Happy Independence Day! Summer has arrived, and our celebrations surrounding it tend to signal the official start of the summer season. While most of you are planning a big barbecue for the holiday, I will be catering a more formal event, with nary a hotdog or burger in sight (the menu sounds more like mid-winter if you ask me). Topping off the menu are slice beef and roasted turkey. A standard to accompany those meats will be gravy. I believe it is one of those things you either like or you don’t like. I personally could easily live without it, but I discovered a long time ago that a few people consider it to be a must have condiment. Imagine my surprise when I was blasted for not serving gravy with meatloaf (without mashed potatoes, mind you) at a luncheon several years ago. Now, if this had been roast beef or chicken with mashed potatoes at dinner, I certainly would have had gravy on the menu. I consider dinner to be a heavier-thereby saucier-meal. I think of lunch as usually being lighter, thus no gravy. Now, mind you, I personally wouldn’t think of eating meatloaf without ketchup, but gravy? YUCK! Why that never even crossed my mind! That is a mistake I haven’t made sine then!
My Grandfather was a gravy lover. His (in my opinion) strangest habit was having gravy on pie. Yes, I did say he loved to put gravy on pie! It didn’t matter what kind of pie it was or what kind of gravy was being served. He would pour on a liberal splash of gravy just the way most people would add a dollop whipped cream or scoop of ice cream. Talk about gross! I was never quite sure if he really liked it that way or if he just wanted to gross us all out, but he did it most of the time.
My husband doesn’t want gravy on much, but if it is chicken and biscuit night in the McGraw household, there had better be really thick gravy, and lots of it. He likes it ‘scoop-able” too, not just pour-able. For him, I double (or even triple) the amount of thickening I add to my chicken stock. If I have to eat gravy, I would prefer it to be thin, more of a demi-glace than an actual gravy. Gravy is one of those condiments that is laden with calories (and fat) as well. While a serving of gravy may be labeled as only being 35-40 calories, you must keep in mind that the serving size is usually only 2 tablespoons. Think about it…how much gravy do you actually put on your meat (and potatoes)? I’ll bet it is more than 2 tablespoons! If you are using more than that, just keep multiplying those calories! You will be negating the fact that the meat itself may be a lower calorie option.
For those who do enjoy gravy, it may seem like a difficult thing to perfect, but once you figure it out, it’s a breeze. No one wants to serve perfectly cooked meat with lumpy gravy. The key to smooth gravy is all in the thickening. You can use either a slurry (flour or cornstarch mixed with cold water) to thicken your stock, or you can start with a roux, which is a cooked thickener. I prefer to make my gravy with a roux because I think the resulting flavor is better. To make a roux, you will start with the pan drippings left from cooking your meat (this includes the fat left in the pan as well as any dark bits that are stuck to the bottom). By first adding the flour directly to the pan and cooking with the drippings, you will achieve a darker gravy because the flour will brown a bit. You can then add stock to the pan a bit at a time until you have reached a thickness you like. If you are making your gravy with flour or corn starch as thickener, simply add enough cold water to make a slurry (liquid that is the consistency of a thin milkshake), then whisk it into boiling stock. Whisking constantly while you add your thickening agent will insure a smooth gravy, whether you are using a roux or a slurry. You never want to simply add dry flour or cornstarch to your hot stock; that will result in lumps you can never whisk out! Another thing to remember is that after adding your thickening agent (whether you are using a slurry or roux), the gravy must come to a full rolling boil to achieve maximum thickness!
Whether you like gravy or not, there are those folks who love it, so knowing how to make a good gravy is a much appreciated skill!
Chicken and Gravy
- 3-4 pounds bone in chicken parts
- Salt and pepper
- 4 T flour
- ½ c water
Place salt and peppered chicken in a large pot with enough water to cover. Cover pot and cook for at least one hour (until meat falls off the bone).
When fully cooked, remove chicken from pot, and continue to boil cooking liquid (uncovered), letting it cook down to result in 3-4 cups of the liquid for gravy.
Cool chicken until it can be handled, remove all skin and bones, then shred or chunk chicken.
Bring reserved stock to a boil. Mix flour and ½ c water to make thickening slurry. Whisking constantly, add slurry to stock and cook until thick.
Return chicken to gravy and serve over biscuits or bread.
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