roast corn starch in oven for two hours at high heat until dark”, or “Caramelise sugar in an old pan you don’t particularly like, oh, and don’t forget to leave your windows open” which almost made me reconsider cooking roast chicken for Sunday supper. Some of the recipes I came across were far too cumbersome and time consuming. On the cookery forums I also found some snotty types saying that they only cooked ‘Au jus‘. Yes, I really needed to have some sauce snob clogging up the forums when I was trying to find a recipe or some helpful hints. If you don’t know how to make gravy, then what the fuck are you doing telling someone who does want that specifically British sauce about your preference for ‘Au-fucking-jus‘ on a thread asking for recipes? The sheer, looking-down-my-nose-at-you-cos-Delia-don’t-do-it-that-way ignorance of some people, really. Like those sanctimoniously superior people whose response when asked a simple question is to tell you that what you want isn’t what they would do – so you shouldn’t. WTF?

Good gravy, for those of you not initiated into its intricacies, is an art that Michaelangelo would have carved paeans of stone to glorify for eternity, had he not been a renaissance Italian, and therefore ignorant of such a delicacy. Smooth slippery simplicity made wonderfully glutinous and conjured mid to dark brown to accompany Roast Beef, Chicken, Pork, Venison, Lamb, Sausage, Moose, Elk or whatever. It is a particularly English taste, and one I’m proud to cater for, even though it took years for me to perfect my technique. Both stepkids specifically love my Onion gravy, and Youngest has made it known that when she becomes disgustingly rich, she will have me kidnapped and set to work as her personal cook. Or else set up home close by in order to have my small culinary expertise on tap. By such things are the bonds of family strengthened.

Yet this isn’t telling you how I resolved my gravy powder less condition, does it? O-kay. Unfortunately I had cleaned the meat pan after breakfast, and had no cooking grease left. So; I took a rasher of fatty bacon and grilled (broiled) it until there were a couple of teaspoons of bacon fat left in the pan and the rasher was a dried husk of its former self. Then I took a teaspoon of cornflour and mixed it with enough cold water to form a smooth, milky liquor in the sauce boat. Next step was a couple of dashes of Worcestershire Sauce and Soy sauce to darken the cornflour and water mix halfway to the desired state of brown. Next, I stirred in some hot water from cooking the vegetables and, decanting the mix into a small saucepan, let the sauce thicken on a low heat. Potato water is good for this, being slightly starch heavy, but can result in excessive blandness. So I mixed in some liquor from cooking the green vegetables. Finally, I added the bacon fat and seasoned very carefully to taste, stirring constantly to keep the lumps at bay until it had thickened to the desired consistency. The end result was a slightly more aromatic than usual sauce, but was consumed with gusto, and English style (No milk) mashed potatoes, roast chicken and mixed veg. Re-sult!

Some Australian and New Zealand cooks, so I am informed, use half a teaspoon of Vegemite, but I find that gives the end result a slightly odd flavour for my palate. The same for stock cubes. I really don’t like gravy made with stock cubes, I feel they overpower the taste of your dinner, and produce watery gravy anyway. My personal preference is for something with a bit more body, because runny gravy gives me PTSD-like nightmares of school dinners past, from which I sometimes awake sweating and screaming. The trick here is balance. Good gravy should not overpower the roast, like some sauces do. Its purpose is to accentuate, and add a rounded, softer edge, not to swamp. Unless it is particularly good gravy and carries much of the roasts flavour anyway, in which case, mine’s a pint.

Fortunately, Canada is a civilised country and good gravy is generally not hard to come by, even over here on the hippy drippy wet coast. The Quebeckers (bless ‘em) even invented Poutine, which is French Fries with lashings of cheese curds and thick gravy. But on the cookery forums, oh my goodness, there’s more controversy over gravy than global warming alarmism, the pro and anti camps are so polarised. For heavens sake it’s just a bloody sauce!

Yet I find in my search for Bisto-less gravy the mirror for much that is wrong in the world. When you go looking for advice, there is too much telling you what you should want, and too little telling you how to do what you want the right way. Sometimes I feel it’s like going into a cigar store and asking for a fine Havana, only to be offered a lecture on the evils of smoking and handed a pamphlet on Cancer awareness with a pack of nicotine flavoured gum. Or, if you like, entering a liquor store and asking for a 15 year old fine Malt Whiskey only to be handed half a pint of Soy Milk and a stern imprecation about the evils of alcoholism. Both of which, if anyone is interested, I would consider a casus belli. There are people in this world who really should know when to butt out. The only problem is that far too many appear entrenched in positions of public trust, snouts firmly wedged in the taxpayer trough, narrow minded eyes on their pet causes and regarding all else as a threat. Perhaps we could do with a cull.

In the meantime, all I have to say to such people is this; you can stop me having gravy with my fortnightly English roast when you can pry the sauce boat out of my cold and dying hands. To me, saying ‘Au Jus’ is the only way is just another way of declaring your culinary incompetence.

2 thoughts on “Gravy snobbery”

  1. A fine treatise on the subject. Gravy is close to my heart also and is a particularly English skill. All true Englishmen (and women) should be able in the making of good gravy. Alas….

    Bisto powder is near essential, but in the absence of, cornflour and gravy browning does the same job.

    The gravy must always be made in the actual roasting tray which then helps pick up any bits stuck to the tray and all the caramelised juice flavours.

    Your methods are identical to mine: meat juices (not too much, say 3 or 4 tablespoons), vegetable water and the Bisto, first dissolved in a little cold water. Stir in the Bisto paste, off the heat, and then continue stirring until simmering on a low to medium heat. Roast fowl produces a lot of fat, too much in total for gravy, so most must be poured off before the gravy process begins.

  2. Gravy, I’m the expert at making it in our family (well the two of us). I don’t use Bisto unless making onion gravy. I settle the juices left over from the meat in a jug (takes a few minutes), separate out the good stuff, mix with plain flour till a nice paste, then slowly mix in veg water whilst heating gently adding it a drop or two of browning to stop it looking anaemic. Got to be thick enough to pour slowly but not runny.

    But’ll take your tips and try it next time to compare with my method.

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