Angela Clutton—Cookbook Club host, food writer and author of The Vinegar Cupboard—navigates her way through the myriad iterations and uses of sauces. This time: roasting tin and frying pan sauces
Gravy is the sauce I grew up with. We weren’t a family of hollandaise or salsas, but we did have gravy. Sometimes onion gravy over sausages, or gravy granule gravy so thick it could only just about be poured over the family roast. It’s a lifetime of gravy that makes me feel this should for me be the most straightforward of all the savoury sauces this series is covering—and yet, gravy can seem complicated. I used to find it worrisome to make and I worried about feeling that way, until reading in Nigella Lawson’s How to Eat that she feels similarly. Was there ever more reassuring culinary company?
The issue isn’t with the kinds of gravies that can be made ahead and made separately. Like the onion gravy of my childhood, which I still make now, caramelising the onions and adding a hit of malt vinegar to go with toad-in-the-hole. That’s all fine. The complexity has been with making ‘proper’ gravy from and for a joint of meat.
But guess what: it turns out gravy isn’t complicated at all once you get the hang of it and master a few basics. Starting with an appreciation of the point of gravy: which is to capture all the flavours released by the meat in its cooking, that would otherwise be left behind in the roasting pan. Or indeed in your frying pan if cooking cuts of meat. Meat is so precious, none of its flavour should be wasted or left behind, but instead turned into a sauce with such an affinity of flavour with the meat that they taste totally connected. Because they are.
The very best gravy I’ve had recently was with a roast rib of beef in a country pub, the joint carved at the table and served with a small jug of ‘roasting juices’ to pour over. I admired the juices as much as the straight-forward description. They could have called it jus, with my ensuing sigh at such passé pretension not quite acknowledging that I can totally see why chefs took to calling ‘proper’ gravy jus to make the distinction between it and the really not very nice granule gravy I grew up with.
You can call it what you like—roasting tin juices, deglaze, or even a jus if you fancy—because it’s all gravy… and well worth making your own.
Steps to perfect gravy
These are the basics—which apply equally to beef, lamb, pork, poultry or game—and things to think about whether you’re doing a whole joint of meat, or cuts in a pan. Deglazing a pan is the same idea as making a gravy from a roasting tin joint, but err on the side of simplicity. Note the repeated instruction to keep on tasting. So important.
Take the meat joint (or cuts) out to rest. Taste what is left behind in the pan to start to get an idea of the flavour profile you have been gifted by the meat.
If there is quite a bit of liquid in the pan, give it a few minutes to settle. The fat will rise to the top—skim most of that off. Discard any aromatics—bay leaves, lemon, carrots—then set the tin (or frying pan) over the hob on a low-medium heat. Add the liquid of your choosing. That could be:
—Wine (red for beef, lamb or game; white for pork or poultry)
—Sherry, marsala or madeira
—Stock (if doing roast chicken, make a quick stock by simmering the giblets in water with some herbs and root veg as the bird roasts)
—Water, if that is all you have to hand, is fine
Use a wooden spoon to release the sticky bits from the bottom of the tin into the liquid. For a thicker gravy, at this point, whisk in a little cornflour or even just plain flour. Whisk well to avoid lumpy gravy. Simmer to reduce the liquid, taste again, season and decide what to add next (if anything).
—You could umami it up by whisking in some chopped anchovies
—Acidity is good to cut through the richness of the meat’s juices—and especially good if you go the anchovy route. Try a squeeze of lemon or better yet, a splash of vinegar
—Try adding a little sweetness for balance. If you are using a sweet sherry, or marsala / madeira, that might be sweet enough. Otherwise a touch of honey is your friend
For extra flavour, think about:
—Whisking in a few berries (maybe blackberries for a game roast)
—Adding a little soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, or a spoonful of a fruit jelly (such as redcurrant)
—Adding fresh thyme leaves
Taste again before serving. Season as needed. If you want your gravy a little richer, stir in some butter or cream.